Buyer Beware: You May Be on Candid Camera When Looking at a Home

The use of internet-connected cameras such as the Ring doorbell is becoming more and more common. Rita and I have both a Ring doorbell and four other cameras protecting the entrances to our home plus the garage, and the Golden Real Estate office has a total of 10 cameras covering the interior, exterior and our parking lot. Such systems are increasingly affordable and easy to set up, since they require no wiring and can be monitored on any smartphone. Their video (with sound) is motion-activated and uploaded to “the cloud” so that you can go back in time to see past activity. You can also be alerted real-time on your smartphone when motion is detected by any of the cameras.

With the widespread adoption of such internet-connected home cameras, it is becoming more and more possible for sellers to eavesdrop on buyers who tour their home. You can understand the value to a seller of hearing what you say as you look around. Imagine, for example, if you were caught on video saying to your agent, “I love this house! I’ll pay whatever I have to for it!”  You wouldn’t want the seller to hear that, would you?

There are, of course, legal implications to such surveillance. On the one hand, sellers have the right to install such equipment for home security, but buyers and their agents also have a “reasonable expectation of privacy” while touring your home when you’re not there.

While Colorado law allows you to record your conversations with another person secretly, that is only because you are a party to the conversation. Taping a conversation to which you are not a party is a serious matter for which you could be subject to both civil and criminal liability.

Every year, licensed real estate brokers are required to take a 4-hour real estate update class as one element of their continuing education requirement. This year’s class, which all Golden Real Estate agents take in January instead of later in the year, devotes 10 to 15 minutes to this topic of audio and video surveillance by sellers. 

In that update class, we were instructed to advise our buyer clients that they might be under surveillance while touring a home and should be careful what they say. We were also instructed to have a conversation with sellers about this topic, advising them of the legal dangers of recording buyers. It was suggested that, if our sellers do have such equipment, we urge them to post a notice next to the doorbell or prominently inside the house to the effect that “audio and video surveillance is in use” in the house. We should also put that information in the MLS listing, to protect ourselves as listing agents.

It is understandable for sellers to be concerned about strangers being escorted through their home by brokers who they do not know. When this issue is raised by a seller during a listing presentation, I let them know that no buyer will be touring their home without a licensed broker, and that all licensed brokers undergo a criminal background check and are fingerprinted in order to be licensed. Brokers would be risking their license and their livelihood to allow themselves or their buyers to commit a crime in your home. Moreover, the showing service is diligent about not providing the lockbox combination to anyone who is not a licensed broker. Your broker can also install an electronic lockbox which provides even greater accountability as to when each broker enters and leaves your home.

I have been a practicing real estate broker in Colorado for nearly two decades now, showing hundreds of listings per year to prospective buyers and holding scores of open houses for my listings.  I have yet to be made aware of any loss sustained by a seller or any misdeeds by my buyers.

Our low crime rate here in Colorado is reflected in our lowest-in-the-nation premiums for errors and omissions insurance.  In Colorado the cost of such insurance is $200-400 per year, depending on the coverage limits. In some states, like California, I’ve heard that brokers can pay that much per month for E&O coverage. 

Author: Golden Real Estate, Inc.

Golden Real Estate is a prominent member of the Denver/Jefferson County real estate scene. Based in Golden, we service both Denver and Jeffco, representing both buyers and sellers. We're well known for Broker Jim Smith's weekly "Real Estate Today" column published in the Denver and Jeffco editions of the Denver Post's YourHub section each Thursday. The column also appears in several weekly newspapers and is archived at www.JimSmithColumns.com. We have nine agents, all of whom are Realtors and EcoBrokers. Our office is Net Zero Energy since December 2017, and several of us drive electrics cars. Known for our sustainable practices, we accept polystyrene (aka "Styrofoam") for recycling, keeping 200 cubic yards per year out of area landfills.

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