Smile for the Camera? Considerations for Using Surveillance Technology

Our next guest blogger is Jessica Edgerton, associate counsel at the National Association of REALTORS®. Following Lee Adkins’ post about voice assistant hubs, we wanted to share a look at the legality of having cameras and microphones in homes for sale.

Real estate agents and sellers sometimes use video recording devices to monitor open houses and walk-throughs. The motivations for surveillance are varied, and can be compelling. Video recording can offer an added layer of security for real estate agents conducting solo showings or open houses in remote areas. A prominently posted notice that security cameras are in place may act as a deterrent for physical attacks, theft, and vandalism. Some sellers and real estate agents may even use recordings to gain insight into a home’s marketability.

Canary Camera set up in CRT Labs

Canary Camera set up in CRT Labs

While surveillance technology can offer many benefits during the home-selling process, it is important to consider the possible legal implications. In general, individuals have the right to control legal activities within their own home. However, every state has privacy laws addressing the ways in which people may be permissibly recorded, and these laws vary widely. In addition, the laws governing audio surveillance versus video surveillance are not the same. It is therefore essential that homeowners and real estate professionals consult with an attorney prior to setting up any surveillance as part of a sales plan.

Video-Only Surveillance

Video surveillance is generally permissible in any situation where an individual does not have a reasonable expectation of privacy. Because it would be unreasonable to expect privacy while one is in public, the ubiquitous presence of video cameras on street corners, at banks, and in public transportation is entirely within the bounds of the law. Similarly, if a video camera records a prospective buyer walking into a home’s entryway with her real estate agent during an open house, she would have a difficult time claiming that she had had a reasonable expectation of privacy. However, if the buyer steps into a bathroom to use the facilities, she would almost certainly – and reasonably – expect privacy. Therefore, homeowners should avoid installing cameras in bathrooms, even if the homeowner’s intent in doing so is both reasonable and innocent – for example, as an effort to prevent the theft of prescription drugs. (Instead, sellers should always make sure that medicines, weapons, and valuables are securely locked up or taken off-site during showings.)

Audio Surveillance

With very limited exceptions, audio surveillance laws in every state require the consent of one or all parties to a recorded conversation. Know your state laws prior to utilizing any recording device that captures audio.

Ethical Considerations

In addition to legal considerations, sellers and real estate agents should consider the ethical and reputational implications of making surreptitious recordings. The following best practices can help avoid reputational debacles involving recording devices:

  • Provide Notice. Consider providing prior notice when recordings may be made during a showing. You can post the notice in the MLS or on the property, or send notification via email prior to showings and open houses. In addition, if any cameras have an audio recording function, be sure to disable the audio function or get all necessary consents pursuant to your state’s laws.
  • Keep Recordings To Yourself. Never publish or share any recording you make of other people without their consent. The only exception to this is if you happen to record possible criminal activity – in that case, you should discuss the incident with the police, and provide them with the recording upon their request.

A Note to Buyers’ Agents: Don’t Take Privacy For Granted

Buyers and their agents should keep in mind that nanny-cams, surveillance cameras, mobile phones, laptops, and tablets are all capable of recording video and, in many cases, audio. Prior to any walk-through or open house, buyers’ agents should consider advising their clients of the possibility of hidden recording devices. A good practice is to simply save all thoughts on a house until everyone is back on the sidewalk.

Jessica Edgerton is associate counsel at NAR. Her work includes extensive membership education and outreach. She is a regular speaker on the subjects of cyber fraud, cybersecurity, and legal risk mitigation for real estate professionals. She contributes to REALTOR® Magazine, AE Magazine, and RIS Media on a wide range of risk management topics.

Tech Trends 2017: A New Webinar from CRT Labs for REALTORS®

Looking for an in-depth look at the Smart Home trends of 2017? Look no further than this new webinar!

Join our User Experience Designer, Joe Sullivan, as he talks about six product categories making waves this year. Joe has a lot of great information on current smart devices, including a look at what each product does, the benefits of incorporating them into your current lifestyle, and some questions buyers and sellers may have about homes with smart home fixtures. Joe also goes over some tips for REALTORS® when working with smart home tech during the listing process. The webinar covers three security and three lifestyle smart home product families – smart locks, smart security cameras, smart doorbells, smart lights, smart thermostats, and smart air quality monitors. If you’re interested in this webinar, head on over to the product page at the REALTOR® Store and check it out! And let us know what other topics you’d like to see covered in webinars – we’re always excited to help our members learn more about technology and its impact on real estate.

