Spying – The Story about House Hunting While Being Watched

I recently wrote a post about protecting our privacy while using digital devices. And at the end of that post, I cautioned to be particularly careful when viewing properties while house hunting because I had encountered a weird situation with a spy camera in one of the properties we ‘almost’ purchased. A few people indicated to me they were curious to know what happened. So today, I’m going to share that incident.


We had just sold our big ranch bungalow and weren’t quite sure yet where we wanted to move – buy another single detached home, rent somewhere for awhile until we decided, or perhaps a townhouse bungalow not far from our home, which was part of a condo development, meaning there’d be monthly maintenance fees for care of the properties (also known as HOA fees in the U.S.).

We decided to take a look at the semi-detached bungalow development.

At the time our real estate agent was a friend of ours, her name was Ro. Ro was a go-getter agent, unabashed, and knew her business well. She never held back from what she wanted to say or ask of a client or a potential seller. Ro was a loud and boisterous person and when she spoke, there was no volume control.

Ro drove us over to have a look at the bungalow. It really was a beautiful development for the ‘over 50 crowd’ – a number I was soon approaching but still not comfortable with the idea of moving into a quiet lifestyle. Ro mentioned that many of the residents chose this development because the properties were looked after by the corporation, which left no worries for many of the snowbirds to fly away for the winter knowing their homes would be looked after on the outside. This was appealing to my husband who was getting ready for his first retirement.

Ro fumbled with the lockbox for a bit, then finally we were in. The first thing I noticed in that rather nice layout of a home was its untidyness as dishes were in the sink and lingerie was sprawled out, hanging to dry in the laundry room and beyond. I remarked to Ro how someone could have a showing in their home and keep it in disarray. Ro loved to talk and I’m no sloucher when it comes to conversation, so I shudder to think about all we talked and laughed about during that tour, besides what we later discovered we did talk about.

I know for sure, we freely discussed selling price, possible offer prices, definite changes needed to update to the house, and most likely, shared a couple of snarky comments about some of things we saw that were in bad taste. Then we went down to the games room and bar in the basement.

Ro and I were both thorough gals. We didn’t leave too much unturned when visiting homes. I was a seasoned house shopper and wasn’t shy about opening cupboards and such to check out all the space of nooks and crannies. Then Ro and I walked into the downstairs bathroom. It was fairly dark as we both had trouble finding the newfangled light switch. But we proceeded to walk into the bathroom, guided by the hallway light. Then Ro pulled back the shower curtain and we both screamed in terror.

In the dark, we both instantaneously screamed at the sight of a leg. Ro let go of the curtain and we bolted out still screaming. We were sure there was a dead body in the shower!

Hubby came down to the basement from wherever he was inspecting once he heard our primal screams. The three of us searched for the bathroom light, turned it on, and hubby braved us both and ripped back the shower curtain. It was a prosthetic full leg leaning against a corner of the shower wall. Holy crap!

Oh no!


My heart was still beating at what felt 100 times its pace from the initial horror we’d thought we’d encountered when I shouted “Who the #$#$ does that? Leaving a lone leg stashed in a shower in a dark basement when they’re showing their home? There was plenty more conversation, talk of asking price way too much, and a few nasty remarks made by all three of us before we’d left the home.

Despite the madness we encountered, and the disarray of the home, the house held potential for us and we’d gone back for another two looksees before we’d decided that we should really put an offer on that home. After lots of negotiating on price and terms, including – always, the escape clause – we had one week to get the house inspected, and if we’d found anything we didn’t like from the report, we could bail.

We had the house inspection done a day later, two days before we were scheduled to leave for a week to Las Vegas. We were relieved to know we could go away without worrying about where we were going to live. That was until I got a text message from my real estate lawyer to give her a call on our second day in Vegas.

Back then – ten years ago, a Canadian hardly used their cell phone to make calls while out of country because of the exorbitant phone bill, so I ran over to the pay phone section just adjacent to the casino floor in the Paris hotel to call my lawyer. She wanted to advise us about some of the condo corporation guidelines she’d gone through and wanted to point out some possible additional costs that would come with purchasing the property. Turns out, expensive lawyer did all the necessary homework.

Apparently, there was going to be more involved moving into that development. Besides the purchase price and the stated monthly maintenance fees, it was discovered that when something goes wrong outside any of the homes, the money came from the monthly fees, but if a project was bigger and there weren’t enough funds, every household would be dinged for extra money. That development was due for new roofs at the cost to each homeowner to pay an additional $20,000 as well as an agenda coming due for all new windows. I gulped.

Hub and I discussed the fact that it was impossible to budget for old age not knowing when the corporation would hit us up for more money, and ultimately, we decided to bail. I called Ro and we discussed the days we still had left to back out after the inspection. I told her to make up some excuse we didn’t like about the inspection findings and to break the deal.

Later, after Ro broke the news to the owners, she mentioned that the husband went a bit off the walls in anger about what kind of crazy people we all were, while making idle threats we should watch our backs if we didn’t follow through.

A few days later, we were back home and hubby was outside on the driveway standing on a ladder, replacing a surprisingly broken light bulb over the garage door. I was puttering in my flowerbeds when I noticed a black SUV driving slowly past our house, and driving around the cul de sac to pass by a few more times. After about the 3rd pass, the man stopped his car, rolled down his window and shouted, “You wouldn’t want to be falling off that ladder now, and you should keep your eye out for more broken lights to come.” He continued ranting on about our ‘dirty trick’, putting an offer on his house that we asked to visit three times before putting an offer on, wasting his time and repeated some of the comments I shared with Ro while in his house. He then laughed eerily and loud, and added the ‘leg’ shenanigans in the shower was priceless to him.

