Compass has parted ways with Gary Wat after the company says the agent held showings for a home in Altadena, California, where the sellers had allegedly contracted COVID-19.
According to a Compass spokesperson, Wat was aware the household had contracted the virus but failed to disclose the infections to prospective buyers who visited the home, and thereby failed to follow local guidelines regarding COVID-19.
“The safety of the communities we represent is of paramount importance,” a spokesperson for Compass said in a statement. “We swiftly parted ways with this agent when it was discovered he failed to adhere to local guidelines regarding COVID-19.”
When reached by phone Tuesday, Wat declined to comment on his departure from the company. He joined Compass from The Agency in November 2019, according to his Facebook page.
A public Facebook post in a local community group for Altadena, California, a suburb of Los Angeles where the home was listed, first disclosed on June 23 that the sellers had tested positive for COVID-19.
“Hi folks. If any of you attended the open house at 3278 Laurice over the weekend, please be aware that I’m told both residents are COVID-19 positive, one in the hospital,” the post reads. “I had a conversation with one of them on Sunday and she did not disclose it to me and was not wearing a mask. I’ll be in quarantine for the next 14 days.”
The user who posted the message on June 23 did not respond to a Facebook message requesting comment. The homeowners could not be identified and it was unclear if either of the two sick residents were present during any of the showings.
A Compass source clarified that there was never an open house for the property, just showings by appointment. The source said Wat failed to disclose to the individuals viewing the three-bedroom, single-family home that the sellers had tested positive for COVID-19.
The listing on Compass’ website now says the property listing was withdrawn/canceled on June 28. It was unclear how long the home had been on the market, how many prospective buyers had toured the property and if any of those visitors have since contracted the virus.
The California Department of Real Estate published an extensive guide for real estate transactions during COVID-19, which was most recently updated on July 2, but was initially published on May 7. The guidelines include extensive instruction on social distancing and cleaning and sanitizing protocols, but do not mention any requirement to disclose if the seller has COVID-19.
However, a spokesperson for the California Department of Real Estate told Inman the listing agent should disclose whether the seller has COVID-19.
“While the California Department of Public Health guidance document may not specify what to do in this scenario, best practices are to disclose this information as it relates to the global pandemic,” the spokesperson said. “The licensee should discuss the disclosure with their client so they are aware that the information is being disclosed.”
The guidelines are also explicit that rules for each property showing need to be agreed upon for all parties involved, and those rules need to be clear and posted.
“Display a set of rules for agents and home viewers at the entrance of the property that are to be a condition of entry,” the guidance reads. “The rules must include instructions to use face coverings and hand sanitizer.”
“It must include instructions to maintain physical distancing and avoid touching surfaces of the shown property,” the guidance continues. “The rules or a link to the rules should be part of online public and MLS listings. Posted rules should be clearly visible and include pictograms”
The Texas Association of Realtors specifically asks all real estate agents to disclose if they are aware that a seller has tested positive for COVID-19 to all potential buyers or individuals that may come in contact with the sellers.
However, it’s not as cut-and-dry as sending out an email blast. The state may have to get involved, due to local contract-tracing programs and the agent should not disclose the seller’s identity or the identity of the property in any communication without obtaining written consent from the seller.
“If seller does not provide consent, you should contact anyone that was on the property for brokerage activities within the past 14 days to inform them that they were on a property where an individual with a confirmed case of COVID-19 resides, but you should not disclose the specific property or individual involved,” the guidance reads.
The guidance also explains that a positive COVID-19 case is considered a condition of the property that could materially affect the health of an individual, so it should be included in the state’s Seller’s Disclosure Notice.
Wat is the second agent Compass has had to part ways with in the past month. In an unrelated case, Compass fired an agent after video footage showed him rolling beer bottles toward a hotel where homeless people are known to loiter.