This is probably happening more than we think:


Surprise, home buyers: You might be on hidden camera.

You may believe you’re having private discussions about the merits of a homeowner’s wallpaper, the ugly, orange tiles in the bathrooms, or the to-die-for bay windows as you tour a residence. But what people often don’t realize is that those surveillance cameras in the hallways may be turned on, according to Bankrate.com. And that smiling teddy bear in the corner? He may be taping everything you say.

Even the not-so-neurotic sellers often want to know exactly who wants to buy their homes, what they don’t like about them, and just how far they’ve fallen in love with the residences (useful information when it comes to negotiations), say real estate agents. And what better way to find out than to play Big Brother?

“It’s not unusual to see a camera at the edge of a playroom,” says Atlanta real estate agent Jen Engel. “But people don’t realize they’re on.”

Engel once represented a seller who used a “nanny cam” to record everything potential buyers said about the seller’s home. Engel learned of it after the property sold.

“They want to know what people don’t like,” says Engel. “They want to know if there’s an issue they’re not being told about.”

The cameras are most likely legal, although the laws can vary by state, says Indiana University law professor Fred Cate.

“It’s against the law to record someone on audio or video if they’re in a situation in which they have a reasonable expectation of privacy, [such as in] a changing room or a locker room or a bathroom,” says Cate, author of “Privacy in the Information Age.” “But when you’re in somebody else’s house with a real estate agent, it’s a little harder to argue you really have an expectation of privacy.”

For sellers, getting that honest (if ethically murky) feedback can inspire them to make changes—such as replacing that ’70s kitchen flooring or putting in new carpeting.

It can also be valuable during negotiations to know just how much buyers want the home—and how much they said they’d be willing to pay for those properties when they thought no one else was listening.

That’s why Houston Realtor® Greg Nino cautions his Re/Max Compass clients to play their hands close their vests and not say anything that could potentially be used against them—from commenting on the family pictures on the wall to gushing about how they finally found their dream home.

“I’ve had sellers actually go and spy on buyers to see if they are the kind of people they want living in their house,” Janine Acquafredda, a Brooklyn, NY–based associate broker at House-N-Key Realty, told Bankrate.com.


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