Homebuyers have more to worry about than just skyrocketing home prices and rising interest rates. Apparently, big brother’s a problem too.
In a recent poll, 30% of sellers admitted to using a hidden camera to drop in on buyers when their home was on the market. That’s double the share just three years ago.
“It’s becoming increasingly more common,” says Haley Jones, a real estate agent with eXp Realty in Knoxville, Tennessee.
With the wide adoption of home video and audio technology, the jump’s hardly a surprise.
About 9.4 million homes nationwide now have some sort of Wi-Fi-enabled camera on-site. In 2020 alone, Americans bought a whopping 8 million video doorbells. Another 53% of households have a smart speaker, allowing them to easily listen in on conversations throughout the house — often using just their smartphone.
To be clear, most sellers are not installing cameras or listening devices just to keep tabs on buyers. In most cases, they already have them — often for added convenience or security around the house, but agents say they present a legal and ethical minefield once the property is on the market.
“It isn’t really ethical for sellers to be listening in, and in some states, I’m sure not legal either,” says Brian Chinn, an agent with Newberry Real Estate in Tyler, Texas. “I tell my clients they are not allowed to be listening in on those conversations. They are private, and imagine if we were looking at a house: Would you want that?”
Mining for information
Most sellers who dropped in on showings said they did it to find out what buyers did or didn’t like about the house. Another third said they wanted information to use in negotiations.
“How could you not?” asks Bianca D’Alessio, director of new development for real estate firm Nest Seekers International in New York. D’Alessio has had many clients listen in on showings and says they use their findings to negotiate “all the time.” They also use any negative remarks to drive repairs or better stage their property for the next buyer.
“If buyers keep saying a space feels cluttered or too small, it’s far more impactful hearing it directly from the buyer’s mouth and can help me make the argument for why we need staging,” she says.
Other sellers simply use cameras to ensure their home is safe during showings or to monitor when buyers have left so they can return home. In some cases, agents say, sellers might just be very attached to the home.
“Some sellers like to be really involved — especially if the property has a lot of sentimental meaning,” Salem …….