Homebuyers Beware - Sellers May Be Spying on You! How Can You Protect Your Interests?

There can be no denying that the homebuying process has changed over the years. For instance, buyers today can take advantage of significantly lower interest rates than their parents or grandparents saw a generation ago. On the other hand, home prices are higher, and new properties are typically bigger than they used to be.

And there’s one incredibly significant change that a lot of us tend to take for granted or overlook – the astonishing rise of technology.

On the one hand, there’s the fact that so many buyers and sellers today use digital platforms such as Instagram or Zillow to find and research properties. But then there’s another sneaky little technology trend, one that a lot of buyers tend to ignore – to their detriment.

We’re talking about the rise of smart home technology… And all of the ways that a connected home can be put to use to “spy” on a buyer and their broker!

As our own Jason Finn recently put it:

“Homeowners now may have web-connected cameras (visible and hidden), doorbells, and smart devices that can all spy on you very easily. They may not even be intending to spy, just protect their home, and human nature being what it is…”

Let’s dive into the smart home trend, and explore the ways it may be impacting the real estate process for better and worse.

The Growing Popularity of Smart Home Technology

As any geek or gearhead could tell you, the so-called internet of things is all the rage.

Worldwide, more than 56 million smart home hubs are expected to be shipped in 2018, a sharp step up from 2017. Experts predict that by 2020, there will be nearly 31 billion connected devices in homes, including cameras, lights, smart speakers, and appliances. In all, the connected home market is already worth more than $1 billion.

And here in Chicago? As the Tribune once put it, smart homes “aren’t just for tech geeks anymore.”

In fact, they note that “internet-connected lights, locks and laundry machines” are increasingly “becoming everyday household items, thanks in part to voice-activated speakers such as Amazon's Echo and Google Home,” which enable whole-house connectivity for a fairly low price.

But, as the Tribune points out, while these devices can help make homes greener, more efficient, and more secure, they’re not without their potential pitfalls, including the risk of exposing your privacy to hackers.

And for homebuyers, there’s another question of privacy that comes up with smart home devices. Specifically? How much privacy can homeseekers and their brokers really expect when touring a connected home?

Are Homebuyers Being Watched?

As writer Andrea Riquier put it in a great article for MarketWatch:

“In a 21st-century version of the ‘nanny cam,’ Realtors describe everything from old-fashioned security cameras to newer contraptions 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.”

There are countless ways that having an “extra set of eyes and ears” on the process can make it trickier for buyers.

For one thing, there’s simply the creepiness factor. Nobody wants to feel as though they’re being watched when they’re seeing a space for the first time – particularly if they have intentions of making a place into a forever home.

And then there’s the strategic side of it.

Sometimes home shoppers touring a property will bounce ideas off of their broker. Some will even say "I love it!", "I have to have this home", or something more specific like "if they can close by the end of next month, I'd pay full price!" which could detrimentally impact their negotiating position down the line.

On the flip side, prospective homebuyers might say something offensive, inappropriate, or even something totally kosher but misunderstood, souring any hopes of a future deal with the seller.

Keeping an Eye on the Future

So, how should all parties – buyers, sellers, and agents – deal with the rise of smart surveillance moving forward, as these devices only become more prevalent? It’s a tricky issue, with no clear solution.

As Riquier points out, the National Association of Realtors suggests that “brokers consider hanging a sign in the home or including a note on the listing form that alerts visiting brokers that there is a surveillance device.” With that said, there isn’t a formal, organization-wide standard in place, as of the time of this writing.

At the same time, the onus may fall somewhat on buyers’ agents to advise their clients that they may be recorded in any home they visit, and that they should be sure to play their cards close to the vest. In particular, buyers should be wary and avoid saying anything that could be used in a negotiation later – whether positive (e.g., “I have to have this house”) or negative (no trash talking the décor choices or family photos on the walls).

So, final thoughts? Smart home technology is a blessing in a lot of ways, with many versatile uses – and it may even add value to a listing! But society is going to have to adapt to keep up with new innovations in home security and surveillance. Until we have a universal standard in place, being aware that you may be watched ahead of time could make all the difference down the line!

Now, the Real Group RE team would love to hear from you! What are your thoughts on smart home technology? Has it affected your journey as a buyer or seller? Be sure to share your thoughts with us over on Facebook or Twitter, where we keep the real estate conversation going 24/7.

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