I darted into the house and called Ro to let her know what just transpired and asked her to call his agent and to let him know if there was to be one more threatening visit we’d be calling the police.

Nothing more ever came from the man, but needless to say, I remained leery for quite some time whenever a black SUV drove down our street. We ended up buying a single detached home a few weeks later.

The scary man and house adventure taught us a few things. First and foremost, we’d learned that with the advent of digital technology, to never lose our guard with future home purchases and to keep our house comments, questions and price conversations for once outside any home we viewed, and to never forego a house inspection because it affords us time for buyer’s remorse. Buyer beware!


Do you have any house hunting horror stories you’d like to share?



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Buyers/Authors #Beware when Purchasing #Amazon Gift Certificates



With the upcoming holidays, no doubt many gifters will be thinking about purchasing gift certificates. This particular article is written specifically to create awareness when purchasing gift certificates from Amazon. Be careful which site you purchase them on because they are not interactive – meaning, if for example you’re American and want to send a gift certificate to a Canadian friend, or from any other country, your US gift certificate will be no good to us. This information is especially important for authors when doing promos and sending readers a gift certificate to purchase a book they’ve won from the author.


How do I know this?

I know this because I’ve run into this problem as a gift certificate receiver in the past and just recently again. But this time I spent over 2 hours on the phone with Amazon trying to get to the bottom of it.

An author friend was recently running a Black Friday promo (which I posted HERE). She offered, buy one of her books, and get 2 free. I purchased one of her books, and she emailed me an Amazon gift certificate. I went to Amazon to load the coupon, and without any options available, just ‘click to redeem’, and my US certificate is now sitting in Amazon.com in my account where it is not of any use to me. Even though I’m Canadian and must purchase books and/or items from .ca, Amazon took the liberty of loading that coupon to .com – no option, no warning, no offer to convert US funds, and no availability for me to even download a kindle book from .com. So the coupon is useless sitting in my account in US funds.

I was fortunate to have a lovely rep answer my call, we’ll call her Amy for the purpose of this post. I initially called to move that money over to .ca account where it should have gone in the first place. Amy couldn’t believe the troubles she’s encountered with Canadian complaints on many fronts besides the certificate problems, and in the two hours on the phone, we became fast friends. She said she was going to try and get to the bottom of things and find out an option to give me the money, or at least have Amazon let me choose the books for the value and load them on to my kindle for me.

After our lengthy talk and her putting me on hold many times in efforts to keep trying different resolution departments, she told me she’d call me back instead of keeping me on the phone. When she did call back, she apologized up and down for taking me through the hoops over money that was mine but not able to use. She told me, she was told that if the certificate was in US funds, it went directly into .com, end of story. She and I were both appalled, and she said she was going to make it her mission to stand up for Canadians who get short-changed in the Amazon system, including bringing up to her superiors, my biggest Amazon peeve, that when I pay for advertising to promote a kindle countdown and advertise it to my readers, Canadians don’t count, we’re not eligible to purchase a countdown deal. Seriously, what era are we living in? I can’t even see my own books on countdown when I’m running that promo, I have to message an American friend to go to my page and see if the book is on sale!

The bottom line here is that anyone purchasing gift cards, especially authors buying them for promos for readers, MAKE SURE YOU BUY THEM FROM THE AMAZON SITE OF THE COUNTRY THAT RECEIVER LIVES IN.

After Amy did all she could to reverse the US download, to no avail, she felt so bad, she sent me a Canadian gift card from herself! Then she stayed on the phone with me to make sure it would download and I was able to use it. This experience was new for her too and she wanted to make sure the process worked because when I loaded the new gift card to my .ca account, we wanted to make sure I was able to have access to the funds. So I proceeded to purchase a book, and when I purchase books I’m always offered the ‘one click to buy’, and I was concerned that it would still charge my credit card and not use the funds in my account. There was no pop-up or info asking if I wanted to use the credit in the account or if it would automatically charge my card. But with a little sniffing around I did the test and it worked.

I downloaded a book, then I clicked on the top bar ‘my account‘ then this screen opens


Then I look under Gift Cards and click on ‘View Gift Card Balance’, sure enough the price of the book I just purchased was deleted off total of the gift card used, showing a remaining balance. I had proof my purchases were coming out of the amount deposited from redeeming the gift card. And so I purchased a second book and repeated the steps to make sure the charge wasn’t going on my card.

Now for future purchases of any gift cards, all you have to do is go to the Amazon site of the country you wish to purchase a gift card for, for example Amazon.ca, and when the page opens, on the top black bar, just under the search bar, you will see headings, and one of them is ‘gift cards’. You can click on that and you’ll be taken to this page:


Now you can choose how you want to purchase your gift card and then forward to someone.

I hope this post helps many of you to not waste your precious dollars buying gift certificates in your own currency to give to others in different countries. Not only does the recipient lose out, but for authors who use these certificates as part of promos on a regular basis, this will save you dumping your money in the garbage, because once the certificate is downloaded, there is no recouping the amount back for the buyer or the receiver. Unfortunately there is nowhere else to find out these surprises until they occur. When in doubt before purchasing, call Amazon customer service to find out the rules because often times they aren’t presented to us without doing a major search and still sometimes finding grey areas.

Have any of you had this situation where you received an Amazon gift card you could never use?