 

The Iterative Smart Home

Almost three years ago, Chad wrote a post about the beginnings of what he called the Iterative Smart Home. Smart home technology was just beginning to break out into the mainstream, and the need for a common, unifying system was coming to the forefront. Several players emerged (and I’ll cover their fates later in this post) with each vying to become the central hub of a smart home. Where is this technology now, what have we learned in the past three years, and what’s next for the iterative smart home?

hub

The iterative smart home that Chad wrote about seems simple now, but was revolutionary even three years ago. You chose your own devices – which could span multiple product categories, brands, and even protocols – and put them together in a system that you, ultimately, would design yourself. Central to this concept was a smart hub that would talk to all these devices without you having to program anything on your own. There were four companies that Chad pointed out were creating hubs with this in mind: SmartThings, NinjaBlocks, Revolv, and Staples Connect. As of this post (December 2016), three of these four technologies no longer exist; only the SmartThings hub, which was bought by Samsung and is the cornerstone of their smart home product line, can be purchased today. And while covering the fleeting nature of some technology is a post all on its own, I have to acknowledge that in technology, especially in such a relatively new platform like smart home devices, companies will come and go quickly. This, of course, poses a problem when you tie it to devices that typically have long lifespans, like thermostats, refrigerators, and other home appliances; but it also highlights the need for a unifying and iterative smart home platform to emerge.

As I mentioned, SmartThings is one of the hubs that existed in 2016 and is still going strong, along with the Wink, which I covered in a previous look back at some of our old predictions. I personally have a SmartThings hub in my home, and it really brought me around to making that space “smarter.” I decided to use smart products to solve a problem that my apartment’s layout has – a lack of easy-to-access lighting. By replacing my regular CFL bulbs with Hue and GE Link bulbs, I can now control a variety of lights all from my phone; and to handle the bulbs that I couldn’t replace outright, I hooked up some WeMo Insight Switches. The Hue and GE Links can speak to each other with the bridge that Hue requires for use of its bulbs; but the bulbs had no way of speaking to the WeMo switches. On top of this, my new Google Home can only natively speak to the Hue bulbs – so asking Google to turn my lights on and off only worked with those bulbs, and again not the switches. I could create a series of programmed actions through a service like IFTTT; or I could have a hub do the legwork. I picked up SmartThings since it worked with the devices I had just installed as well as Google Home. It was easy to set up – I just plugged in the hub, ran the setup through an app on my iPhone, and within minutes the hub had discovered all my devices and I was up and running. Now, Google can turn on and off all my lights, not just the bulbs. Using SmartThings, I was also able to set up an automation – when my home network detects my phone is close to home, my hallway lights turn on, which is great since I have to fumble in the dark when I open my front door just to turn on my lights.

This iterative thought process is intuitive – I identified a problem, began breaking it down into small solutions, and by taking steps on my own, was able to completely change the way I interact with the lights in my home. Before coming to CRT Labs, I was a bit skeptical on the usefulness of this technology; but now I know I have the flexibility to create a home that works the way I want it to. This is possible because companies are working together to make their products work together, instead of closing off their ecosystems so that you have to buy in to one brand and stick with it.

I talked a bit last week about voice control and the future of IoT; I believe that an iterative smart home will be part of why voice control will become more popular. By allowing a homeowner to chose their products, including the voice controller that works best for them, the owner gains a level of control and familiarity with the system they are creating for themselves. And that DIY mentality is something that we noted in our Smart Home Survey as important to REALTOR® clients when talking about smart home technology. With voice control becoming more common, I think that device manufacturers will begin creating their products with voice control in mind; for example, I could have even more voice control of my lights than I currently do with my Google Home, being able to set lights to exact colors that I save as favorites. We’ll also be seeing a move to have more devices interact with each other out of the box – if your thermostat kicked on in one room, it could trigger a light in the room you’re in to let you know that you’ll be using HVAC at that time. This flexibility will allow us to begin seeing our homes as an entire ecosystem, not just a series of rooms.

#007 – Things Thursday – A Smart Home Speaker Battle, IoT Security (again) & More

Image of people beneath an array of security cameras
After a lengthy summer and fall break, Things Thursday returns! Today, we’ll look at the battle of the smart speakers, and what smart home devices can mean for older homeowners plus much more!

