HOME SELLERS NOW USE SPYCAMS TO GATHER INTEL ON PROSPECTIVE BUYERS
As home security becomes more prevalent, its use by home sellers to record touring buyers raises questions. HOME SELLERS NOW USE SPYCAMS TO GATHER INTEL ON PROSPECTIVE BUYERS
Jill Comfort, a Phoenix-area Realtor, had a good feeling about the cream-colored stucco house she planned to show her client, a young man relocating to the city from California. It was in his budget, in the right location and had a huge pool and back yard that would allow him to entertain.
It also had multiple surveillance cameras that recorded everything that went on as prospective buyers walked through.
“When we were walking out of the hallway we could see they were following us,” Comfort said. Both agent and client felt “awkward,” she added.
“I can understand where some sellers are leery of strangers walking through their house, but that’s what happens when you put your house on the market,” Comfort said. Her client, she said, was “creeped out.”
As homes become smarter, real estate agents and home buyers are increasingly finding there’s an extra set of eyes and ears on them as they tour properties for sale. In a 21st-century version of the “nanny cam,” Realtors describe everything from old-fashioned security cameras to newer contraptions tracking their conversations and actions. The rise of these wired home sellers is raising fresh concerns about privacy, courtesy and legality in a transaction that’s already fraught with emotion and potentially full of pitfalls.
The trend has spurred what Joan Rogers, a broker with Windermere Realty Trust in Portland, Ore., calls a “Hey, be aware of this” conversation among her colleagues and counterparts. Rogers says the discussion started in her area about three years ago, “about the same time that integrated home media and security became a thing, with devices that could record your home and report back to you on your smartphone. The conversation started happening that it would be wise to watch your mouth because you just never know what device might be recording.”
Many agents are saying that it’s not just that having to “watch your mouth” was uncomfortable — it’s more that such an uncomfortable breach of etiquette occurs without any real payoff for the deal.
Andie DeFelice is a broker with Savannah-based Exclusive Buyer’s Realty, Inc., and the president of the National Association of Exclusive Buyer Agents. Last fall, DeFelice took a client to see a home that seemed perfect for his specific needs: it had a detached combination two-car garage and studio with living room, kitchen and full bath — perfect for his grown son.
Shortly after the deal settled and her client had moved in, his new next-door neighbor introduced himself with some unsettling news, saying, as DeFelice put it, “I just want you to know the guy who sold the house knew he had a buyer the minute you walked through.” The neighbor wasn’t making it up: he was able to repeat the conversation client and broker had when they toured the house.
“It’s one of those things where it is the person’s home, they have the right to do whatever — but you feel a little violated,” DeFelice said.
Because the house was one of a very few with the unique feature that the buyer wanted, she added, the seller was right — her client was primed to buy the moment he stepped in the door. And he doesn’t feel that he tipped his hand unknowingly to the camera and then overpaid — although that’s a real risk for other buyers caught commenting during tours. What does rankle DeFelice about the encounter, she said, is that the previous owner referred to him as “the older guy” with a “younger” son when describing the transaction to his neighbor.
Rogers had a similar experience. She was selling the home of a couple who used a spy camera on the porch, even when their home was not on the market. Although they had signs about ongoing recording clearly posted — as is the law in Oregon — one buyer and her broker lingered on the porch, discussing the property.
Hearing the way the buyers talked about their property was “unsettling” for the sellers, Rogers said. Even though they were the ones capturing a conversation carried on by someone else,“they felt violated with the people standing on the porch talking about the house.”
Ilyce Glink, author of 100 Questions Every First-Time Home Buyer Should Ask, thinks the rise of the recorders isn’t just a natural evolution of technology, but also a logical response by sellers “desperate” for feedback that would once have been provided by their broker. Now, with so many sellers’s brokers leaving keys in lockboxes for buyers’s brokers to retrieve — as was the case with Rogers’s clients, “sellers have rightly been feeling pressured by lower levels of service,” Glink said.
Yet Glink also sees recording devices in a broader context of new technologies that benefit both seller and buyer. For instance, Google Maps offers buyers the chance to see the perimeter of the home, what it’s like to drive along the street and even a peek at surrounding properties — features that sellers will never photograph for formal advertising, she pointed out.
It’s worth noting that this is not just a suburban phenomenon. Gea Elika, who runs an exclusive buyer’s agency called Elika Real Estate in New York, had a client walk out of a high-end Manhattan showing when she saw cameras moving along with her motions — even as the listing agent hovered nearby. “Even I felt uncomfortable,” Elika said.
Elika and other agents think technology is only going to become more prevalent in real estate, and many would still like clearer policies and guidelines on how to handle situations now.
The National Association of Realtors has offered a best practices tutorial on the subject, along with a listing of what’s allowed in each state. For now, NAR suggests brokers consider hanging a sign in the home or including a note on the listing form that alerts visiting brokers that there is a surveillance device.
More formal, organization-wide policy that would help brokers guide their clients can be set by any one of several Realtor committees at one of NAR’s two annual meetings, said the organization’s general counsel, Katie Johnson. “If members are motivated it could happen quickly,” Johnson said.
For Johnson and other lawyers, the rise of recording technology has prompted what she calls emerging unresolved issues, including whether the devices are included with the property in a sale. And with that, what happens with the historical data they’ve captured?
In many situations, however, such questions are academic compared to the demands of the real-life marketplace, which in most areas of the country is still very firmly in the seller’s favor.
