Home Buyers: Be Aware of the Spy Cam

Home Buyers: Be Aware of the Spy Cam

By Lisa Marie Conklin
Realtor.com | Jun 15, 2024

Big Brother Might Be Watching: What To Say -- and Definitely Not Say -- During an Open House 

Touring your dream home during an open house or private showing is pretty exciting, especially if it looks even better than the listing photos. Then again, you might discover the house smells bad or has uneven floors. Good or bad, it’s in your best interest to keep a tight lip about your thoughts. Many homeowners have doorbell cameras, baby monitors, surveillance cameras, and voice-controlled smart speakers like Alexa devices -- and they could be watching and listening as you tour their home.

To be fair, sellers could be using those cameras and speakers for legitimate safety and security purposes. After all, they’re allowing strangers into their homes. Still, according to a Lending Tree survey, about one-third of home sellers used hidden cameras when they showed their homes. Half of those surveyed said they used the cameras to gather intel on buyer feedback.

With that statistic in mind, here’s what you should know about spy cams before you go house hunting.

Should sellers use cameras to record buyers?

While cameras and listening devices are common these days, it’s crucial to understand that this doesn’t automatically grant sellers the right to record video and audio of homebuyers while they’re touring a home. The laws vary from state to state, so if you’re a seller, consult your agent and attorney before you activate any device before a showing.

Legal or not, the next question to ponder is whether you should watch and listen as prospective buyers poke, prod, celebrate, or judge your home.

If you’re recording to keep an eye on your valuables, or you want to use the “drop-in” feature on your Alexa to get the scoop on what buyers think of your place, Chelsea Werner, a global real estate advisor at ONE Sotheby’s International Realty, cautions owners to tread lightly.

In one example, a Reddit user said the use of Alexa devices during their home tour made them pass on a listing.

“This happened recently when we were visiting a home that had Alexa devices in each room that kept turning on when we would enter, I am 90 percent sure they were running a real estate application that could monitor our dialogue!’ they posted. “They were also speaking to us explaining all the benefits of the home, but I had my human realtor with me so it was needless and redundant IMO. Felt like I was in 1984 and we ended up passing on that specific house …”

This is just one example of why Werner strongly cautions sellers with devices to be upfront about their actions. “If the seller wants to watch the activity from a camera, I tell them to make sure the camera or smart home device is prominently displayed so buyers can see they are being filmed,” she says.

Mum’s the word

Cameras might be the norm in commercial settings these days. However, buyers are less keen knowing a camera or listening device is active in a residential home, and may get creeped out or get a bad impression.

When Skutch M. and his girlfriend Allie K. were househunting, they toured more than 50 homes before their offer was accepted. And they were hyper-aware of cameras and mindful of the conversations they had in other people’s for-sale homes. “It was definitely a strange Big Brother-esque feeling; but in some cases, it was someone’s home that they were still living in, so we understood,” says Skutch.

Skutch and Allie played it cool while walking through each house, trying not to show too much emotion either way. Yet, Skutch admits they occasionally considered using the cameras to their advantage. “We were more tempted to talk negatively and insert some leverage into the situation if anything,” he says.

But that plan could backfire, depending on the seller, according to Casey Preston, an agent at Realty Executives Home Towne. Even if it’s an honest observation like pointing out the old carpet or dissing the seller’s taste in art, it could put you at a disadvantage.

“Sellers are attached to their homes and can take things personally, and you don’t want to take the chance of your clients losing a deal over something that might be misconstrued,” says Preston.

As a recent homebuyer herself, Preston heeded her own advice and cautioned her new husband, who hadn’t bought a new home in 28 years. “My husband is old school,” she notes. “I told him there could be cameras in the house and that we shouldn’t have any conversations or make any telling expressions while on the property until we got back to the car to chat about the house,’ she says.

That’s right. Hold your tongue until you get inside your car, as exterior cameras could also be watching.

Keep your excitement contained

When you discover the home you’ve been drooling over is even better in person, it might be hard to keep your oohs and aahs to yourself. After all, wouldn’t the seller be pleased to know you love their house? Maybe, but there’s some good reason to dial back your enthusiasm a notch when cameras are watching.

“I remind my homebuyers that the last thing we want to do is accidentally show our cards to the seller,” says Brian Durham, vice president of risk management and managing broker at Realty Group LLC and Realty Group Premier. If you try to negotiate repairs or price reductions later, you might also give up some bargaining power. Play it cool when posting on Facebook, too.

“Sellers have the buyers' names from the contract, and they do look at social media,” Durham points out. “So if the buyer posts that they found the perfect home and how excited they are, the seller might see that. Buying a home is an exciting time, but you have to be careful not to let that excitement hurt your chances of going under contract or staying under contract.”

Now, that doesn’t mean you can’t say anything during your house hunt. “There is nothing wrong with sharing opinions, feedback, or asking questions within reason, but usually less is more,” adds Werner. She suggests buyers take their own videos for reference -- and let the comments fly once they’re home.

Source: https://www.realtor.com/advice/buy/hidden-cameras-open-homes-what-not-to-say

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