Seller Beware

by Scott Drucker on September 21, 2013



Home for saleFor many sellers of real property, an open house is an effective marketing tool that provides potential buyers with an opportunity to view a home that they are interested in purchasing.  Open houses have therefore been a long-standing tradition in the sale of residential real estate.  Nonetheless, it must be remembered that an open house is an invitation for others to enter the home, regardless of their motives.  Sellers should therefore be mindful of commonsense steps they can take to protect their property.

Medications:  One of the most commonly stolen items during an open house is prescription medications.  While medications may not immediately come to mind as a valuable possession, thieves and addicts target prescriptions either for personal use or resale.  Sellers should therefore remove medications from plain sight, drawers and cabinets.

Valuables:  It is equally important for sellers to set aside important possessions or remove them from the home prior to staging an open house.  Jewelry, collectibles and other small items can easily be taken without attracting attention.  Even placing these items in a drawer is inadequate as it is simple for a thief to open drawers and cabinets while the agent is distracted or in another part of the home.

Mail:  Items such as bills and bank statements that contain account numbers and other sensitive personal and financial information should always be removed from the home to prevent identity theft.

Electronics:  Desktop computers are often too large and inconvenient to remove from the home.  Items of this nature must therefore be password protected to prevent access to the seller’s private files.

Keys:  Do not leave spare door keys, mailbox keys, gate keys or garage door openers lying around the home during an open house.  Doing so invites a thief to later gain entry to the seller’s home or mailbox.

Calendars:  Calendars typically contain private information, including dates and times on which the seller will be away from the home.  Sellers should therefore close and put away all calendars prior to opening their home to the public so as not to publicize this information.

Doors and Windows:  At the conclusion of the open house, the seller should immediately check all doors and windows to ensure that they are securely locked.  Thieves will often unlock doors and windows during an open house with the plan to gain entry to the home later that night or the next day when the seller is at work.

Multiple Agents:  Depending on the popularity of the open house, it may prove beneficial to have more than one agent present to better keep an eye on people moving throughout the home.  Some would be thieves make two visits to the home.  The first time, the thief will “case” the property to evaluate the security measures in place and identify items worth taking.  The individual may then come back later with a partner.  While one of them talks with the agent in an effort to distract him or her, the other moves about the home.  Having an extra set of eyes helps combat this scheme.

Open houses remain a primary source of information for interested buyers.  Although most individuals attending an open house are genuinely interested in learning about the home, some individuals have ulterior motives.  And while different listing contracts contain different terms, this concern is recognized in the ARMLS Exclusive Right to Sell/Rent Listing Contract which states, in part, “Owner acknowledges that Owner’s or occupant’s property could be damaged or stolen or persons visiting the Premises could be injured.  Owner shall be responsible for obtaining appropriate insurance to cover such possible events.”  In light of the risks associated with open houses, sellers should be advised to take appropriate precautions to protect themselves and their belongings.

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Scott Drucker

Scott M. Drucker, Esq. is General Counsel to the Arizona Association of REALTORS® (AAR). He serves as the primary legal advisor to the association. Scott oversees AAR’s Risk Management Committee, which includes professional standards administration for twenty of the state’s local REALTOR® associations, and the development of standard real estate forms. Please note that this post is of a general nature and may not be updated or revised for accuracy as statutes and case law change following the date of first publication. Further, this post reflects only the opinion of the author, is not intended as definitive legal advice and you should not act upon it without seeking independent legal counsel.

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