The walls certainly won't talk... but they might be listening!
Have you ever been viewing a property for sale and felt a bit awkward voicing your candid opinion because the owner is lingering nearby? Of course! It's a common sentiment. That's why realtors often request the Seller vacate their property during showings. That way, if you want to comment on the outdated decor, or how inefficient the kitchen layout is, you can do so, without the Seller giving you the 'side eye'.
Or defending their stance on having a fridge in the dining room.
According to this recent CBC article by Chis Glover, 'Talkative Homebuyers Beware', there's a possibility someone might be listening in to all of your conversations, even if you think you're alone. With surveillance devices becoming increasingly common inside homes, the Real Estate Council of Ontario says buyers and brokers should be cautious during home viewings.
An Ontario realtor - Juliana Webster - said two of her clients recently used cameras and microphones to eavesdrop on potential buyers. She warns that the wrong comment could be used against the buyer: "Like, if they said, 'Oh, we would totally pay much more for the house.'" Those buyers would have unknowingly eroded much of their buying and negotiating power.
With this form of amateur at-home espionage likely to become more common, there's increasing pressure. It's the opion of many that sellers should be obliged to disclose to the public at large if their property is under surveillance.
This privacy issue is not limited solely to the property selling process, as evidenced by a recent incident reported by CTV. Back in September 2018, Robert Wallenberg, an engineer from Vancouver, travelled to Toronto and rented a Victoria Street apartment through Airbnb for his stay. One evening after returning to his room, he said something felt off. He found a few items had been moved, including the bag that had been sitting in front of the alarm clock; he'd put it there purposely to block out the light of the numbers on the clock. Given that it appeared someone had been in the suite and moved a few objects around, Wallenberg took a closer look at the clock and found a hidden camera lens.
"Then I got kind of scared," Wallenberg said. "What if he's watching right now? What if he has an apartment in this building?" (- CTV ) Wallenberg called Toronto police and immediately set about trying to find somewhere else to spend the night. Police are still investigating. But this is far from the first AirBnB traveler to discover they are "not alone". Global news reported a similar incident in 2017, and even then it was not as rare as Airbnb would have you believe. Spooky!
- ** UPDATE: March 2019 - Originially AirBnB was turning down customers who reached out to the Trust & Safety team for refunds. Representatives had beentelling customers that they had technically consented to the cameras because they were visibly displayed in photos on the listing. But as more and more blogs like this one by The Atlantic go viral, AirBnb has begungiving money back to travelers who discover their privacy is being violated. Read the article for further steps to take if this happens to you! **
How do you prevent being spied on? Well, this LifeHacker article gives a few ideas - including using a flashlight to explore all the drawers and light fixtures - but these won't help in a househunting scenario. And while there's a Device Detector app that can turn your phone into a sweeping device, or an off-the-shelf RF Detector that can monitor wireless signals, these are not very practical solutions for Buyers who are in and out of a home in 30 minutes or less.
The best advice? Be cautious of what you say while at a showing or open house. If you want to complain about the wallpaper, go ahead! But don't discuss the asking price, your finances, your motivation to buy, or how much you like the property. All of this information, if recorded by a Seller, may come back to haunt you if you decide to proceed with an offer.
As realtors, we'll be educating our buyers on this issue before we cross the threshold of a dwelling. Although we've long been interested in connected technologies within the home - as we blogged about in Smart Technology And Homes Of The Future - seeing technology as opportunistic in the selling process wasn't fully on our radar. That said, devices like the Ring Doorbell, Nest Cameras, Smart Crib Cams, and others, make it super easy for an owner to wirelessly keep an eye and ear on their home from their smartphone!
Who knew the evolution of smart technology would create new meanings in the age-old sentiment: "Buyer Beware"?
As the years roll on, more and more layers are added to the complexity of the Toronto real estate market. Do you or someone you love need assistance buying or selling? We are here to help!
~ The Urbaneer Team
Steven Fudge, Sales Representative
& The Innovative Urbaneer Team
Bosley Real Estate Ltd., Brokerage - (416) 322-8000
- we're here to earn your trust, then your business -
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