What Precautions Are Real Estate Agents Responsible For When Selling Property in a COVID Environment?

person pulling trigger on disinfectant spray

COVID-19 has wreaked havoc across the world, and the laws and best practices to deal with it seem to be changing almost every day. Keeping up can be a challenge, especially in an industry like real estate, where you’re used to dealing with multiple people and properties every day. From new open house and cleaning protocols to confusion over disclosures and potential privacy issues, there’s a lot to keep in mind in this new COVID world. 

So, what precautions are real estate agents responsible for when selling in a COVID environment? Here’s what you can do to ensure you’re taking all appropriate actions to protect yourself and your real estate business against potential lawsuits.

Follow Government Guidelines and Suggested Preventative Actions

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends physical distancing at least 6 feet from other people, washing hands frequently, and wearing a mask when you go out in public. They also advise to stay home if you’re feeling sick. With a busy schedule, staying home may be inconvenient – but imagine if you’re slapped with a lawsuit for inadvertently passing on COVID to a client or prospective buyer? 

You can access recommendations and other resources through both the CDC and the health department in your state via the CDC COVID Data Tracker.  Click on your state on the map, and you’ll link to your state’s health department with further information about COVID-19 responses, guidelines and other important information. 

Ensure Cleaning Protocols Are in Place

Transmission of coronavirus can occur through objects and surfaces, such as doors and countertops. Evidence suggests that the virus may remain on these surfaces for hours or even days on certain materials. Cleaning and disinfection practices are very important to reduce the risk of transmitting the disease. 

Real estate associations, such as the California Association of REALTORS®, say that properties should be disinfected after each showing to protect the health and safety of all who enter the property. While deep cleaning is the responsibility of the seller, agents need to ensure that frequently touched surfaces such as counters, door knobs and handles, keypads and lockboxes, and light switches are cleaned and disinfected in between showings. The California Department of Public Health says real estate professionals holding open houses should ensure there’s adequate time for proper disinfection and cleaning after the occupants have left the property – and ideally, after every client has viewed the property. 

Other frequently touched items such as clipboards, pens and keys should also be disinfected after every use. 

Prepare for COVID-Safe Showings

In addition to the cleaning protocols above, there are some other proactive actions real estate agents can take to keep everyone safe:

  • Do showings by appointment rather than holding open houses
  • Limit the number of people in a property at any given time and stagger showings to minimize the risk of transmission of COVID-19. 
  • Open windows or doors or use ventilation systems (if weather permits), so that fresh air from outside can circulate inside the property.
  • Communicate and post signage about social distancing expectations and requirements to maintain a six feet distance from others. 
  • Communicate and post signage about sanitization expectations to all who enter the home. For example, compulsory handwashing and/or hand sanitization upon entry. Ensure sufficient hand sanitizer is provided.
  • Open doors and turn on lights in advance of the showing and instruct buyers not to touch surfaces or switches.
  • Require everyone entering the property to wear a mask (but be wary of exemptions – see the CDC website for details).
  • Depending on your state’s COVID situation and your client’s wishes, you may also require gloves to be worn by all people entering the property. 
  • Provide clear instructions to the buyer’s agent for showings if you’re the listing agent and, for some reason, you cannot be present to ensure your client’s requirements for safe showings are met.
  • If you’re the buyer’s agent, check with the listing agent in advance to ensure sufficient COVID-safe procedures are in place to keep you and your clients safe
  • Keep note of all appointments, including names and contact details in case contact tracing is required in the future
  • Don’t provide handouts or documents in-person – instead, follow up with this information via email

Be Aware of Disclosure Requirements

It is acceptable to request that both potential buyers and your sellers disclose whether they have COVID-19 or any other sickness or associated symptoms. However, be aware that some people who have COVID-19 are asymptomatic. You can also ask if the individual has been in contact with someone who has COVID-19 or recently travelled. The CDC advice is for travelers from overseas to limit interactions with other people for 14 days upon their return and to monitor their health for any COVID symptoms. If there is an increased risk of infection, you can postpone the inspection to a later date. Look for alternatives, such as a virtual inspection to show the property, until it’s safer to do an in-person showing.

If a seller/client tests positive for COVID, the National Association of REALTORS® recommends that agents request written consent from the seller/client to advise all people who have toured the property in the past 14 days. You don’t need to name the seller/client, just the property address.

If the seller doesn’t consent, immediately inform all buyer’s agents who’ve toured the property to advise their clients they’ve visited a property where there’s a COVID case. But DO NOT provide name/address information. 

Similarly, if you’re a buyer’s agent and one of your clients tests positive for COVID, immediately contact the listing agents of properties you’ve toured to advise their seller clients may be at risk of contracting COVID-19.

If for some reason a property hasn’t been cleaned in between showings (for example, a vacant property), this information needs to be disclosed to buyers and buyer’s agents so they can make an informed decision. This doesn’t, however, negate the liability of the listing agent to provide a safe showing. It would be in your best interests to ensure that cleaning protocols are met to minimize your risk of facing a lawsuit in the future. 

Check Your Insurance Coverage

It’s a good idea to check your insurance coverage and look at what your insurer will and won’t cover. Ask about coverage for open houses and showings, which is included in CRES Real Estate E&O policies. With CRES E&O + ClaimPrevent ® policies, you’ll even have access to expert legal advice 7 days a week, so you can prevent claims before they become lawsuits. 

If you’re looking for superior coverage from real estate insurance experts, contact CRES today at 800-880-2747.

This blog/website is made available by CRES Insurance Services for educational purposes to give you general information and understanding of legal risks and insurance options, not to provide specific legal advice. This blog/website should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state. Claims examples are for illustrative purposes only. Read your policy for a complete description of what is covered and excluded.

Originally Published October 21, 2020

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