Prior to or upon listing a property for sale, Sellers will very often undertake cosmetic and functional upgrades while neglecting to take key (and often easy) steps to protect the safety of Buyers during showings. In my opinion, Buyer safety during viewings is the highest factor affecting market value potential (i.e. above location; above structure size and lot size; above upgrades; above spectacular views; above number of bedrooms and washrooms; above basement development; above construction quality; and above everything else which, although is important, comes secondary).
In general, a main goal of Sellers is to attract a great offer. It is nearly impossible this goal would be accomplished if a Buyer; a Buyer family member; or a Buyer REALTOR® should get injured (or escape a very near miss) during the viewing no matter how much the Buyer likes your property.
Next, if anyone gets injured while viewing your property there can easily be minor or extensive legal ramifications (i.e. settlements) depending upon the severity of the incident and past history (i.e. warning signs or near miss incident reporting) that indicates negligence by the property owner. It is recommended property owners consider taking out a third party liability insurance policy.
Correcting a dangerous situation immediately is very important because while protecting the safety of Buyers and REALTORS® viewing your property, you might also be protecting numerous other individuals who visit your property including your family; friends; the mailman / delivery people walking up to your home; and possibly YOURSELF. Besides, how would you feel if you or your family were the Buyer who became injured while viewing your property?
This leads to the following important question: how should Sellers promote Buyer viewing safety? My answer: hire a quality listing REALTOR® and prior to or upon listing perform a property safety risk assessment to identify possible risks before taking measures to mitigate, either through eliminating or minimizing risks with corrective actions. Mitigation measures will cost money, time, and / or effort / energy of which expenditures can be optimized (i.e. selecting remedies for which the expected allocation of money, time, and / or effort / or energy generates the best improvement on safety per $ spent; per day spent; and per kiloJoule of effort or energy spent). For risks that cannot be completely eliminated, Sellers must instruct their listing REALTOR® to notify Buyer REALTORS® of the potential safety hazards in advance of the viewings so that ‘due diligence’ is being exercised and warnings can be issued to help prevent incidents. Furthermore: new risks discovered via a near miss or identification that might happen several days or weeks into a listing – for these situations it is equally important to implement effective risk mitigation strategies.
Below is a list of a few possible safety risks that can be present and note there are many more depending on the type of property; every property is unique in the hazards presented to visitors:
(1). Remove All Dogs for Viewings – Not just K-9 attack dogs or large, mean, vicious dogs – ALL DOGS. Regardless of how small, cuddly, or friendly you think your dog is and regardless if the dog might not have bitten anyone before, there can be a first time for everything and Sellers can often be very surprised to learn their ‘nice’ dog had tried to bite or had bitten a visitor including if the dog is in the cage and a Buyer sticks a finger in the cage. Remember: if your dog should attack putting Buyer safety at risk, the victims are within their rights to physically defend themselves using whatever means they deem necessary including injuring or killing your dog(s) in self-defence. Furthermore, dogs create unwanted messes; odours; noise; and many Buyers are allergic to dog hair / dander. My best advice to Sellers: take all dogs away for every viewing and the best approach: upon listing, take all dogs to a kennel or family member house for the entire listing duration (right up to turnover) and before the first viewing, arrange to professionally clean and deodorize the entire house and remove all dog belongings (i.e. bones, dog dishes, dog food, dog house, etc.) The ‘dog-free’ reward for impressing the Buyers with clean and tidy home could very likely be a much quicker sale plus thousands of dollars higher sale price! Note: the same advice applies for other dangerous creatures such as snakes; spiders; or zoo-sized animals. If you have an uncooperative tenant whose dangerous animals or actions pose a hazard to visitors, contact a reputable Landlord and Tenant Lawyer for advice using a bailiff for tenant expulsion prior to viewings.
(2). Shovel away or De-ice all Sidewalks, Walkways, Patios, Porches, and Driveways – In the winter season, slipping and falling on ice is unfortunately a perpetual hazard. If you are an individual property owner or part of a condo corporation, you are responsible to protect the safety of anyone who comes up your walkways and sidewalks and this is extended to all walking areas of the property traversed by Buyers and REALTORS® for winter viewings. After every snowfall or ice rain, shovel away all snow and ice; and place de-icer tablets plus sand or gravel on the walking surfaces in advance of viewings. These proactive mitigation measures will help prevent slips and falls.
(3). Safely store (and Lock) away all Dangerous Objects inside the Property – This includes tools; kitchen knives left on the counter; weapons (i.e. loaded guns); and anything sticking out (such as rods, etc.) that might poke someone walking around the corner, etc. who would not expect it. Be sure to call in a licensed electrician to eliminate any exposed live wires in or around the property and call a licensed gas-fitter to cap any gas leaks or open connections from gas appliances removed.
(4). Put away (and Remove Keys) from all Dangerous Equipment – It is important to make sure there is no way that machinery could accidentally become engaged (start moving) during a viewing.
(5). Install all Guardrails, Handrails, and Caution for Dangerous Openings – For stairs install all handrails and for balconies and open foyers install all guardrails. Regularly check all connections and sturdiness of the rail members to make sure they cannot accidentally be dislodged with weight or force application in any direction. If there are any dangerous openings that cannot be eliminated, ensure they are illuminated with caution signage and temporary guardrails. Also instruct your listing REALTOR® to caution Buyer REALTORS® about the dangerous hazards.
