Are You Being Watched?

Education & Training with Adhi Schools, LLC

Sellers marketing their homes are often concerned about what goes on inside their house when they’re not there. This has led many of these sellers to install surveillance equipment in their home for sale. Maybe the seller has a security concern: who is coming into my home and what are they doing? Are they stealing? Or maybe their interests are purely professional. What are potential buyers saying about my new floors? Is my agent working hard for me? Regardless of the motive, this is something real estate professionals must be aware of, particularly when the seller is not present.

These days it’s easy for a homeowner to keep their home under surveillance and find out what’s happening in their absence.  From openly visible security cameras to so-called “nanny cams” (hidden cameras designed to innocuously keep an eye on caretakers that are often adopted for other purposes), there are plenty of ways to keep watch.

You may be asking, is this legal? The answer is yes, for video recording - more on audio recordings in a moment.  Unless a person being recorded is somewhere they can reasonably expect privacy (e.g. a bathroom, changing room, etc.), video surveillance is legal. Considering a real estate agent is inside of someone else’s home, it is unlikely that court proceedings would determine that they could have reasonably expected privacy in the event they are recorded.

If you are listing agent and see cameras, you need to get on the same page as the seller if at all possible. Ask if the cameras are on when you are showing the home and what the purpose is. You will probably be asked about the cameras by potential buyers and agents and you should be prepared to answer that question.

It’s also possible that you may not know about the presence of cameras in your listings, particularly if they are hidden. If you feel comfortable asking the question, you could simply ask your seller if any recording equipment is in the property.  These days, it’s probably safest to assume that cameras do exist inside the home.  While this should not affect what you do on the property (as you should already have been following all legal and ethical requirements that coincide with holding a real estate license), a mindful outlook on the situation may prevent professional issues with your clients--you know the value of staying on the same page.

Audio recordings are another legal issue. Depending on the state it is illegal to record a conversation without the consent of all recorded parties. In California, the legal standard is that “confidential communication” cannot be recorded without two-party consent. “Confidential communication” is defined as any communication in circumstances as may “reasonably indicate that any party to the communication desires it to be confined to the parties thereto”, as long as the communication is not made in a “public gathering”, “in any legislative, judicial, executive or administrative proceeding open to the public”, or “in any other circumstance in which the parties to the communication may reasonably expect that the communication may be overheard or recorded”. This leaves a significant loophole. How do you define a reasonable expectation to be overheard?

According to the law offices of Stimmel, Stimmel, & Smith, answering this question will be left to the proceedings of each trial (and thus either the jury or judges). It is quite possible that a recording in someone’s home would not be considered a violation of privacy because the recorded persons are on someone else’s property, but there is not a guarantee. Real estate agents are invited into a home for business purposes and conversations are part of that standard business practice. It is entirely possible that a judge and jury would rule that privacy should not be expected.

Does all of this sound paranoid? Consider a handful of cases where that surveillance revealed some unpleasant facts.  In 2013 an agent was caught stealing underwear from his female client. In 2014 two real estate agents were caught having sex on secret cameras in the home one of them was listing. And just last year a real estate agent was caught stealing prescription pain medication from a house she was showing. Obviously these happenings are rare, but it does prove that some homeowners had good reason to be suspicious.

So for our students preparing for the California real estate exam, know that obtaining a license is not an endorsement of character. Some sellers will be skeptical or nervous about the prospect of letting strangers into their home and real estate professionals should be prepared for how those clients try to protect themselves.

What do you think about this practice? Do you have any experience with surveillance equipment like hidden cameras in properties you've listed? Is this something agents should bring up with their clients?


Posted by

Cody Carmen

Comments (56)

Michael J. Perry
KW Elite - Lancaster, PA
Lancaster, PA Relo Specialist

There are loose cannons on every ship ! Being a Broker will take years off your life !

Aug 16, 2016 01:22 AM
Cody Carmen

Michael J. Perry I'm sure brokers just love dealing with agents who complain about cameras (or worse) 

Aug 16, 2016 01:53 AM
Wayne Zuhl
Remax First Realty II - Cranford, NJ
The Last Name You'll Ever Need in Real Estate

I've heard that the measure of  person's character is what they would do if they knew they would never get caught.  Sellers have the right to record people in their homes and some people will find that their true character is revealed.

Aug 16, 2016 03:09 AM
Cody Carmen

Wayne and Jean Marie Zuhl an unfortunate lesson to have to learn the hard way. Cameras have unconvered some despicable behavior in the past, hopefully the cameras help prevent that. 

