Preparing Your Seller to Prepare the Home to be Prepared for Showings
Part 1: Pets
This conversation has many layers and requires a couple of magazine installments. The first: owners of properties for sale with pets, and the second installment in the July magazine will highlight other concerns, such as protecting the seller’s personal property and the safety of the agent.
The family pet conversation can be a tricky one. For some sellers, the most important quality they look for in any person, including their listing agent, is how they treat the owner’s pet or pets. The appropriate way to address the family pet’s presence in the home during showings and open houses can be a bit like trying to navigate a boat through rock-infested waters at night — a slow, painful process that can leave holes and irreparable damage.
Often agents are equipped to go into a seller’s home and provide direction as to room décor and color, suggesting removal of personal pictures and memorabilia, and packing away extra clutter. There is no quicker barometer to determine the love for the family pet until the agent begins to discuss options regarding the presence of the pet in the home during showings and open houses. Such options during showings and open houses may include: removing the pet from the property, kenneling the pet, placing the pet in a closed-off space, or placing the pet in the enclosed backyard. It is at this time that the agent will fully comprehend what that pet means to that seller and the agent’s appropriate approach.
Per lines 174-182 of the 2008 WB-1 Residential Listing Contract:
OPEN HOUSE AND SHOWING RESPONSIBILITIES: Seller is aware that there is a potential risk of injury, damage and/or theft involving persons attending an “individual showing” or an “open house.” Seller accepts responsibility for preparing the Property to minimize the likelihood of injury, damage and/or loss of personal property. Seller agrees to hold Broker harmless for any losses or liability resulting from personal injury, property damage, or theft occurring during “individual showings” or “open houses” other than those caused by Broker’s negligence or intentional wrongdoing. Seller acknowledges that individual showings and open houses may be conducted by licensees other than Broker …
Listing brokers should review this language with all sellers. According to the terms and conditions of the listing contract, the seller agrees to prepare the property for showings. This obligation would appear to include securing any pets. The listing also states that the seller agrees to hold the broker harmless for any loss or liability resulting from personal injury occurring during individual showings or open houses unless the broker was negligent or there was intentional wrongdoing. Good communication between the listing and showing brokers would indicate if pets are present at the property and if any precautions need to be taken.
Illustrating a positive exchange, the listing agent called the cooperating agent to tell them, “the hamster got loose this morning and the family could not find where Lightning was before they left for work. So I wanted to let you know that the property is not infested with rodents; it’s just a family member on the lam.” In the event the buyers encountered Lightning, they were prepared.
In contrast, while in the kitchen admiring the space, one of the buyers opened the pantry door and out flew Leopold, the seller’s ferret. Luckily, Leopold scampered off without injury; although the buyers did not fare so well. I am told that any time that a buyer opens an unfamiliar cabinet or door, they do so with great caution. The listing agent did not inform the cooperating agent of Leopold’s presence in the home, let alone a penchant for hanging out in the pantry.
The listing agent should clearly express to the seller that the suggestion of removing the pet from the property or placing the pet in a limited space is as much for the pet’s safety as it is for the prospective buyer’s and agent’s. While a seller assures you that their pet is nice and wouldn’t hurt a fly, you should politely remind the seller that not everyone is comfortable around animals and you want to make sure that their pet is safely secured, allowing buyers to focus on the home and not the pet or the buyers’ personal level of discomfort. Also, remind the seller that the buyers may have children, which could add another layer to the safety concerns for the pet.
Tell the seller that this is as much about protecting your dog, cat, ferret, rabbit, snake, hamster, bird or pot-bellied pig as it is the buyer and cooperating agent. The ability of an open house host to monitor the activities of all guests is limited, especially if the agent is attempting to contain a pet throughout the home. I can personally recall watching a listing agent hosting an open house struggle with holding back the dog while watching the cat to ensure that neither of them made a break for the open door. The listing agent may even be able to persuade the seller to remove the pet all together from the home, and if possible, make sure all the pet’s toys, beds and the like are also put away. If a buyer is not a pet person, they may not be open to seeing a litter box right next to the kitchen island.
There is, however, a movement to promote the pet with the home. One staging blogger recently suggested staging the dog with the home. In her personal experience, she wanted to keep the dogs in the home and not locked up for hours in a small kennel. She dressed the dogs in matching sweaters and contained them in the laundry room with a gate. On the gate, she posted s sign with photographs where the dogs communicated their excitement for the prospective buyers to see the home and apologize if they were a little noisy due to the excitement. For more on this go to http://styledstagedsold.blogs.realtor.org/2012/03/26/not-sure-what-to-do-with-the-household-pet-stage-the-dog/.
However the listing agent and seller decide to work the pet into or out of the home during showings, it is important to be candid and genuine about the concern for the safety of the pet, prospective buyer and cooperating agent.
Cori Lamont is Director of Brokerage Regulation and Licensing for the WRA.