Camera phones can offer agents security

When homes are shown, photo goes to dababase

February 22, 2004|By Mary Umberger | Mary Umberger,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

CHICAGO - Camera phones might be disliked by some for their potential intrusiveness, but they are useful in the real estate business.

For one thing, they enable agents to alert clients to new properties, something that could be an edge when getting there first can be crucial.

But a company in Marietta, Ga., has devised another real estate use for the devices: as a form of insurance.

RealSafe.net Network is to begin marketing a system for real estate agents who are less interested in photographing properties than in having a permanent record of who is with them in vacant houses. Camera-phone digital photos of the clients (with their permission) are transmitted to a secure database.

It is meant to deter crime.

"The real estate industry is not as safe as it used to be," says Pat Dougherty, a Marietta agent for 22 years who founded the company after an incident with a man who asked her to show him a house on short notice.

She said that though such urgent requests aren't unusual in real estate sales, she had qualms about the caller because of an earlier threatening incident in the area involving another real estate agent. So she asked another agent to accompany her to the showing, which turned out to be uneventful.

"Afterward, we started talking about how this would have been a good time to have a camera phone," Daugherty says.

The system works by having agents ask prospective buyers for permission to photograph them as a security measure. The image immediately goes to a "secure database" where it is not to be used for any other purpose.

Company policy allows access to the images only under court order, so the would-be buyer can be assured that his face won't show up on the Internet the next day, Daugherty says.

"The yard signs will say, `This is a RealSafe.net home,' and there will be signs in the windows," Daugherty says, so there will be some name recognition and some reassurance for the homeowner, who will know that a record is being kept of who enters their home, at least when the house is being shown by an agent who pays a monthly fee to Daugherty's company.

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing Newspaper.

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