Celeb home thefts highlight challenges in age of Zillow and Trulia

Pocket listings are among the tools sellers are turning to for increased privacy

LeBron James is beefing up security after a rash of celebrity burglaries. (Credit: Getty Images, iStock)
LeBron James is beefing up security after a rash of celebrity burglaries. (Credit: Getty Images, iStock)

It happened to Rihanna. Los Angeles Dodgers star Yasiel Puig was another victim, as was L.A. Rams wide receiver Robert Woods.

For months the celebrity site TMZ has breathlessly reported on one burglary after another of celebrity homes in L.A.

This week the police struck back, charging four people with burglarizing more than 24 homes of actors, singers and athletes.

LeBron James, in his first year as an L.A. Laker, beefed up his security in response, sources told TMZ.

The rash of burglaries points to a different reality that real estate experts have noted in recent months.

The growth of real estate listing portals like Zillow and Trulia, along with the very public lives that celebrities are leading on social media, has made their homes increasingly vulnerable.

“Today there is more transparency and access to information, more ease of access to gain information and start scouting these thefts,” said Nick Segal, the president for Southern California for Pacific Union International, which was recently acquired by Compass.

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Segal and other managers and brokers say that celebrities are making it much easier for thieves by posting information about their whereabouts on social media. Thieves look at pictures of homes on the multiple listing service and freely accessed sites like Zillow, and then “they track the buyer and realize they are having a fabulous time in Italy.”

Even homes that are not for sale can be targets. In response, sellers are increasingly turning to pocket, or off-market, listings as a means of trying to limit access to information, Segal said.

“There are going to be more off-market deals through the brokerage community, through broker networks, because of the fear of invasion of privacy and actual theft of personal property, of breaking into the house,” he said.

Segal was one of the architects of Pacific Union’s Private View service, a pocket-listing service that Pacific Union debuted earlier this year, which Compass recently adopted for its website.

But thieves have also gotten more sophisticated. Police this week said the arrested alleged burglars had a list containing 12 more celebrities they were targeting, including James, and actors Matt Damon and Viola Davis.

With a busy NBA travel schedule and a wife and children at home, James has hired at least 10 armed security personnel at his L.A. home, including off-duty police officers, TMZ reported.

Woods, the L.A. Ram, is working with the NFL security team to ensure his safety as well.