  1.  Amazon Echo v Google Home: Battle of the smart speakers (via Wareable)
    Wareable looks at the pros and cons of the two best voice enabled smart speakers on the market. If you’re not sure which speaker to get, this is a good piece for you. Also, please note that Amazon makes the Echo Dot as well, and that goes for $50. I think it makes a great closing gift. As far as the article goes, personally, I think Amazon has the lead, but Google is gaining fast here. Today they released their developer API for Actions, which are like Alexa’s Skills. This allows for custom apps for voice interaction. By way of example, here’s an Alexa Skill for Tech Valley Homes Real Estate by Voiceter Pro. In my opinion, this is going to be the dominant way for controlling and interacting with our homes. It happens we wrote about this very subject and you can check out Adrienne’s post on the future of IoT and the role voice plays.
  2. What Bruce Schneier teaches us about IoT and cybersecurity (via IoT Central)
    Bruce Schneier is a highly respected security expert and boy does he have opinions about IoT and security. They are solid ones at that. Recently he testified to the Congress Committee on Energy and Commerce on the topic of the DDoS attacks. What he does well in his testimony is simply define how we should think about smart home technology and the internet of things in general. Currently, we tend to trivialize the security concerns related to these replacements of everyday devices (smart lights = lights, smart thermostats = thermostats, etc.). In fact, what Schneier recommends is that we don’t do this and instead we see each item as an individual computer. Treat these devices as needing the same hardening as we provide for laptops and other computers. I recommend both the article and testimony above.
  3. Top 10 Smart Home Technologies for Older Homeowners (via Claims Journal)
    SRES Designees take note. Claims Journal just published a list of devices that older homeowners will find useful. MIT’s AgeLab and The Hartford insurance company conducted the survey. Here’s something I found truly fascinating from the study:

    According to the survey, just over half (51 percent) of homeowners over the age of 50 either have smart home technology or are interested in buying it. Of those who do not currently have smart home technology but plan to purchase it or are interested in getting it, about half (49 percent) are willing to spend between $101 and $500 on it in a year.

    Pretty cool to see these numbers. This seems to align with previous reports and it also shows a great opportunity to provide these devices as closing gifts, as, according to our Smart Home Survey, only 2% of members are giving these devices as closing gifts.

  4. BONUS: If you haven’t already, check out our Smart Home Survey (via CRT Labs Blog)
    Great segue to talking about our Smart Home Survey…We are really excited by our new survey as it’s helping us set direction and see where we can provide coverage. We’d love to get your feedback on it. Let us know how you’re using it too!!

That’s all for Things Thursday this week. Have questions? Want us to cover something? Let us know. You can follow us on Twitter @crtlabs or Facebook.

Smart Homes & REALTORS – What do you know?

Smart Home Survey Featured Image

We’re really excited to write today about our new survey, which highlights the emerging technology needs of our membership and our work. We’re kicking things off with our first survey for CRT Labs: the  Smart Homes &REALTORS® Survey. This is an insightful look into what our members and their clients know about smart home technology and where we can help you learn and grow your business in the smart home space.

Member Interest in Smart Home Tech

One of the most exciting things we see in the survey is the amount of interest members have in smart devices and how they can use them in their business. Based on our data, it is not just new and young agents who are interested in this technology, but more seasoned members of the REALTOR® population. A prime example of this is seen in this question about interest in an NAR Smart Home Certification.

A percentage based bar graph gauging interest of NAR members in an NAR smart home certification. 42% of those surveyed are interested, 22% are not interested and 36% don't know if they are interested.

What we note is that almost half of those surveyed were interested in a certification program. The characteristics of those interested in a certification are surprising to me in a good way. Looking at the median experience, hours of work, and age, we see that members working full-time and near the overall median member age of 54 are interested in this type of certification; this type of certification appears valuable to industry veterans.

When we move to the second tier of characteristics and break down interest by years of experience, we see that over half of those who say they are interested in a certification had more than 16 years of experience. We also see that members aged 55 and up are very interested in this type of certification.

Currently, NAR does not offer such a certification or designation – but, if you are interested in gaining some knowledge on smart home tech and energy efficiency (and I suggest you consider it because younger buyers are very interested in these features), NAR does have the GREEN designation, with a section on smart home technology and advantages to clients with respect to energy efficiency as part of this designation. Also, if you are interested in getting a better handle on the terms and concepts behind smart home technology, check out our smart home glossary and our internet of things FAQ.

Client Interest in Smart Home Tech

One of the big reasons for NAR members to understand this technology is because your clients will be interested in what these devices can offer them.

Client Interest by Type

These responses are insightful, and confirm that security and privacy are top priorities for clients. Concerns around these two topics have been evident for a while and have become hot topics since the Mirai attacks. Start with our Smart Home Checklist (95 downloads) to help clients with these concerns. What is surprising to me is that comfort remains in the middle of the pack as far as importance of functionality goes. That’s typically been a big selling point for these devices. If you look at the “Very Important” slice by itself, you get the top 5 in this order:

  • Security 51%
  • Privacy 45%
  • Cost Savings 44%
  • Energy Savings 42%
  • Comfort 38%

When you combine the “Very Important” numbers with the “Somewhat Important” column, the functions shift:

  • Security 81%
  • Energy Savings 78%
  • Cost Savings 77%
  • Privacy 75%
  • Comfort 71%

Energy Savings and Privacy swap places. I’m not declaring anything definitive here, just highlighting an unexpected shift. Privacy moves down the list and Energy Savings rise. It’s not a huge difference between that and Cost Savings, but could be an indicator of future importance for these areas. We’ll be keeping an eye on this.