(6). Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for New Construction or ‘Renovations in Progress’ – If work is in progress, depending on the scopes involved it may be necessary to notify Buyer REALTORS® in advance that PPE will be required for viewings which may include hardhats; safety boots; and / or safety goggles; etc. depending upon the levels of risk present.
(7). Remove or Safely Store any Dangerous Materials at the Property – This includes poisons, flammable materials (gases or liquids) that may be ignited or accidentally ingested must be removed.
(8). Child-Proof your Property – Remember: even if you do not have children, the Buyers viewing might have children with them. Make sure there is nothing sharp or dangerous that could possibly injure children (including closing small openings) and do not leave open pill or poison bottles.
(9). Install Outdoor Fencing / Guardrails / Caution Signage where Necessary – Particularly in the case of acreages or other large lot properties, install fencing / guardrails / caution signage to prevent a visitor from injury falling in or near a sinkhole / well / septic tank opening; off a deck or porch; off a cliff or into a ravine; into mud, quicksand, landfill, refuse pile, or pond, river; etc.
(10). For More Complex Safety Dangers, Insist upon a Seller-assigned Escort for Viewings – While Buyers prefer confidential and private viewings ‘at their own pace’, safety is paramount and sometimes a compromise to privacy is required to preserve Buyer safety. This means that in many scenarios such as large-scale industrial commercial properties, the Seller or Seller’s foreman / safety officer should escort Buyers and Buyer REALTORS® around the property according to Occupational Health and Safety Regulations. Operating commercial machinery, forklifts, truck drivers, cranes, etc. pose dangerous dynamic risks both to the Sellers’ workers or tenants as well as the visitors coming in for a viewing. The Seller's Escort can alert the visitors of any dangers during the tour and can give instructions to the Seller's or tenant's workers to 'stop'; 'watch out'; ‘change course’; etc.
After noting precautions Sellers must take to preserve Buyer and Buyer REALTOR® safety during viewings, below is a list of precautions Buyers can take to preserve their own safety and avoid injury:
(1). Be Aware and Expect the Unexpected – Foresee and anticipate all kinds of danger around every corner; carefully watch your footing; and look closely before entering a room; etc. Watch out for missing guardrails; missing handrails; dangerous floor openings; dangerous objects; etc.
(2). Go with a Friend or Family Member for Viewings – As an experienced Buyer REALTOR®, I encourage Buyers to invite a friend or family member to offer a second opinion on the purchase; extra protection; and an extra set of eyes alerting of a possible danger to prevent injury. Caution: there is a limit. Do not go to viewings with more than three or four family members and make sure everyone stays close to the Buyer REALTOR® (and listen to our instructions) during the viewing. Having extra people wandering in different directions increases the risk of a safety incident occurring.
(3). Only View Properties during Daylight Hours before Dusk – While not critical for apartment condominiums, it is very important for houses; acreages; townhouse condos; duplexes; commercial properties; etc. – anywhere there is land and of which the exterior is a sizable component. If properties must be viewed at night due to scheduling, be sure to use adequate spotlights.
(4). Bring a First-Aid Kit and Cell Phone for Contacting Emergency Providers – While these items are ‘insurance’ and useful after an incident happens (unless the cell phone is used to call in an emergency provider to prevent an incident), being prepared helps to make sure an unfortunate incident is not made worse. Extra advice: store a fire extinguisher and emergency road kit in your vehicle. When in remote mountainess areas, take Bear Spray, an Air Horn, and emergency flares.
(5). Bring your own Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) - If viewing industrial properties, new home construction, or homes with large-scale renovations are in-progress, a large percentage of site dangers can be successfully navigated with your own hard hat, safety boots, and safety goggles.
In summary, for many reasons safety is paramount. Sellers have moral, legal, and ethical obligations to protect the safety of everyone viewing their home and likewise Buyers should take precautions during viewings to help protect against injury. For any legal questions relating to a safety incident or prevention obligations, Sellers and Buyers are encouraged to contact a reputable lawyer for advice. For property-specific safety questions / advice, Sellers and Buyers should consult their REALTOR®.
Due to the humanitarian aspect of safety, I encourage all readers to retain and pass this article on to anyone thinking of selling or buying property who may not be aware of how possible incidents can be prevented. If we can prevent any injuries or major incidents it is definitely worth our efforts.
[Note: My safety background prior to becoming licensed as a REALTOR® includes: Nationally certified Construction Safety Officer with the Alberta Construction Safety Association (including several years experience working in Construction Management General Contracting); & Industrial Engineering Safety / Risk Management at the University of Alberta, Faculty of Engineering.]
[Article written and ©2014 by Kelly Grant, M.Eng., ABR, NCSO, P.Eng. - REALTOR® at Maxwell Devonshire Realty in Edmonton, AB]
Disclaimer: for those readers not currently represented by another licensed REALTOR®, to obtain more information on this topic and / or if you are serious about selling or buying in the Greater Edmonton Area, call Kelly at 780-414-6100 (pager) or send Kelly an email to SOLD@KellyGrant.ca to schedule a confidential appointment.