“When Personal Property Disappears …”

A Regulatory Affairs Case Study

By Danielle M. Alston, Consumer Protection Auditor

The complaining witness in this case was a seller whose home was listed by an agent.  The Respondents were a provisional broker acting as a buyer agent and her Broker-in-Charge (BIC).

The Buyer Agent scheduled a showing of the subject property and the Seller approved it. Shortly after the showing, the Seller contacted the Buyer Agent very upset, alleging that the buyers had taken some prescription medications that were “well hidden” in the Seller’s master bathroom.

During the investigation, the Buyer Agent stated she was contacted by a woman through social media expressing her interest in seeing the property with her husband.  The Buyer Agent stated that she met the couple at the property as opposed to her normal practice of meeting prospective buyers at her office or a public place prior to showing the home. She explained that the opportunity of getting a badly-needed client outweighed her usual, more cautious approach. Upon arriving at the property, the Buyer Agent said she reviewed the “Working With Real Estate Agents” brochure with the couple, who stated that they would sign it after the showing was complete. The Buyer Agent did not check the buyers IDs or even get their names.

When she was showing the first-floor master bedroom, the buyer-wife indicated that she needed to use the bathroom. The Buyer Agent planned to wait for the wife to exit the bathroom, but the husband began walking out of the master bedroom while asking questions, so the Buyer Agent followed him to answer his questions. The husband inquired about the upstairs, so the Buyer Agent showed the upstairs to him while his wife was still in the bathroom. By the time the Buyer Agent came back downstairs with the husband, the wife was in the kitchen and the Buyer Agent heard a cabinet door close. The Buyer Agent indicated that she was not concerned as buyers typically inspect cabinets.

The Buyer Agent indicated that she attempted to ask the couple several follow-up questions as they began to leave. The wife wrote down a contact number at the request of the Respondent Broker and then left without signing the “Working With Real Estate Agents” disclosure. The contact number allegedly provided by the buyers was not a valid number.

Later, the Seller called the police and reported the theft of her prescription medication. An officer explained to the Seller that this was a somewhat common scam for two people to pose as interested buyers in order to steal things from a home. The officer also contacted the Buyer Agent that night for her version of the incident.

The evidence in this case tended to show that the unidentified potential buyers were responsible for the Seller’s missing medications. However, the Commission cautioned that Buyer Agent about her conduct, including her failure to identify the prospective buyers before taking them into the Seller’s home.

A few months later, the Buyer Agent changed firms and the Commission subsequently received a call from the Buyer Agent’s new BIC, who explained that she was notified that the Buyer Agent had recently tested positive for opioids. The Commission staff began a new investigation to obtain more information.

The Buyer Agent’s new BIC provided a list of the Buyer Agent’s showings to the Commission staff. Commission staff also received a call from a family member of the Buyer Agent, who explained that the Buyer Agent had been in a medically-assisted drug treatment program for almost two years and that the Buyer Agent had recently tested positive for drugs not prescribed through the treatment program. The family member provided photos of prescription bottles for other individuals found in the Buyer Agent’s home. The Commission also received a video in which the Buyer Agent admitted that she scheduled and conducted false showings to gain access to listed homes in order to steal prescription drugs for her own use. Following the conclusion of the investigation, the Buyer Agent entered into a Consent Order with the Commission in which she voluntarily agreed to surrender her broker license.

This case illustrates the importance of listing agents advising their seller-clients to remove or lock up all prescription medications, cash, jewelry, collections, firearms, and other valuables that can be taken during showings. Sellers who wish to use interior cameras for detection and deterrence of theft should be advised that they cannot use cameras with audio and cannot place a camera in any room/area in which there is a reasonable expectation of privacy, such as a bathroom.