For us, another interesting function-related finding was that Air Quality rated low. My personal opinion is that this will shift in the coming years as more devices and projects become available and consumers are more aware of the impact that air quality has on comfort and energy efficiency. This is a vertical we are going after with our Rosetta Home and PiAQ projects. Air quality will be key in the function of a smart home. We envision a home that reacts and self-regulates to keep you comfortable and safe. These metrics from air quality will inform decisions made by your house.

What You Can Do

So what can you take from this report and use in your business today? Well, a lot! First, the most surprising graph to me:

screen-shot-2016-11-30-at-6-16-46-am

According to this, only 2% of you have given a smart home device as a closing gift. Most likely there are a few reasons for this:

  • Not understanding what’s on market
  • Cost
  • Concerns around privacy and security

Definitely start thinking about the potential of these devices, which are available at a variety of price points, as gifts. First, you can consult our gift guides here:

You can also look at our thermostat tear sheet for more options. Giving these devices as closing gifts are a way to keep the conversation going after closing. These devices last beyond a bottle of champagne and have the potential to offer improved living for homeowners. There is an opportunity for marketing yourself in a much different way.

In Closing

I wanted to close by saying that there is a lot for us here to work with to offer opportunities for you to help clients navigate the emerging smart home space. Smart home tech is here to stay for these reasons:

  1. Devices are becoming cheaper and more feature-rich.
  2. Security for these devices is becoming more important.
  3. Other verticals (utilities and insurance among them) are paying attention and penetrating the market with offerings.

Knowing what you’re interested in, combined with the ever-changing tech world, helps us at CRT Labs with our primary goals: to educate, innovate, and advocate for the future of technology and real estate.

A Look Back…Our Predictions about the Wink Hub

CRT Labs has come a long way in a year, and the lab is always excited to look ahead at future technologies and what they’ll mean for the real estate industry. However, it’s also important to look back at some old posts and see how our technology predictions panned out. In this post, I’ll be examining an old Bits & Bytes post about the Wink Hub from June 2014. In that post, Chad took a look at one of the early smart home hubs, the Wink Hub, and mused on the future of the smart home (including a couple guesses about Apple and Google’s smart home offerings).

The Wink Hub in our Chicago lab

The Wink Hub in our Chicago lab

First, let’s take a look at the past two years of smart home development and the Wink Hub itself. In 2014, the Wink Hub was a new device, created in collaboration with corporations like GE and Honeywell, by a startup called Quirky in New York City. The Wink Hub was a huge step forward for smart home technologies – large companies, already with their toes in the IoT waters, were beginning to think about interoperability and the lifespan of their devices. Quirky was a successful incubator that looked at thousands of ideas a month from inventors, carefully curating their offerings and facilitating the research, development, and production of dozens of products. The Wink was their first major foray into the IoT marketplace, a hub that promised the beginning of the easily automated smart home.

Did the Wink live up to that promise? Well, in 2015, Quirky filed for bankruptcy, which for some seemed like it would signal the end for the smart home hub technology. But Flex, a manufacturing company, bought Wink from Quirky, and Wink soldiered on. As of April 2016, Wink has 1.3 million devices on its network, with 20,000 more coming online each week. That bodes well for the technology, and Wink combining multiple standards into their device (in a world that still hasn’t standardized protocols) means that there will likely be an interest, at least in the near future, for people who want to centralize their smart home devices without feeling encumbered by the restrictions of only working within one company’s ecosystem.

We’ve seen a couple hubs come and go (and I’ll talk more about that in upcoming post), but Wink and Samsung’s SmartThings seem to be in it for the long haul. So that leaves us with the question – what about the future of companies like Apple, Amazon, and Google, who have recently extended their offerings to include voice assistants that can act as smart home hubs?

In his post, Chad mused that if these companies getting into the smart home – and smart home hub – game, would that mean that the Wink (and others like it) would become obsolete? I think instead of watching the hubs get pushed out of the market, the Big Three are embracing what hubs bring to the table. Google Home came to market with support for SmartThings; Apple’s HomeKit currently integrates with the Insteon Hub; and Alexa works with not only those hubs, but the Wink as well. Device manufacturers are creating their offerings for all the major hubs, and while there still isn’t a central standard protocol yet, it’s clear that the manufacturers are interested in allowing their devices to be part of these types of networks in order to get their products in the hands of more consumers.

Wink just announced an upgrade for their hub – the Wink Hub 2.0 began shipping late last month. Does this mean the company has legs? I don’t know if we can ever be confident in predictions in such a rapidly changing marketplace, but I do think it’s easy to see that, for now, hubs have a major place in unifying the internet of things and allowing consumers a wider variety of options when it comes to customizing their own smart home.