Technology's Impact on the Privacy of Home Buyers and Sellers is Under Review
Technology has undoubtedly made our lives easier. Unfortunately, some of that ease comes at the expense of our privacy. The real estate powers that be have begun recognizing how technology may be infringing on the privacy of home buyers and sellers. Here's a look at how they are addressing the issue in Pennsylvania.
Before the advent of the smartphone camera, it was much less common to photograph or video a home during a showing. In contrast, most buyers never gave thought about being under surveillance during a home preview ~ How times have changed.
One of my most impactful memories regarding surveillance happened while listing a home. I finished photographing and gathering information and was walking out the door. Before I reached my car, my cell phone rang; it was the owner. He told me I left a small light on in the living room and asked if I would turn it off. I questioned how he knew the light was still on. I assumed he had a phone app that monitored the lights. It was then he made me aware that the whole house was under audio and video surveillance. He was watching me in the house and saw I did not shut out that one light.
To say I was a bit creeped out would be an understatement. Thankfully, I was not singing and dancing to my favorite music playlist as I completed my listing duties. It was on that day I learned my lesson about home surveillance, and how it may impact the real estate business. I told the owner it might be in his best interest to disclose the existence of the surveillance equipment to any would-be agents. The seller agreed, and I added the information to the home showing instructions.
Enter the Pennsylvania Association of Realtors (PAR)
On January 1st, 2020, the PAR Forms Committee revised the Listing Contract (PAR Form XLS). One of the most glaring additions was Paragraph 17, which addressed, you guessed it, Recordings on the Property. In short, It states that the seller understands potential buyers viewing the Property may engage in photography, videography, or video telephony. It then instructs the seller to remove any items of a personal nature seller does not wish to have photographed or recorded, such as family photos, confidential paperwork, and all other personally identifiable information such as birthdates, social security numbers, telephone numbers, etc.
And for the home seller: Any person who intentionally intercepts oral communications by electronic or other means without the consent of all parties is guilty of a felony under Pennsylvania law. Seller understands that recording or transmitting audio may result in a violation of state or federal wiretapping laws.
My Two Cents
A home showing to prospective buyers is for many homeowners an issue of privacy, all be it a necessary one. While it may be prudent, I am troubled sellers have to be given notice that buyers may take photos or videos of personal and sensitive material without their consent.
Oddly, much of the criminal burden in this matter falls squarely on the seller. Paragraph 17 states that buyers can engage in collecting private data by digital means without directly notifying the seller. Still, the seller cannot partake in like-kind activity without being guilty of a felony unless they get consent from the buyer. I understand that the buyer side relates to photos and video, and the seller side refers to audio, but that's splitting hairs. Both actions could have the same intent, a desire to gain an advantage.
I realize that a real estate agent only has so much control over their buyer client. That said, It may have been more prudent for PAR to instruct all agents to convey to their clients that such activity is out of bounds on either side without the expressed consent of all parties.
My suggestion ~ If you're the seller, disclose the existence of any active surveillance equipment. If you're a buyer, ask permission. It should be a matter of common sense.
Knowledge is Power!
Jeffrey C. Hogue