If you are a buyer touring a home, be careful of what you say and do; the sellers (or their agent) may be spying on you. That’s right, the Nest or Ring camera, or other hidden audio / video devices may be active in a home during a showing, watching, listening to, and recording what you are saying about the house. Spying on prospective homebuyers is a real thing. Because of its covert nature, along with the legal and ethical implications, it’s not talked about much in our business.
Obviously, direct impressions of a property obtained through audio and video surveillance would be extremely valuable to the seller and his/her agent. What better way to get honest and accurate market feedback about the property? In addition, imagine the seller’s advantage having heard you say how much you “love this home,” “this is the one” or “I’m willing to pay full price.” Sellers having such information would, of course, undermine your purchase negotiating strategy.
The legality and ethics of buyer surveillance are gray areas. Laws vary from state-to-state and hinge on questions of expectations of privacy and consent of the parties being surveilled. In Georgia, the use of audio and/or video recording devices for security purposes in and around the house is legal, where there is no “reasonable expectation of privacy.” Does a homebuyer and his/her agent walking through a home have a reasonable expectation of privacy? Georgia courts have yet to decide. As a practical matter, how likely is it that you would know or be able to prove that a seller eavesdropped on your assumed “private” conversations?
Surveillance may be just too easy and too tempting for sellers and their agents. As a prospective buyer, the best policy is to assume you are being watched, listened to and recorded while you are in a home. Beware that the popular audio-video doorbells have a range well beyond the front door. We advise our buyer clients to maintain a neutral demeanor and to not discuss anything that we wouldn’t want the seller to hear (positive or negative). It’s best to take notes and discuss the property in the car on the way to the next home.
John Stemlar is a Principal and the Managing Broker of Sage Real Estate Advisors, a boutique Atlanta residential real estate firm.