Home Sellers Using Hidden Cameras, Microphones To Spy On Potential Buyers

Kyle Perisic | Contributor

As the world becomes more integrated with technology, so, too, have houses become integrated with smart devices like motion detectors, WiFi-connected cameras and microphones — home sellers are using these cameras and microphones to covertly monitor potential buyers.

While most cameras are often visible, they sometimes can be hidden in furnishings such as stuffed animals or bookshelves, USA Today reported Monday.

Part of the reason for this is the lower costs of recording devices. “Recording devices are cheaper and more readily available,” National Association of Realtors deputy counsel Leslie Walker said. A stuffed animal, equipped with a hidden 1080p Wi-Fi camera, costs $349 on Amazon at the time of this article’s publication.

New York City-based Elika Associates’ principal broker Gea Elika estimates up to a third of the condos he shows are equipped with surveillance equipment, particularly because the properties he showcases cost millions of dollars. A few years ago, when a client saw a camera following her, she wanted out.

“She kind of wanted to get out of there,” Elika said and added the client described it as “creepy.” She didn’t buy the unit.

“Before we walk in the door, I say, ‘Pretend the seller is home’ or ‘Pretend somebody is listening,'” Exclusive Buyer’s Realty broker Andi DeFelice said.

A staggering 15 percent of the Americans who have sold a home told pollsters they’ve used cameras to monitor potential buyers and 67 percent said they’d do the same if they were selling a home with cameras already in them, according to a NerdWallet survey Harris Poll conducted.

Depending on the state the house is in, it might be illegal to record unsuspecting potential buyers without their consent.

“One-party consent” states require the consent of one of the parties involved in the in-person — or phone call — conversation. If you are a party involved in the conversation, only you need to give consent to record. But if this house monitoring situation is in a “two-party consent” state, all parties are required to give consent to the recording.

“Regardless of whether state or federal law governs the situation, it is almost always illegal to record a phone call or private conversation to which you are not a party, do not have consent from at least one party, and could not naturally overhear,” according to Digital Media Law Project.

Next time you’re touring a potential home and see a cute, stuffed animal located in a conspicuous place, know someone might be staring back at you.

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