Aug 16, 2016 03:14 AM
Mike Bjork
Evolve Bank & Trust - Redondo Beach, CA

I certainly can't blame the homeowner for wanting extra security in their home.  It's not always the agent that is being scrutinized.  I think they're more concerned of the potential viewers whom come in during Open House when it's not always easy to keep track of everybody whom may be in the house at any one moment.  Great post, and definitely something to think about in this day and age.

Aug 16, 2016 03:10 AM
Cody Carmen

Mike Bjork exactly. When medication and valuable go missing, people want answers.

Aug 16, 2016 03:15 AM
Sharon Tara
Sharon Tara Transformations - Portsmouth, NH
New Hampshire Home Stager

It's best to assume someone is always watching and listening. It's certainly possible!

Aug 16, 2016 03:18 AM
Cody Carmen

Sharon Tara exactly, it's possible so we should assume it is happening. Some buyers don't really care, all the power to them. But agents should at least give a warning. 

Aug 16, 2016 03:24 AM
Roy Kelley
Realty Group Referrals - Gaithersburg, MD

I hope you are enjoying a most productive month. I appreciate your comments on my blogs.

Aug 16, 2016 04:20 AM
Cody Carmen

I appreciate your support as well Roy Kelley. August has been great so far, I hope you can say the same! 

Aug 16, 2016 04:23 AM
Monte Wall
Keller Williams Premier Realty - Katy, TX
Keller Williams Premier Realty - Katy, Texas

Very informative post Cody.  I always allow for the fact that I may be on film or recording.  And I advise my buyers as well.

Aug 16, 2016 05:49 AM
Cody Carmen

Monte Wall that is a great policy. I have been very pleased to see that most everyone who has stopped by to comment advises there clients (or will be shortly) about the potential to be seen or heard. 

Aug 16, 2016 06:07 AM
Evelyn Johnston
Friends & Neighbors Real Estate - Elkhart, IN
The People You Know, Like and Trust!

Yes, I have shown properties that have camera's on, and we assumed were recording. It is a bit uncomfortable because they cannot freely talk.  But they understand the reasoning behind it.  I have even had buyers write notes back and forth to get questions answered.

Aug 16, 2016 12:27 PM
Cody Carmen

Evelyn Johnston exactly, uncomfortable but reasonable. Notes are a simple way to work around!

Aug 17, 2016 01:39 AM
Debbie Reynolds, C21 Platinum Properties
Platinum Properties- (931)771-9070 - Clarksville, TN
The Dedicated Clarksville TN Realtor-(931)320-6730

I always caution my buyers of the possibilty of being recorded. I had some sellers that watched every showing on their cell phones from down the street. They didn't have sound but timed the showings and the lingering and then immediately called me asking me to follow up. It was unnerving. 

Aug 16, 2016 12:48 PM
Cody Carmen

Debbie Reynolds that definitely sounds unnerving. I understand watching, but you would think they would trust you to give the pertinent details of the showing in a timely manner. 

Aug 17, 2016 01:40 AM
Praful Thakkar
LAER Realty Partners - Andover, MA
Andover, MA: Andover Luxury Homes For Sale

Cody Carmen - wow! Interesting to learn that it is legal to do so.

Question - should listing agent disclose about it or not?

Aug 16, 2016 04:53 PM
Cody Carmen

Praful Thakkar I think that choice is typically up to the seller. But if the buyers or their agent ask? Tough spot there. Perhaps a prepared answer that neither confirms nor denies should be used at all listings in general.  

Aug 17, 2016 01:41 AM
Mary Ann Daniell Realtor
Coldwell Banker United, Realtors - Subsidiary of NRT LLC - Killeen, TX
Delivering Successful Results Since 1999

I've cautioned buyers for years to not say much when they are viewing a home, just in case there is video or audio recording going on.   And a quick reminder before we go in the door is a good idea.  You never know!

Aug 17, 2016 02:27 AM
Cody Carmen

Mary Ann Daniell Licensed Texas Realtor that is the best policy, glad to see you've been thinking about this for years!

Aug 17, 2016 02:39 AM
Gene Mundt, IL/WI Mortgage Originator - FHA/VA/Conv/Jumbo/Portfolio/Refi
NMLS #216987, IL Lic. 031.0006220, WI Licensed. APMC NMLS #175656 - New Lenox, IL
708.921.6331 - 40+ yrs experience

These days we should assume we're being "watched" or recorded.  No matter where or when, Cody Carmen.  More often than not, it's true.  It's the new reality with everyone having access to recording devices or security systems via affordable, easily installed security systems and cell phones.




