Real estate agents wear many hats – from negotiator to chauffer to therapist, and that’s just for starters. A real estate agent often must take clients by the hand and walk them through the home search or listing process, as well as the subsequent purchase or sale transaction. But there is one thing that agents need to keep in mind during these busy and sometimes emotional times – responsibility for clients.
Responsibility for one’s clients as it relates to agency comes in many forms – some are spelled out in the ethics code (such as the duty to disclose), and some come from law (such as anti-discrimination, personal injury, tort and criminal law). But many situations with clients fall into a gray area when it comes to responsibility. One of those most important is the responsibility to accompany clients when viewing a property. If an agent does not do so there could be legal ramifications, say for example if an injury or property damage occurs.
Here are some tips to use when showing property to keep you and your clients out of harm’s way and avoid potential legal action:
1. Never let clients visit a property alone. While this seems obvious to many of us, I have read stories of agents giving clients one day lockbox codes or passing along entry instructions. As the representative of your clients you need to understand that this action can land you in hot water – unless you have been authorized by the property owners in writing to allow your clients to enter on their own (and I still would never allow that). Let’s just say there are a handful of legal issues here – from trespassing to other issues of someone gets injured or breaks something, or leaves a door/window open which could allow a thief to access the property.
2. Make sure you stay with your clients as they tour a property. Again, if you allow your clients to wander off it could cause problems. If it is a large property you especially need to stick with your touring clients. Make sure you and they have access to all areas of the property. If your clients have small children and there are potential hazards (steep or dangerous areas or animals, for example), make sure your clients do not wander off alone without permission and without you at their side.
3. Ask the owner or listing agent if you are allowed to access areas about which you are unsure. If there is a part of the property that you are not sure about, ask the listing agent or owner if you have permission to explore there. For example, a guest home, separate structure or animal pen, or flowing water. Oftentimes a listing agent will specify whether such areas are able to be viewed, but if not don’t ever assume.
The bottom line is that if your clients are not in your presence while touring a property, they could end up creating problems or suffering injuries to themselves or their property. If they were being careless and wandering around without permission, they likely will not have rights to recover for injuries suffered. Make sure to establish this right off the bat in order to protect yourself and your clients.