Jill Comfort, a Phoenix-area Realtor, had a good feeling about the cream-colored stucco house she planned to show her client, a young man relocating to the city from California. It was in his budget, in the right location and had a huge pool and back yard that would allow him to entertain.
It also had multiple surveillance cameras that recorded everything that went on as prospective buyers walked through.
“When we were walking out of the hallway we could see they were following us,” Comfort said. Both agent and client felt “awkward,” she added.
“I can understand where some sellers are leery of strangers walking through their house, but that’s what happens when you put your house on the market,” Comfort said. Her client, she said, was “creeped out.”
As homes become smarter, real estate agents and home buyers are increasingly finding there’s an extra set of eyes and ears on them as they tour properties for sale. In a 21st-century version of the “nanny cam,” Realtors describe everything from old-fashioned security cameras to newer contraptions like Nest thermostats tracking their conversations and actions. The rise of these wired home sellers is raising fresh concerns about privacy, courtesy and legality in a transaction that’s already fraught with emotion and potentially full of pitfalls.
The trend has spurred what Joan Rogers, a broker with Windermere Realty Trust in Portland, Ore., calls a “Hey, be aware of this” conversation among her colleagues and counterparts. Rogers says the discussion started in her area about three years ago, “about the same time that integrated home media and security became a thing, with devices that could record your home and report back to you on your smartphone. The conversation started happening that it would be wise to watch your mouth because you just never know what device might be recording.”
Many agents told MarketWatch that it’s not just that having to “watch your mouth” was uncomfortable — it’s more that such an uncomfortable breach of etiquette occurs without any real payoff for the deal.
Andie DeFelice is a broker with Savannah-based Exclusive Buyer’s Realty, Inc., and the president of the National Association of Exclusive Buyer Agents. Last fall, DeFelice took a client to see a home that seemed perfect for his specific needs: it had a detached combination two-car garage and studio with living room, kitchen and full bath — perfect for his grown son.
Shortly after the deal settled and her client had moved in, his new next-door neighbor introduced himself with some unsettling news, saying, as DeFelice put it, “I just want you to know the guy who sold the house knew he had a buyer the minute you walked through.” The neighbor wasn’t making it up: he was able to repeat the conversation client and broker had when they toured the house.
“It’s one of those things where it is the person’s home, they have the right to do whatever — but you feel a little violated,” DeFelice said.