Selling a home can bring out some interesting emotions in people. Some homeowners are concerned that their valuables will be safe while people are viewing their home. Others wonder what buyers and their agents are thinking about their home while touring it.
In the past, a homeowner might stay in their home during showings, to keep an eye on their things, and to see if they might be able to overhear anything from the buyers who are previewing it. Nowadays, things have gone a little more high tech - some homeowners are using security cameras to watch and listen to the people in their homes.
More than just nanny cams
In the past, homeowners might have nanny cams set up in their homes - discreet cameras set up to record what was happening that they could then review when they got home. By today's standards, this is a quaint relic of the past.
With the technology available today, homeowners can watch in real time what's happening in their homes. With wifi-enabled cameras, they can watch live feeds right from their homes to their phones.
Is it legal?
The legality of using security cameras in a private residence to record people depends on the state in which you live. Many states have what is known as "one-party consent" laws, where it is lawful to record a conversation to which you are a party. This may not work for recording guests in your home if you're not there with them. Several other states prohibit recording, observing, or overhearing people in a private area where they would expect a certain level of privacy. That would make recording people in your home against the law.*
As a buyer, what can you do?
I recently showed a home to a client, and there were obvious cameras in the home. I softly said to my client, "There are security cameras here, and we may or may not be being monitored. Just watch what you say while we're here."
The reason I wanted my client to watch what she said was twofold. First, I didn't want her to say anything that would potentially upset the seller (I may not be crazy about a homeowner monitoring showings, but I still don't want to be rude). Second, and more importantly, if she liked the house, I didn't want her to say anything that would hurt her negotiating position. For example, if she wanted to make an offer and come in on the low side, but the seller had already heard her say that she loves the house and can't live without it, her ability to negotiate would be ruined.
The hidden Pandora's Box
There's a downside for sellers who insist on using cameras in their homes. Knowing you have a camera in your home may get you to monitor it, and may cause you more harm than good. Hearing what people REALLY think about your home may not always be in your best interest (you won't please everyone with your decor and whatnot). Hearing someone say that your artwork is tacky or your couch looks like it came from the 80's can be stressful, and let's face it - it's stressful enough selling your home without being privy to what people are saying behind closed doors.
The bottom line
If you're selling your home, you might want to reconsider using cameras. Besides not wanting to hear unvarnished opinions from buyers, you could also be opening yourself up to legal action if someone discovers they're being watched, especially if you're involved in a transaction with them and they find out you've been watching their home inspection, appraisal, etc.
If you're buying a home, and you see cameras in a home you're previewing, or you suspect there may be cameras, act in the house as you would if the seller were following you around. Because, in a way, they are.
* For legal advice, you should always consult an attorney. This article is to illustrate what happens in different areas, and how common sense should be used when buying or selling a home with cameras in it.