A small but growing number of home sellers are using electronic gadgets to keep an eye on buyers who visit their property.
DEAR DAVE: We are getting ready to put our home up for sale, and the agent we have chosen to market the property has asked us for permission to set up a small, portable surveillance camera inside our front door. She says it will discourage bad guys from coming in during open houses just to case our home and also will help to protect herself while showing our place to strangers when she is working alone. Is this a common practice in the real estate business nowadays?
ANSWER: I wouldn’t call it a common practice quite yet, but it certainly seems to be growing.
I’ve been to a few open houses this year where the listing agents utilized small video-surveillance systems, and one where the agent simply had the screen of her laptop computer facing the front door to track incoming visitors with the help of the computer’s built-in camera.
To be sure, such surveillance can help to safeguard both the possessions and even the physical safety of sellers and agents alike. But some lawyers say it can land homeowners or salespeople in legal trouble too if certain precautions aren’t taken.
For starters, the agent should always get the homeowner’s written permission to use video surveillance. A sign should be clearly posted informing anyone entering the property that video surveillance is being conducted: “Those who choose to enter the property after being provided such notice are giving their implied consent,” notes Lesley M. Muchow, an attorney for the National Association of Realtors.
Despite the posting, Muchow adds: “The law generally recognizes that a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy, which would prevent your conducting video surveillance in a private area, such as a bathroom. Make sure your strategy does not overstep these boundaries.”
It’s also important to check local and state laws because those that govern video surveillance differ from one area to the next, the attorney said.
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About 44% of all homebuyers last year started their property search online, NAR reports, while only 17% started by contacting a real estate agent.
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DEAR DAVE: In studying my ancestry, I found that one of my late relatives had a “zygocephalum” of land. There is no definition of this term to explain it in the dictionary that sits on my bookshelf. Can you?
ANSWER: Sure. A handful of dictionary publishers have dropped the term from their pages because it really isn’t relevant in modern society.
A zygocephalum is an ancient Greek term that refers to the area of land that a team of oxen could plow in one day. It was widely used to establish farm ownership in Europe for several centuries and was even briefly used by our own Founding Fathers. But since some oxen could plow faster than others — and some farmers worked harder than others — the system gave way to today’s uniform standard of measuring land in 43,560-square-foot acres.
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DEAR DAVE: Is it true that some celebrities on HGTV have been arrested for running some kind of real estate scam?
ANSWER: No, although three of them became entangled in a recent federal lawsuit against a Utah-based company that the government claims used “deceptive promises of big profits” to promote its house-flipping seminars.
In October, the Federal Trade Commission won a temporary restraining order against Zurixx LLC that prohibits the firm from “making unsupported marketing claims” to tout its nationwide seminars. The company used endorsements from “Flip or Flop” stars Tarek El Moussa and Christina Anstead as well as “Love it or List It” co-host Hilary Farr to lure customers.
Importantly, though, the FTC did not accuse the three celebs of any wrongdoing.
According to federal prosecutors, Zurixx would offer free workshops that promised to teach attendees the secrets of making huge profits through flipping. But what they really were, the FTC said, was a sales pitch for a three-day seminar that cost nearly $2,000.
Those who paid for the seminar were then told it was only a “beginner” course, and they were then pitched “additional products and services that can cost as much as $41,297.”
For its part, Zurixx issued a press statement reiterating that the FTC did not shut down the firm’s operations and promised to work openly and directly with federal and state officials to reach a “positive outcome.”
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Our booklet, “Straight Talk about Living Trusts,” explains how even low- and middle-income homeowners can now reap the same benefits that creating an inexpensive trust once provided only to the wealthiest families. For a copy, send $4 and a self-addressed, stamped envelope to D. Myers/Trust, P.O. Box 4405, Culver City, CA 90231-4405. Net proceeds are donated to the American Red Cross.
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