In this monthly column, Anthony Askowitz explores a hypothetical real estate situation from both sides of the broker/agent dynamic.
A successful agent is concerned about the possible ramifications of a client or prospective buyer contracting the novel coronavirus as a result of home showing. Her broker is ready to advise her about taking all advised precautions, the use of a signed waiver and the challenges of determining the point of infection.
Like many of my colleagues, I’ve taken the challenges of selling real estate during the “coronavirus era” in stride. I have shifted nearly all of my marketing and administrative resources online, and dramatically reduced my number of in-person showings (no longer driving clients in my vehicle when I do).
I’ve also taken all precautions at showings, including the use of fresh masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, social distancing and cleaning all surfaces multiple times.
These precautions have been made in sync with my personal habits as well. But I’m human, and haven’t been 100 percent perfect in that respect.
I’ve invited a few friends over to visit on our patio while keeping our distance, only allowing them inside for short visits to the restroom. I’ve let my kids “distance-play” with their friends outside. But can we really trust children to be as careful as they should?
My family was tested a few weeks ago (all negative, thank goodness), but we have seen guests in the time since. As the number of positive cases rises in my hometown and nationwide, so does my level of anxiety and guilt about these little slip-ups.
On a personal level, first and foremost, I shudder to think of the horror I would feel if anyone in my family tested positive, and that would certainly extend to any clients, colleagues or prospective buyers who became infected as a result of visiting one of my listings.
Even with all parties signing the ubiquitous coronavirus waiver forms, I’m concerned that this litigious society in which we live renders those forms useless. Has my broker done enough to protect the company’s agents from these potential lawsuits?
I’m so proud of my agents, office, company and profession for the gung-ho manner with which we’ve handled this pandemic. In the face of enormous and ever-changing challenges, we have continued to do business in a generally safe and effective fashion.
Thanks to clear and simple guidelines from the National Association of Realtors (as well as common sense), we’ve conducted showings and reopened our office. We stay in close contact with our agents and, to date, have only had two report testing positive, along with three staff members.
Immediate notification to others who had been in contact with those infected, along with closing the office for professional cleaning and sterilization, allowed us to remain open with confidence that we have taken every precaution possible.
Our company has also prepared a blanket waiver form acknowledging the risks involved. This is something all parties must sign before any showings can take place. The form is under constant review from our legal team as we learn more about the virus.
By following all precautions and securing signatures on these forms, I believe we have taken all reasonable steps to protect our agents from infections and legal threats.
With that being said, I can certainly relate to my agent’s feelings of anxiety about personal lapses. We are all human. We crave human contact, and the pandemic has certainly taken its toll with feelings of isolation. (Zoom and FaceTime calls can only do so much!)
I personally had a recent scare after a visit with friends that was not as “distanced” as it should have been, and I am the only person from that group to test negative in the following week. (As someone with pre-existing health conditions as a cancer survivor, I consider this another bullet dodged and a reminder to conduct myself accordingly.)
How to resolve
Given the extraordinary degree of awareness and precautions being followed, as well as changes in the protocol for showing property, it would be unlikely for an individual to contract the coronavirus as a result of a home showing. It’s even more difficult for them to prove the source of contraction.
As symptoms of the virus seem to appear days after exposure, the individual would have to prove the contraction occurred from that particular showing and not from a different home visit, or even from a trip to the grocery store.
Furthermore, the claimant would have to prove that the agent did not follow safety guidelines or warn them about the risks of seeing the listing, all of which could be easily refuted with a copy of their signature on the waiver of personal liability.
As more information becomes available about COVID-19, we continue to educate our staff and agents regarding best practices to avoid contracting the virus and to continue to minimize the potential for spread.
As Realtors, we’re accustomed to handling multiple challenges and finding resolutions. We’re a determined and resourceful group, but we are not in this alone.
Consumers — both buyers and sellers — must work with us in the adjustment to the new protocol for sales for this to be as successful as it can be. Demanding that every house on the market be seen in person before making an offer or that in-person open houses be held for a listing will defect the effectiveness of the new system.
Anthony is the broker-owner of RE/MAX Advance Realty in South Miami and Kendall, where he leads the activities of 155 agents. He is also a working agent who has consistently sold more than 100 homes a year for over a decade. For two consecutive years (2018 and 2019), Anthony has been honored as the “Managing Broker of the Year” by Miami Agent Magazine’s Agents’ Choice Awards. NOTE: Anthony is not an attorney and does not give legal advice. Please consult a licensed attorney regarding matters discussed in this column.