“Private” Showings Are Not as Private as You Think.

February 16, 2021


Smile – You're on Camera.

Rapid advances in technology have made the concept of “privacy” in our everyday lives something of a joke. Everywhere you travel with your smartphone and every site you search is logged somewhere by someone, and then this information is sold and used to sell you things you didn't know you needed. And who knows what other nefarious stuff your phone may be doing without your knowledge?

Technology has certainly found itself at home in your home, too. Doorbells and security cameras have gotten so advanced that they can record hours of crystal clear 4K video with remarkable audio sensitivity, and alert you on the aforementioned smartphone when something is amiss. This is generally all good stuff, and the home security industry is absolutely booming as a result.

But home security systems can create a very real privacy issue for home shoppers, especially now that all showings are done by appointment only. Normally during a private showing, a buyer could have an open and frank discussion about the pros and cons of the house, or perhaps thoughts about the pricing. That's a luxury you don't get at an open house, since you don't want to play your hand to an eavesdropping listing agent or other potential buyers. That sense of privacy and confidentiality that you think you have because your showing is private is a false one at best, however, because if there are recording devices in the house there's a very good chance the seller is listening in on your conversation — or worse yet, watching it as well.

This is all perfectly legal since you're entering someone's private residence voluntarily, so it's very important to heed a few points of advice to keep your private thoughts private during a property showing:

  • Assume every home is wired. It doesn't matter whether a home is old or new — security systems can abound in any of them. Develop the habit of just assuming every home is wired, and conduct your activities during a showing accordingly.
  • Have sensitive discussions outside. There's always a natural urge to gush out loud over a brand new kitchen, or to complain over the how small the master bathroom may be. Even worse is to launch into a pricing discussion while you and your agent are hanging around in the kitchen. You're just giving the seller information that can be used as ammunition against you in a negotiation. It's ok to have these discussions about a house while you are still there — just take it outside, safely out of earshot. Convene with your agent freely in the back yard after you've walked through the entire house and then talk frankly about what you like or don't like. Don't have that discussion by the front door, since “smart” doorbells are amazing at picking up your conversation.
  • Behave appropriately. There are normal rules of etiquette that need to be followed when touring someone's home, and those rules have been significantly tightened during COVID times. Things like opening the fridge or checking out the cabinet space are normally questionable activities that I see all buyers do during tours, but they're definitely forbidden now during the pandemic. Don't get yourself (or your agent) in hot water by violating those rules.

I have no problem with home security systems recording the comings and goings at a house. I had a very good example of point #3 above just last year at one of my listings. A buyer's agent who was supposed to only be showing the house to the husband and wife on that particular day decided it was ok at the last minute to invite the parents AND the 60-pound family dog, which proceeded to run freely inside my clients house for over 45 minutes — all of which was caught on the security cameras in the house. Definitely not cool.

The rule of thumb is this: If what you're about to say in the house is something you wouldn't want the seller to hear, then don't say it. There's a good chance they're probably listening.

Happy house hunting!

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