But based on her experience, Phoenix-based agent Comfort has decided she’s going to explicitly ask each seller she represents if they have surveillance equipment — yet another conversation that feels “awkward,” she conceded — and she’ll make sure she’s addressing that issue as she shows properties.
Certainly as with most real-estate transactions, each buyer (and seller) are unique. Despite being “creeped out,” Comfort’s young California transplant decided his desire for the home in which he was recorded outweighed the ick factor and he made an offer — ultimately turned down in favor of a more generous one.
Man Accused of Stealing $100,000 Worth of Items From Model Homes
DELAND, Fla. —
It’s enough patio furniture and appliances that would seem to stock several aisles of a Big Lots store, and DeLand police said it’s proof a local thief has been very busy.
A timely tip and a whole lot of surveillance footage helped get to the bottom of a crime spree that targeted model homes and construction sites.
Police believe this had been going on since January. Investigators were following a number of burglaries and thefts throughout DeLand since then. The suspect stole thousands of dollars worth of furniture from model homes, according to investigators.
DeLand police said James Weaver committed so many burglaries and thefts that he couldn’t remember the details to many of them, but when someone recognized Weaver from surveillance videos, police knew where to find him.
When they got to his home to make an arrest, they found $100,000 worth of stolen property, including kitchen appliances, lawn equipment, construction materials and even a stolen jet ski.
“I’m not surprised what people would do when they’re desperate,” said Bill Ryan, a neighbor.
Ryan lives one block down from the fully furnished model homes in the Victoria Hills subdivision. Police said surveillance videos caught Weaver stealing high-end patio furniture from the model homes in April.
At times, the man in the surveillance video covers his face with a shirt or has no shirt on at all as he scopes out and eventually makes out with thousands of dollars worth of chairs and pillows.
“If you’re a burglar that’s where you’re going to go. Where the good stuff is,” Ryan said.
After just being released from jail for battery on a law enforcement officer, Weaver is back in jail on grand theft and burglary charges. Police said now they are trying to find the owners of all of the stolen items.
“We’re very glad that he’s off the streets,” said Kelly Carlson, a neighbor.
Police said Weaver not only admitted to the crimes, but said he couldn’t remember doing some of them because he uses the drug crystal meth.
Police said the items didn’t just come from model homes, but apartment complexes, construction sites and a golf course.
Weaver is in jail on a $15,000 bond, but police said it’s likely many more charges will be filed as they link him to other cases.
Theft During House Showing: What Can We Do?
Finding out who was in your home and seeking return of stolen objects.
Our house is on the market, and we have had a lot of showings to prospective buyers. We were at work one day and were notified by our agent that there were going to be a couple of showings that day.
We were not around when the house was shown. When we returned home, we discovered that, oddly enough, a salt shaker had gone missing. It has no real monetary value, but it was a family heirloom and has a great deal of sentimental value. We’d like to get it back, no questions asked. What can we do?
It’s very strange the things people will steal . . . and it’s upsetting to realize that an item you care about may be lost forever. Luckily, it should be easy to track who was in your house and hopefully recover this missing heirloom.
When houses on the market are being shown, there are typically two main sources of things going missing: children with sticky fingers and people posing as buyers looking to find items to use or sell quickly.
It is possible that your situation involves the former. A salt shaker may not be attractive to someone looking to make a quick buck, but it may be interesting to a curious little tot who is bored with his parents looking at houses all day.
The first thing to do is contact your agent and let him or her know what’s happened. Your agent will be able to easily obtain a list of all other agents who have shown your home. Even if your agent does not have the names of the buyers, your agent can let all the other agents know that something has gone missing and ask them to inquire with their clients about the item.
Hopefully a mom and dad will have noticed a new item in their child’s collection and be able to return it to you. You might consider offering a small reward to encourage the agents to contact their clients about the missing shaker (as well as to encourage anyone who may not want to otherwise come forward).
If this inquiry doesn’t work, there is unfortunately not a lot left to do. You could file a police report and see if the salt shaker is ever recovered. You could make a claim on your homeowners’ insurance or ask your agent to make a claim for loss on his or her policy. But if the item is of little financial value, insurance won’t do much to make you feel whole again.
A Note About Personal Items and Theft While Your Home Is on the Market
If you are reading this while your home is on the market, be aware that theft from homes that are being shown is not uncommon. The most commonly stolen item is prescription medicine, followed closely by jewelry and small electronics.
Agents don’t always closely supervise their clients when showing homes, so that the “buyer” might wander alone through the house, with free reign to open doors and drawers. If your house is on the market, assume that someone is going to be nosy and go through everything you own. Consider renting a small storage unit to temporarily store expensive or cherished small items. Get a lockable box for your prescription medicines that you need to keep nearby. You could even consider getting a small home-monitoring camera to watch as people view the house.
Of special concern—even more so than when individual agents are showing your property to buyers—is an open house where the general public is invited. If you decide you want an open house, ask your agent to require visitors to sign in and list their names and phone numbers at a minimum. If the house is large enough, some agents will enlist a fellow agent to stand on the second floor or separate wing.
Still, a real estate agent is not a security guard. And requiring a sign-in is just a small deterrent, as there’s no guarantee that someone will list a true name and contact information. When you’re having an open house, you should be especially diligent about locking and storing all valuable items.
Your questions and comments are greatly appreciated.
Monty H. & Carolyn A.Go back