Big brother is watching – surveillance cameras in home listings

HouseSurveillance technology is everywhere these days; some are obvious and others covert. A growing awareness of government and law enforcement surveillance has become a major aspect of the growing debate of “reasonable expectation of privacy.” However, in a time when many are pushing back against surveillance, home sellers are increasingly turning to video cameras to protect their homes, valuables, and trust. And as the technology becomes cheaper and easier to use, the trend could become the norm.

The thought of the home seller remotely viewing your activity may seem creepy at some level; however, you might reconsider if you caught the recent ABC’s 20/20 segment “Caught on Tape: Real Estate Agents Gone Wild.”   Highlighted were real estate agents who were caught on camera violating the trust of the seller; including: a Maryland real estate agent who was caught rummaging through a woman’s underwear drawer; the New Jersey agents who used their listing as a rendezvous point for sex; and a number of other agents caught stealing jewelry and prescription medicines from trusting home sellers. Real estate broker and author Brendon DeSimone, who was interviewed about how to protect your home during the listing period, suggested that the video camera can help you keep your agent honest; he stated: “just ‘cause they’ve done a lot of deals, it doesn’t mean they’re trustworthy.”

According to a Supercircuits.com infographic (The History of Video Security Cameras), the idea of “video monitoring” was first widely spread with the 1949 publication of George Orwell’s “1984.” Two years later, the first tape video recorder is operational. Since then, there have been mega leaps in technology making cameras smaller and easier to use. It wasn’t until 1992 when the “nanny cam” was introduced; before then, surveillance cameras were primarily used for law enforcement purposes and commercial applications. The “IP” enabled camera with onboard video analytics was introduced in 2005 as the internet technology and usage greatly expanded. Today, surveillance cameras can be placed almost anywhere and watched from any remote location.

Don’t get carried away with your voyeurism just yet; there are legal implications when using surveillance cameras, as well as possibly interfering with your negotiations. Rather than using the cameras for protection, there are some home sellers who are tempted to use the videos as a way of understanding the buyer by analyzing their gestures.

Does a home buyer have a reasonable expectation of privacy when viewing your home? After all, many sellers vacate the house so the buyer and their agent can view the home on their own; although sometimes they are escorted by the listing agent. Even though there has yet to be some ruling or professional opinion from a real estate board about the matter; an increasing number of home sellers are using obvious and observable cameras to monitor their homes. Aside from the “broker blooper reel” that was put together for 20/20, it seems as if the cameras have helped some home sellers go after rogue real estate agents.

For most people, a notice indicating they are being video recorded is enough to alter their behavior; sometimes a notice is enough to deter theft. However, there are some whose bad behavior is not deterred, even when looking directly at a camera. If you’re considering using surveillance cameras in your home during the listing period, you should consult an attorney about legal implications.

Dan Krell ©
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Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. This article was originally published the week of May 5, 2014 (Montgomery County Sentinel). Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws. Copyright © Dan Krell.