As a real estate brokerage and property management company, the most common question we currently receive during these uncertain times is: “Does a tenant have to allow sales viewings inside their listed home or landlord inspections?”
While the answer remains unchanged in law, there is no single solution. In our case, we are also general contractors, so when a water heater breaks, we need to enter the property and address the situation regardless. That’s why we suggest developing a coronavirus standard operating procedure (COVID-19 SOP).
Your COVID-19 SOP should:
- Efficiently answer all beleaguering inspection questions related to the coronavirus.
- Provide a standardized process for staff.
- Reduce your exposure to liability.
Along with your COVID-19 SOP, you should also create a companion flowchart that will provide visual prompts so that it’s easier to understand the logic behind your process.
As we looked to develop our SOP, we started with what’s in the public’s best interest when it comes to overall health and safety. Human health should always be the primary consideration, and now it’s of paramount importance.
Start with the following questions as you develop your COVID-19 inspection SOP:
- Is it important?
- Is it urgent?
- Can it wait?
- Can it be dangerous from a health perspective?
- Can it be a financial risk?
Once you determine if the inspection is mandatory, your COVID-19 SOP should include coordinating a precisely scheduled and limited-time inspection with the home’s occupants, whether for an Agent Visual Inspection Disclosure (AVID), a third-party home inspection or a viewing of the home.
The SOP must clearly outline proper visitation protocol including masks, gloves, no children, minimal principles (limited to two) and social distancing at all times.
Once the tenant or owner-occupied seller approves an inspection, their approval should be immediately captured in writing on the appropriate form and filed accordingly. A COVID-19 SOP should have the most recent forms released by your local association of Realtors — in our case, the California Association of Realtors (CAR) — granting access and releasing liability.
After the inspection, and depending on the scope and the financial opportunity at hand, you can consider providing the tenant (or even owner-occupied sellers) with a compensatory token of appreciation, such as professional house cleaning, lawn mowing, lunch delivery or a thank-you card.
In addition to developing a COVID-19 SOP, we decided to suspend all general inspections and unnecessary maintenance visits during this crisis.
To help our tenants navigate minor household needs, we created an online resource via our YouTube channel. It features just about every relevant “minor” home repair video, ranging from how to reset a breaker to properly plunging a toilet.
That said, we are still in the business of addressing urgent and larger-scale repairs in addition to selling homes. For tenants with potentially major problems, we are utilizing video phone programs, allowing them to show our staff the issue without us having to be there. We can then determine if urgent maintenance or interior access is required, and if so, we fortify the process with additional safety measures.
They should include (at minimum) the use of the above-mentioned protective gear and social distancing requirements, in addition to a thorough clean-up of the trouble spot and all surrounding areas upon completion. These measures should be required of not only your staff but of your outside vendors as well.
Once you begin preparing your COVID-19 SOP and its related flowchart, you will be surprised how prepared you will be to answer most inspection-related questions. Make sure to continue to keep an updated coronavirus inspection procedure as the situation continues to evolve.
Terry Ruscoe is a real estate broker and licensed general contractor in California.
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