Virtual viewings – Real risks

20 April 2021

The Covid-19 pandemic has limited the ability of estate agents and letting agents to show potential buyers or tenants around residential and commercial properties. Agents have been quick to use available technology to offer buyers virtual viewings. So, whether it is an apartment in Central London or a country estate in Cornwall, buyers and renters can view properties without leaving the comfort of their home.

Some agents have taken their own video tours of properties, others use 3D cameras to allow buyers to more fully experience the property using their computer or even via a Virtual Reality headset. A further twist on this is that some agents offer appointments where they will virtually walk buyers around the property in real-time. These alternatives to live viewings may well continue long after the Coronavirus lockdown ends.

But video viewings are not without risk. The Property Ombudsman has issued guidance for agents and the consumer body Which? has published tips for buyers and renters.

However, a recent story on the BBC News website has highlighted the need for agents to consider the data protection, privacy and security risks of virtual viewings. It was reported that an estate agent apologised after a 3D tour of a property was published online with a substantial amount of personal information visible. Paperwork, including a shares dividend cheque, an insurance policy document could be read by zooming in. In addition, some family photos had also been left unblurred. These could be used to assist identity theft and fraud. The video may have been online since October 2020.

As well as running the story, the BBC reported the incident to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), the data protection regulator. The incident could result in an investigation by the ICO, enforcement action and a potential claim for compensation under the General Data Protection Regulation.

We recommend that agents take the following steps:

  • check that current recordings of video viewings are free from personal information
  • amend their written terms of business to cover potential liability arising from virtual viewings
  • have a checklist for the videographer to follow when making and editing recordings and
  • obtain written agreement from the seller/landlord about what should and should not be filmed along with confirmation that no financial or sensitive information will be visible in the property at the time the recording is made.

For further advice please contact Mark Gleeson.

Simon Cohen
Commercial Property, Acquisitions, Landlord and Tenant matters, Renewal of Business Leases, Residential Real Estate
Simon Cohen is a Partner Solicitor at Spencer West. He specialises in Commercial Property, Acquisitions, Landlord and Tenant matters, Renewal of Business Leases and Residential Real Estate.