Open house? Take precautions to limit liability

Meredith Caruso | Special to The Log

All Realtors can probably agree about this: One of the worst-case scenarios that can happen when you have a property listing is someone getting injured during an open house.

While the Florida Realtors Exclusive Right of Sale Listing Agreement contains indemnification language that might offer you some protection in certain circumstances, no one wants to be sued for a sustained injury.

The good news: There are several precautions brokers and associates can take to minimize open-house risk.

If you're a listing agent, go over potential hazards with the seller. Even better, discuss the repair of any dangerous conditions before inviting potential buyers into the property. If the seller doesn't want to repair an item, post warnings regarding any hazardous area on the MLS and on the property itself. For example, include "Loose railing on the stairs."

On the day of an open house, take time to carefully walk through the property, inspect all areas where prospective buyers may wander and ensure nothing has changed based on earlier discussions with the seller or previous inspections. For example, heavy rains could have loosened a patio paver that could cause someone to trip. Taking the time to observe possible changes like this and warning potential buyers, either with a sign or pointing it out to while escorting them to the area, can avoid an injury.

Additionally, make sure a seller's pets are properly contained or removed from the property during an open house. And parents who bring small children should be advised to hold their child's hand at all times.

The National Association of Realtors also suggests the following to limit the risk of liability:

Independently confirm any statements made by the seller about the condition of the property if you have a reason to believe the seller's statements aren't accurate.

Document information provided to the purchaser, including answers to questions about the condition of the property, either by a memorandum in the file or by a letter (or email) to the purchaser (via their agent).

Document research done on the condition of the property, including the identity of all information sources.

Meredith Caruso is manager of Member Legal Communications for Florida Realtors.