While homeowners are opening their doors to potential buyers, those strangers could cause unanticipated damage. Here are some tips for sellers, buyers and real estate agents.
TIPS FOR SELLERS
Check your insurance policy before putting your house up for sale to make sure you have adequate coverage for anything that might happen. Minnesota Commerce Commissioner Michael Rothman said sellers should have insurance to cover losses regarding liability issues pertaining to injuries someone might sustain in the home, replacement value of the home, property damage, and additional protection to cover valuables.
Ask your real estate agent to use an electronic lock box when listing your home, and also to be present during showings. An extra set of eyes and ears can be helpful.
Take a very close look at your listing contract to see that you are not signing away any of your rights if your home does get damaged. Many, if not all, listing contracts have an indemnification clause. The clause typically protects the listing agent from any damage that might occur during the marketing of a home unless the agent was somehow grossly negligent or acted in a way that led directly to the damage.
"If the agent is directly involved, responsible and accountable, they can be held accountable," attorney Brad Boyd said "But if the agent had no idea what happened, it happened on somebody else's watch, the buyer or the buyer's agent damaged the property or allowed something to occur unintentionally, that doesn't automatically become the listing agent's problem. That's what the indemnification provision is about."
Scrutinize your entire listing contract to understand your rights and responsibilities and those of your listing agent and/or broker.
Leave "Don't Touch" signs in your home if there is something you want to warn a potential buyer about. Give your listing agent explicit instructions about how potential buyers and buyers' agents are to treat your home - such as asking them to turn off the lights after every showing. Make sure your listing agent passes on any special instructions to the buyer's agent.
Hire a reputable real estate agent. They have fiduciary duties in Minnesota and must put the seller's interests first. If you think that hasn't happened, you can always the Minnesota Department of Commerce.
"The most important thing is that consumers can protect themselves by getting the knowledge that they need by either doing the research, getting a good referral, but they should hire a good Realtor and then make sure that they know their rights," Rothman said.
Attorney Brad Boyd has more tips for home sellers:
• Secure, lock or remove valuables out of open sight
• Immediately notify your agent and/or the authorities of any problem that has occurred
• List with a real estate agent. That can help ensure certain precautions can be taken, such as an electronic lockbox and scheduled showings.
• Ask listing agents to help maintain a record of anyone who has had access to the property
• "For sale by owner" sellers should be careful about who they let into the property.
• They should obtain the license number and other contact or identifying information of any agents.
• They should not let buyers not accompanied by an agent inside without being present or taking other precautions.
• After a showing is concluded, homeowners should review the property to make sure things have been properly locked or shut off. Absentee sellers should make sure an agent, family member or friend does so on their behalf.
TIPS FOR BUYERS
Use common sense -- When entering someone's home as a guest or prospective buyer, treat it with respect.
Don't touch, move, or remove personal items that don't belong to you when you are in the home of someone you don't know.
Be attentive to any children so that they don't injure themselves or cause damage to something outside of your sight or control.
Ask first, when checking if certain items - spas, saunas, irrigation systems, gas grills and other items -- function or operate properly. Another option is to do so during an inspection.
Don't turn on any faucets, lights or appliances without first being sure they are turned off.
Lock or secure any doors or windows you have opened.
Report to the seller or listing agent any irregularity or issue you discover when in the home.
TIPS FOR AGENTS
Verify what lights have been turned on or off, which doors were open, closed or locks, and which faucets have been turned on or off by being the first one in and the last one out.
Remind potential buyers to be respectful and responsible for themselves and their children or anyone accompanying them on a showing.
Remind sellers to secure, remove or store valuables in a safe place, to be attentive to any changes, damage or items missing and alert the authorities or the agent or broker as appropriate.
Alert the seller or the seller's agent by phone of any issues or concerns identified.
IF THEFT OR DAMAGE OCCURS
Buyers should notify seller of any item they know they may have damaged.
Agents who discover damage or missing items should promptly report the same to the seller.
Sellers who discover damage or missing items should contact any of the following, as applicable: the seller's broker, the seller's insurance company, police and the seller's attorney. There may be civil or criminal remedies.
LINKS AND PHONE NUMBERS
Minnesota Department Commerce - Questions or Complaints:
651-539-1600 or toll free, 800-657-3602