Aug 17, 2016 07:11 AM
Cody Carmen

Gene Mundt, IL/WI Mortgage Originator - FHA/VA/Conv/Jumbo/Portfolio/Refi good point about how much easier the systems are now. Many no longer require a phone line and are much cheaper than they were even five or ten years ago. 

Aug 17, 2016 08:05 AM
Sharon Parisi
United Real Estate Dallas - Dallas, TX
Dallas Homes

It is important for all to be aware of the possibility that cameras may be present in a home.

Aug 17, 2016 04:53 PM
Cody Carmen

Seems like most agree with you Sharon Parisi, which is great! 

Aug 18, 2016 01:27 AM
Mary Stewart
Keller Williams Atlantic Partners/Southside - Jacksonville, FL

Great job!  I just added this to my "To Do" list. One should always conduct themselves  act as though they were being watched, but this is worth mentioning to customers as well. When showing property, it is often difficult to be the eyes and ears every moment, especislly if the party separates for a moment to do a relock at a room.

Aug 18, 2016 06:09 PM
Cody Carmen

Mary Stewart great points. When people get separated they might be less likely to remember the cameras. 

Aug 19, 2016 01:23 AM
Margaret Rome Baltimore 410-530-2400
HomeRome Realty 410-530-2400 - Pikesville, MD
Sell Your Home With Margaret Rome

I have had sellers with surveillance equipment. The best rule is to act as though there was always a camera and mic on you when inside a property either with your listing or with a buyer. 

Cameras exist and listening devices exist. 

Aug 19, 2016 04:58 AM
Cody Carmen

Margaret Rome, Baltimore Maryland exactly. When the technology exists and is fairly commonly used, it is irresponsible to assume it won't happen to you or your clients. I'm happy to see most everyone here has agreed so far!

Aug 19, 2016 05:37 AM
Dianne Goode
Raleigh Cary Realty - Raleigh, NC

Years ago a seller of mine secretly recorded what agents and clients said during showings.  I freaked out when he told me, but apparently it's not illegal to do that.  That client and I soon parted ways.

Aug 25, 2016 10:17 AM
Hannah Williams
HomeStarr Realty - Philadelphia, PA
Expertise NE Philadelphia & Bucks 215-820-3376

Cody Carmen  The thought never ever entered my mind ... It is a little creepy

Aug 25, 2016 10:24 AM
Cody Carmen

Hannah Williams I think it can definitely feel that way! I think it is a great reason for sellers and their agents to communicate openly

Sep 02, 2016 01:40 AM
Dick Greenberg
New Paradigm Partners LLC - Fort Collins, CO
Northern Colorado Residential Real Estate

Hi Cody - Great topic. We have always assumed that we could be recorded, so we save the important parts of our conversation for when we're back in the car.

Aug 26, 2016 04:59 AM
Cody Carmen

Dick Greenberg that is a great plan. Can't be too careful.

Sep 02, 2016 01:40 AM
Pat Starnes-Front Gate Realty
Front Gate Real Estate - Brandon, MS
601-991-2900 Office; 601-278-4513 Cell

Cody, I missed your post the first time around and wanted to stop by and thank you for the interesting discussion. (I saw it on Debbie Reynolds post). It's a helpful reminder to always watch your P&Qs.

Aug 26, 2016 05:19 AM
Cody Carmen

Pat Starnes I'm glad you got here somehow! I think you have the right attitude about it. Agents need to be careful, but the vst majority also don't really have anything to worry about. 

Sep 02, 2016 01:41 AM
Michael Dagner
Brokers Guild Classic - Denver, CO
Your Denver Homes Realty Expert

Hi Cody, great topic.  We always try to be mindful of eavesdropping while touring someone's home.  

Nov 27, 2016 11:26 PM
Cody Carmen

Thanks Michael Dagner , it's important and an easy mindset to get into.

Dec 01, 2016 12:04 PM
Jim Smith
The Property Management Company - Round Rock, TX

Simple solution:  all of our occupied properties have a sign at the entry stating that the property is under 24-hour audio/video surveillance.  We are under surveillance pretty much everywhere else we go, why the surprise that the same would be true of a house that the 'public' has access to?

Nov 29, 2016 10:44 AM
Cody Carmen

Jim Smith I completely agree, there is no cause for surprise. No reason to assumethat people won't pursue surveillance on their property for any number of reasons.

Dec 01, 2016 12:06 PM