Secret Surveillance: Cameras During an Open House

Hang a sign or leave a note on the listing to avoid any invasion of privacy claims, expert advises

Marcy Ewing's cameras were recording even before NBC 5 set foot in her Carrollton home. She has a total of seven outdoor cameras. Two cameras were in the home she sold about two years ago.

The surveillance system was so obvious that you could see the cameras in her property marketing flyers.

Ewing said she was watching the camera in the living room of her old house when she saw a couple of prospective buyers kiss and hug. It was at that moment when Ewing called her realtor.

"I said, 'they're gonna buy the house!' and she was like, 'how do you know?' I said, 'because I watched them on the camera!' She said, 'what do you mean you watched them on the camera?!'" recalled Ewing.

She was right. The couple bought her house at asking price. Realtor Danna Morguloff-Hayden with Ebby Halliday Realtors explained that surveillance is now common practice.

"I tell people when we start going in the houses that people may be recording you, or watching you. So if you like it a lot try not to act like you do because then we won't have a little bit of an edge when we try to negotiate the price."

According to the National Association of Realtors, each state has different rules about in home recording during a sale. While Texas is a one party consent state, meaning only one person has to know about the recording, Kenton Hutcherson, a privacy attorney, explained that an audio recording and a video recording are two very different things.

"You can use the video simply to make sure that the people aren't stealing from within your house, but with the audio you're getting their private conversations — their intentions about whether they want to purchase the house — the argument would be that you listened to my conversation and because of that you gained an advantage in the competitive negotiation process."

Hutcherson said recording a conversation between a realtor and prospective buyer could be a second degree felony punishable by two to twenty years behind bars.

Damages in a case like this would be very difficult to prove, meaning if someone sued a seller they would walk away with very little money. His advice to homeowners: Hang a sign or leave a note on the listing to avoid any invasion of privacy claims.

So far, a case involving a homebuyer suing for an invasion of privacy has never been filed, but Hutcherson said if someone took it to court they would likely win on principal.

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