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How to Avoid a Lawsuit When You’re Selling a House With Pets

Selling a property that is home to pets can be a challenge for a real estate agent. But, with around 60% of households owning a pet, it’s a fairly common occurrence.

The degree to which pets will be a problem largely depends on what type of pets you’re dealing with and the condition of the home.

The best way to get top dollar for a property is to make it look like the pets don’t live there at all!

What Types of Pets Can Be a Problem?

Not all prospective buyers like pets,  and some may even have a fear of particular animals. Large dogs can be intimidating to someone who doesn’t own dogs themselves.

If you’re the listing or showing agent, you know that pets can also be unpredictable.  You may be unsure about how the homeowner’s pet will behave.

Barking dogs, whatever the size, can also cause some concern – they don’t elicit the ideal welcome to a home. Allergies are another common factor influencing buyers, which can mean a home with cats can cause extreme discomfort to an allergy sufferer.

Some things are out of your control — if a buyer is terrified of dogs, snakes, birds or bees, and your client has all of them out where they can be seen or heard during the home showing, the buyer is not likely to make an offer on the home. But there are things you can do to reduce the impact of pets and increase the likelihood of a) making a sale and b) getting a good price.

First, when showing the home to prospective buyers, it’s better that the pets are not in the home at all.  Suggest to the sellers that they consider pet boarding, taking the pets out for a walk or visiting relatives during home showings.

Point out that it will help them achieve a better sales price and a faster sale.

It’s all part of a strategy to make the home as appealing as possible.

Issues Which Can Arise at Home Showings When Pets Are Present

By removing pets for a showing, it mitigates the risk of injury to a prospect. You don’t want to be facing a lawsuit, because of a dog bite or cat scratch.

Pets can also be a huge distraction for a prospective buyer when they’re looking through a property. What’s worse than dealing with an out-of-control pet, when you’re trying to explain the home’s features and show the buyers how peaceful the home is?

Property Presentation

Recommend that your clients remove all animal toys. They are potential tripping hazards and can also look messy, detracting from the features of the home. Homeowners should also remove pet litters. They can cause smells that do not exactly inspire a home buyer to get out their checkbooks.

Properties that are homes to pets require a deeper level of cleaning than homes that do not, especially if the animal sheds. Removal of pet hair and any unfortunate pet stains or spills on carpets or furniture will all work towards making the home more saleable.

It may seem obvious, but removing any pet feces around the yard is another tip to give your clients. And they should try to repair any obvious damage caused by pets.

Dealing With Farm Animals

With the rise of urban farm-type properties, you may find yourself dealing with farm animals. Farm animals such as chickens, pigs, or goats are an entirely different ball game than regular household pets. Obviously, it won’t always be possible to remove the animals for home showings. But, you may be in luck, because prospective buyers who want to inspect an urban farm property may also be looking for a home where they can keep animals themselves.

In this situation, it’s still important to advise your client to make sure animals are in a well-kept and clean space. Prospects looking for urban farm-type properties might also look more closely at fences than regular buyers. Goats, for example, can be real escape artists. So, it’s best to ensure any broken fences are repaired before showing the home.

Be aware of farm animals in close proximity to the house – this can devalue the property. Waking up to the sweet smells of a pig pen or a noisy bunch of chickens isn’t everyone’s idea of peaceful living. You should also ask your client to check local government regulations for keeping farm animals on the property.  Never assume that because a property currently has farm animals that the owner is adhering to all regulations.

If your seller volunteers information about the regulations, get the information in writing.  You can provide it with a disclaimer to buyers that they should verify the regulations independently and not rely on what the seller has advised.

In San Diego, for example, most single family homes are allowed up to five chickens, as long as the chicken coop is in the backyard, at least 5 feet away from adjoining neighbor fences, and 13 feet from the rear property boundary. To find out more about regulations for animals and property zoning, you or your client can contact your local city office. In San Diego, you can check online at

Check Your Insurance

One of the most important things you can do as a real estate agent, is to check your own insurance and protect yourself when dealing with properties which are home to pets. Ensure you have adequate protection so you don’t end up facing a lawsuit.

CRES has more than 20 years’ experience protecting real estate agents and brokers. Our real estate errors and omissions policies can include Open House and Showings coverage, to protect you from visitor injuries or property damage.  Contact us on our toll free number 800.880.2747 to speak to a CRES real estate insurance professional.

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