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Are Home Sellers Surveilling Home Buyers?

Home camera Have you ever gone into a home that was for sale with your real estate agent or to an open house and the sellers refused to leave? Or maybe the sellers watched you from a neighbor’s yard or from a parked car across the street. Remember how uncomfortable that made you feel?

Well that is nothing compared to what is occurring today. The next time you go house buying --- SMILE --- because you may be on camera. Some home sellers are resorting to recording would-be buyers in order to get feedback on prospects in addition to security reasons. They not only can see you, but they can also hear you in real time.

Is this creepy? Maybe for some. Is this illegal – not necessarily. You will need to check your local and State laws. A Realtor.com article reported – “It's against the law to record someone on audio or video if they’re in a situation in which they have a reasonable expectation of privacy, [such as in] a changing room or a locker room or a bathroom,” says Indiana University law professor Fred Cate, author of Privacy in the Information Age. “But when you’re in somebody else's house with a real estate agent, it’s a little harder to argue you really have an expectation of privacy.”

So how do you know if you are being watched? Or can you find out? According to Bankrate.com, “Realtors say their multiple-listing systems don’t require disclosure.” If your state does not regulate this, the only way you will know for sure is if you see something, otherwise, you just don’t know for sure.

WPTV News Channel 5 reported that Finley Maxson of the National Association of Realtors' said this is becoming more of an issue. “We looked at what the law says and in most states, it is illegal to eavesdrop on someone when they are in the privacy of their home if you are not one of the people taking part in the conversation. But most laws are antiquated and lack proper modernization regarding real estate.” Finley clarifies, "so audio surveillance generally requires the consent of one or both parties. While video surveillance has a fact test, which is based on the reasonable expectation of privacy of the individual being filmed."

Home Buyers need to be aware. These day, just to be safe, assume that you are being watched or recorded while house hunting. Be careful what you discuss and disclose with your realtor while in the home. Some items such as your strategy should be discussed outside away from the home. Buyers do not want to show their hand or loose the opportunity to negotiate a contract.

Most sellers and homeowners are not nefarious. Some have good intentions. Some use it to monitor their own realtor and their selling techniques. Some will use the information in their negotiations -- how much the prospect wants the house, the pricing one may be willing to pay, or should they make the upgrades/fixes prior to selling or offer a discount. While cameras are good for monitoring activities in the home and deterring theft, one must also be very careful not to cross the line into housing discrimination and selling of the home based on one’s race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disability. It also may be in your best interest to let realtors and people know that cameras are present.