Towards the end of a transaction not too long ago, my buyers and I met with the seller of the property for the final walk-through. It was a bit unusual to meet with Mr. Seller prior to settlement, but not completely unheard of, plus he he had offered to tell the buyers all about the house. Since this house came with a lot of extras, and technology, and a pool, and outdoor lighting and.. my buyers gladly took him up on his offer.
Mr. Seller provided a ton of helpful information to my clients, how to operate this, how to control that, who to call for maintenance, landscaping, cleaning ... but then he made one remark that he probably had no intention of making: I had to laugh when I watched you all trying to figure that one out.
Wait. WHAT? You watched us? You listened in? You spied on us? But that's illegal!
Needless to say, we were stunned. And mad. And uncomfortable.
Mr. Seller quickly realized what had just slipped out of his mouth. Sensing our discomfort and probably noticing the shock on our faces, he added that this was the only thing he overheard us discussing.
The thing is ... please note, this does not constitute legal advice whatsoever, I am not a lawyer. If you need legal counsel, please consult an attorney and don't rely on my little anecdotal blog post ... while it is legal to record surveillance video in your home, it is against the law to record audio without the knowledge and consent of the people being recorded* (*in the State of Maryland). Period.
Mr. Seller should have disconnected and disabled audio recording in his home prior to putting it on the market. He should also have made a disclosure to all prospective buyers entering his property that there's active video surveillance (when in doubt, always disclose .. this is such a gray area).
I do not believe for a minute that Mr. Seller only listened in during that one little incident. Can I prove it? No. Do I have the time and energy to pursue this? Also no. And my buyers weren't up to a lengthy battle either.
However, other buyers may feel so violated (rightly so) that they would/will take action.
Dear Sellers, as tempting as it may be, don't listen in while prospective buyers tour your property and/or follow a home inspector along. I understand the need for a security system. I really do. But when your house is on the market and while it's under contract, it's best to disclose any video surveillance and to disable audio. Please don't spy.
Dear Buyers, please be aware. REALTORS® do advice their seller clients about the MD law concerning audio recordings - it is a paragraph in our listing agreements - but we have no control over what sellers do with that notice/warning. Try to curb your enthusiasm while touring homes. Expect the walls to have ears. Wait to have a discussion until you and your agent have left the property.
It's not easy, I understand. Especially when you have found the one. But it's your best bet to protect your best interest and to not compromise your negotiation power.