The Walls Have Eyes – And Maybe Ears

Real Estate Listings and Surveillance Systems

Have you ever wondered if a house you’re looking at, might also be looking at you? Well, you’re not alone. It’s a common question when it comes to real estate listings regarding home surveillance systems, or “nanny cams.” Although there is technically no legal position preventing homeowners from having their surveillance system, it can’t help but feel a little creepy to consider that the seller may potentially be watching you as you look at their home. Some homes may have signage stating that there is video/audio surveillance. However, it is not always required depending on where you live.

Here in Canada, the laws surrounding video and audio surveillance are a little more clear-cut than those of the United States. In Canada, it is not illegal to monitor and record sounds, only “private communications.” So how precisely, does one determine if an individual has consented to the recording of their private conversations? Quite simply, the buyer implies consent by their acknowledgment of a decal or signage regarding surveillance. This decal or signage needs to state there is video/audio surveillance present on the property. The acceptance of signage by the potential buyer is considered enough consent that it is known to a potential buyer and their conversations, may be recorded.

Why would a seller wish to record their own home during showings? There are obvious security risks when you open your home to the real estate market. These include; showings, open houses, and the potential for theft and damage. However, sellers could record conversations and reactions to their home from potential buyers that might just give them a one-up when it comes to negotiations. Although it is less likely that the surveillance is for negotiation and spying purposes, and more likely that it’s installed to protect the homeowner and their belongings. Technology has significantly advanced in the last few years. It used to be that you played a tape and could rewind it to see no one was stealing. Now today, there’s also the option of sound. It is highly recommended by surveillance companies not to record audio or to obtain legal advice before doing so.

In conclusion, when shopping for a home always consider the “buyers beware” concept.  A good rule for buyers and their agents is to assume that there may be surveillance systems in operation in the home. Keeping that fact in mind, minimize any conversation that they would not the seller or listing agent to hear. This strategy has a minimal downside – just make a point of having these private conversations when they know they have privacy, such as outside the home or in a car/office setting. Although it is morally essential to inform potential buyers and agents with signage that there are cameras present to make everyone comfortable, that may not always be the case. Buyers beware, always consider that the walls may have eyes or ears.