Posted by: Nick Fundytus

Question of the week:

Is it customary in Canada for prospective house Buyers to have free and non-supervised run of premises?

We’re about to put our house on the market. I’m looking for some advice wrt what’s customary when prospective buyers swing by to view our house.

Pardon my ignorance. We’ve immigrated a few years ago and have no idea what’s customary when prospective buyers are shown a listed house.

We had been living in our RV while our house had been built, so we had never been to view houses ourselves and don’t know what’s expected from the selling party.

Our RE agent made it clear that prospective buyers expect us to not be present during viewings and that we should expect that they would open drawers, cabinets and closets as they wish (also in our bedroom). We don’t plan on doing open houses, but our RE agent also informed us that we should be OK with prospective buyers exploring our house without being supervised by their RE agent.

Would appreciate your insights on this.

Nick's Answer:

In short, Buyers should be supervised by their Realtor when viewing a home. In practice, this means that 99.9% of the time the Buyers can be trusted (as any adult in your home should be) to treat it with respect and not to damage anything or get into areas that should be private and unrelated to the sale, like a drawer in your bedroom or your medicine cabinet. Unfortunately, that small percentage of bad actors that mean that you should take sensible precautions.

Some of the potential risks are:

  • Theft, either by the “Buyers” or (much less likely) their Realtor

  • Damage to property, either intentionally or unintentionally

  • Injury to a buyer or their agent through carelessness.

  • Embarrassment from invasion of personal areas/drawers.

  • Letting the cat or family pet out of the house.

Some of the ways for to lessen these risks and their impact to you are:

  • If there are “no-go” areas in your home, lock the door (or install a $30 lock from Home Depot on a storage room) and have your Realtor post a polite sign with a picture of the room’s interior and a note that says that it will be available to Buyers on a second viewing of the home.

  • Crate pets during showings if possible, and make signs very clear before accessing the house as to what pets are in the house and instructions for the Buyers and their agent. These can also be added to showing instructions. For example, which doors need to be left open for the cat to have access to the litter box.

  • Be (a little) paranoid about your portable valuables, like jewelry and small electronics. No one is sneaking out with your desktop computer, but an iPad can fit in a purse and a necklace is easily pocketed. Lock these up for showings (in a “no go” area of the house or in a lockable drawer or a small safe like you’d find in a hotel.

  • Keep a list of valuables and serial numbers/photos in case you need to make a police report or insurance claim.

  • Consider cameras in sensitive areas. I’m generally against these as they stifle the Buyers’ enthusiasm for the home, but if you’re up-front about them (point them out with a sign) it’s fair. Make sure that you’re following the laws about recording in whatever province you’re in as they may vary.

  • Limit the number of guests at one time during an open house, and require that all guests show ID and sign in. This helps with insurance claims and helps weed out guests with bad intentions. I have no problem telling a guest that they will have to schedule a private showing with me or their own Realtor if they don’t want to be ID’d at an open house, and neither should your Realtor.

  • Be present for showings. This is generally a bad thing from a sales point of view (it’s uncomfortable for the Buyers to be under that scrutiny) but it’s more secure.

  • Make sure that your home insurance and your Realtor’s liability insurance covers theft, accidents, etc during showings. Ask your Realtor if they have any other suggestions for your specific home.

Good luck on the sale!

Source: I’m a Realtor in Ottawa, Ontario. My team employs a lot of these tactics on our listings and tend to follow Buyer clients around very closely unless we know them quite well.

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