"I know where you live...." Those words may send a chill down your spine when uttered by the sinister stranger in the blockbuster thriller at your local theatre. But when spoken directly to you, they may imply an intimidating familiarity with your private life––even your habits, interests and secrets.
Since humans first cozied up by the fire at the mouth of his cave, our home has been our castle. And psychologists tell us that having a place to call ours, where we feel safe from the ravages of life and the prying eyes of others, is essential to maintaining a sense of self and balance. Our right to have respect for our private life on the one hand, and the ability of others to invade that privacy on the other, converge when we shop for a home.
The ways in which your clients look for a house, find one, purchase it, turn it into a home and then maintain that home, all raise opportunities for prying eyes to spy into their lives. If they have a public profile––notwithstanding that they also, quite properly, want to maintain a private life––the problems can be even more real, from mere annoyance at having gawkers at their door to worrying issues of safety and security and risk of kidnap.
Last month, the British tabloids reported rumors that Angelina Jolie had been seen house hunting in London's Marylebone area. She and hubby Brad Pitt may have bags of cash to splash on a posh London pad, but they both also have flanks of fans who would be only too happy to turn up at their door, if they knew where that door was. Any of your clients with any public profile may have a hard time of finding any down time, if the whereabouts of their own private Idaho becomes common knowledge.
Whether your clients are public figures or private families, they need and desire some degree of privacy when it comes to their home; and there are a number of sensible ways to limit unwanted attention.
On their quest for a house, your clients should be equally circumspect when it comes to choosing their brokers and property agents. Reputable professionals should readily agree to sign confidentiality agreements before they are engaged to give clients peace of mind, and to protect the private and confidential information of vital importance to your clients. Those who won't, and who prefer to trade in information as well as property, who revel in gossip and bragging rights as their main means of survival, should be ditched as quick as the home with the flooded basement.
Any broker may enjoy the glory of closing a big deal. But any worth their salt won't trade that momentary fix for their own reputation as a result of selling out their client. A well-drafted confidentiality agreement should provide that they, and their employees, stagers and other agents, will not disclose matters related to the deal, to your clients or their family and specifically, for example, will not distribute your clients’ phone numbers or email addresses, without your express consent.
When with the guidance and assistance of professional advisers your clients have found the house that they want to make into a home, how do they protect this fact, from the public gaze and the media spotlight?
Records of ownership in real property are widely available in public electronic databases in the U.S. So you should advise your clients to consider taking title to the property in the name of a nominee, trust, company or another vehicle, rather than their own name. Care should be taken not to use a name for the vehicle which corresponds to the address: the deal may crater, and then the company name, even if changed, will leave a public trail of hints about where your client thought of buying. They won’t want gossip or worse still headlines, exposing their failure to snap up that bargain basement property or being pipped to the purchasing post by a business rival.
And you’d be well advised to remind your clients not to get too cute or personal with the company name either. It should point away, not toward them. The name of their first pet ––or their pet name for their spouse for that matter––is not advisable as it may catch their identity like a dream-catcher snaps up dreams. Better names that hint at nothing such as Mr. Nobody LLC, The Nowhere Company, Anonymous Holdings Inc., which disclose little personal information and will keep your client’s identity safe and secure.