Buyers – Sellers may well be Recording You – Video Surveillance in Real Estate!
Video surveillance in real estate is an issue to be aware of when you’re the buyer. I recently showed a home to buyer clients in N Atlanta and encountered a “webcam mounted on a flat screen TV” in the great room – which I thought was odd – then again I am not a gamer and I only Skype in my office. The TV was off but a tiny blue light on the web cam was on – I am sure it was video taping our visit – and we conducted ourselves accordingly. My buyers had already been prepped and reminded not to make comments that in any way indicated they were smitten with the home or felt it was high on their list, etc – those are private discussions for us to have off site.
I first experienced being monitored via an open laptop with glowing webcam over ten years ago and learned to be more aware of this when previewing homes. Security and safety are hot topics at the moment and things hardware-wise have gotten a lot more sophisticated now. I recently read in a tech magazine about software plugin that will allow web cams to sense motion and begin recording with their light off so they don’t appear active.
These days, it is safe (and smart) to assume when you’re previewing homes – the seller may well be previewing you too – either via LIVE Streaming video to a smart phone or recording your visit for later playback! Unsuspecting home buyers can be easily monitored via a variety of video surveillance equipment that has become more common in homes over the last 10 years. These systems include wireless security cameras, pet cams, nanny cams, and the new Ring doorbell and bookshelf cams to name a few. These devices may or may not be out in the open and obvious. Then there is a whole class of covert devices that I can only describe as actual SPY CAM’s. Note – according to attorneys I have spoken with, GA law generally prohibits recording someone without their knowledge in private non public areas, even inside your own home, except where no expectation of privacy exists. While the legality of using these special spy cam devices in ones own home could be a grey area depending on how and where the equipment is used, rest assured these devices are in use – and most are nearly impossible to spot. Spy Cam examples include common devices you would never expect to have video capability such as – smoke alarms, light fixtures, wall chargers, even fountain pens with built in HD cameras and recording capabilities.
Many people will find it a little offensive or intrusive to think someone may be video taping them, but this new security trend is here to stay. The whole point of this post is not to judge video surveillance but to make you aware of this issue so you can maintain a level playing field – as the buyer, you must safeguard your information so you don’t get taken advantage of.
Buying a home is a major financial transaction and what you say can dramatically impact your negotiation position and cost a lot of money if the seller gets wind of it. As I have cautioned my buyer clients for years, even if the sellers is not home, the best practice is don’t say (or do) anything that you would not say or do if the seller were present – and you should keep your guard up both inside and outside the home. If the sellers can get audio or video of you saying something like, “wow, this kitchen is stunning” , “this basement is perfect for our in-laws” or “this is the one – and Todd will be all set to attend Walton High School” – that information can be costly and will be used against you as the sellers are now in great position to control the negotiations.
Just as what a seller inadvertently discloses while chatting with a skilled buyer’s agent can hurt them, buyers need to be cautious for the same reasons, and keep all discussions with sellers, or seller/builder listing agents who may be present, on a superficial level, and to a minimum. Sharing seemingly innocuous facts about your job relocation, your house being under contract, or your desire or timeline to be in a home/certain school, etc. may seem harmless, but giving the seller or their agent that kind of insight can work against you – best to keep your personal circumstances to yourself. Video surveillance in public areas has been around for many years – only in the last 10 years has it become a very common fixture in people’s homes, and newer options hit the market each year.
Just one of the many things that most buyers (and for that matter most agents) never imagined could impact them – as a wise person once said – you can’t prepare for something if you don’t even know it exists!
Robert Whitfield is the Broker/Owner of Advantage Realtors, and has over 35 years of multifaceted experience in the Atlanta Real Estate Brokerage, Building Inspection, and New Home Construction Markets.