The Rule Against Showings and Open Houses Shouldn’t Hamper Home-Buying…

…that is, if the listing agent does what Golden Real Estate has done for over 13 years — create a narrated walk-through video of each listing.

Our narrated video tours are just like a showing. They are live action videos which start in front of the house (just like a real showing) and then go through the house and into the back yard, pointing out features as we go. 

Check out the video tours for any of our current listings at www.GRElistings.com to see what I mean. They really are like an in-person showing with the listing agent. For example, the video camera points down to the floor and up to the ceiling as I describe the hardwood floor or the sun tunnels which bring natural light into the home’s interior.

But, you say, you’re not going to buy a home that you can’t see in person.  Right? You don’t have to, because the rules allow for inspection once the buyer has signed a purchase contract. Your visit (presumably with an agent)  the very next day constitutes an inspection. That can be before you even have to deliver your earnest money check, since you may not even be under contract yet. The guidance from the Division of Real Estate says, “home inspections and final walkthroughs after a buyer has signed a purchase contract (emphasis added)… is also considered to be an essential part of the real estate transaction.” The buyer is not under contract simply by signing a contract that has not also been signed or countered by the seller.

That “guidance” from the Division of Real Estate was issued on April 9th and has not been updated as of April 18th, which is when I am updating this blog post.

Scott Peterson’s April 15, 2020 “Legal Bite”

However, Scott Peterson, general counsel for the Colorado Association of Realtors, maintains in a video recorded from quarantine on April 15th that the governor’s executive order prohibits any “marketing” that involves entry into a property – no photos, no video, nothing at all – without a contract in place. If that’s true, however, why isn’t it reflected in the April 9th guidance and why hasn’t that guidance been updated?

I tried Googling the governor’s executive orders and looked at his web page on www.colorado.gov/governor and saw only two executive orders on other matters and no link for all his executive orders. So, for now, I lack evidence of Scott Peterson’s claim and am relying on the April 9th guidance, which I keep checking for updates.

Therefore, a visit to the home by a buyer immediately after signing an offer to purchase the home does, in my opinion as a broker, comply with guidance currently in effect from the Division of Real Estate. Then, if the buyer is able to get under contract with the seller, he or she can schedule a second inspection by a professional inspector.

So, here’s a possible scenario: You look at the video tour of the patio home or the ranch-style luxury which you found at www.GRElistings.com. I guarantee you’ll have a pretty good sense of the home from viewing that video. You’ll experience the flow from kitchen to dining room, to family room, to back yard, etc., because you are being walked through the home. It is not a slideshow of different rooms, giving no indication of flow from one room to the next.

Let’s say you call me or your agent to submit a contract and let’s say that it is accepted by the seller. You’re under contract!  The typical contract has a 7- to 10-day inspection period. You schedule your personal inspection with your agent (or me, if you don’t have one) the next day, before delivering your earnest money check, which is typically due in 3 days.  You can terminate immediately if you have buyer’s remorse, and go back to looking at other houses.

If you don’t terminate, you still have a week to hire a professional inspector and submit a detailed inspection objection.

What if you’re a buyer, and there’s no such video for a house that interests you, but you don’t want to sign a purchase contract? I believe you’ve got three choices here.  One, your agent (me, for example) could ask the listing agent to create and provide a narrated walk-through video. Second, I could preview the home for you since the guidance make no mention of banning previews, and shoot my own rough-cut video tour of the home, post it as an “unlisted” video on YouTube and send you the link. Or, third and perhaps best, we could use Facetime, Zoom, or another app to have you see what I’m seeing as I walk you through the house. (NOTE: Scott Peterson believes that previews and videos shot by anyone other than the seller are not allowed. I just don’t have any documentation supporting that position.)

Therefore, while it may be inconvenient not to have an in-person showing of a listed home, there are work-arounds that can make it possible to get under contract and confirm your interest in the property before you are fully committed to it or put down any earnest money.

Finally, I’d like to note that many listings are empty and vacant.  I see no reason why in-person showings of those listings should not be allowed. I know that builders are letting buyers view their empty homes. Again, Scott Peterson maintains that empty homes cannot be visited either. Show us the actual orders from the Governor or guidance from the Division of Real Estate, Scott!

In Real Estate, Truth Matters, Unlike in Politics and the Legal Profession

I was brought up to respect the truth by always telling the truth and expecting others to tell the truth. My father drummed this into me, as did the private schools that I attended. My boarding school, Choate, had an honor code (and still does) that required students to handwrite on every test or paper submitted, “I pledge this paper on my honor,” which we knew was shorthand for the following longer statement, “I pledge upon my honor as a gentleman that I have neither given nor received help on this paper.” (The phrasing has changed a little since the school went coed, but I’m told by the school that it’s still used and is, in fact, framed on the wall in every classroom and academic space: “On my honor, I have neither given nor received unauthorized aid.” In language classes, it’s posted in the language being taught – even in Latin!)

To this day, it upsets me when someone knowingly lies, and it pains me that some of America’s leaders, who serve as role models, have made lying in the face of clear evidence acceptable instead of condemned, as it should be.

So, I’m glad that I ended up in the real estate profession, where truth is important and is still honored. The National Association of Realtors, to which we agents are required to belong if we join any major and most minor brokerages, has a Code of Ethics to which we swear allegiance upon induction as members. In the preamble to the Code, the word “integrity” appears twice, including in this paragraph:

“The term REALTOR® has come to connote competency, fairness, and high integrity resulting from adherence to a lofty ideal of moral conduct in business relations. No inducement of profit and no instruction from clients ever can justify departure from this ideal.”

The Code of Ethics even commands Realtors to take action when they find another Realtor violating the Code. I myself have filed (and won) an ethics complaint against another Realtor who advertised that he was selling “4 homes every week,” violating the article which says members shall not misrepresent their level of success. That agent was ordered to stop making that claim in his advertising.

With the bidding wars of recent years, buyer clients have understandably wondered whether other agents were telling the truth when claiming multiple above-listing-price offers on a listing. I am pleased to tell them, and to state here, that I don’t recall ever being lied to by another Realtor, although I do worry on occasion when the agent on the other side of a transaction is a non-Realtor. Agents who are not NAR members don’t have a code of ethics to which they subscribe, which is why NAR advertising has often urged consumers to “make sure your agent is a Realtor.”

State laws regarding real estate do impose requirements of an ethical nature that aren’t imposed on other professions such as car sales. When you buy a used car (or anything else), it’s usually without any disclosure of past or current defects, but state law, like the Realtor Code of Ethics, requires that sellers of existing homes disclose all known past or current defects, and we can be disciplined even to the extent of losing our real estate license if we, as listing agents, fail to disclose a defect, past or present, of which we are aware.

Since every brokerage is also responsible for the actions of its agents (another term for the managing broker is “responsible broker”), every brokerage should instruct its broker associates to refuse to list any property where the owner is unwilling to fully disclose all problems or defects with the home. I’m happy to report that I have never had a seller who didn’t recognize and accept his or her obligation to disclose known defects. 

One of the standard forms for every listing is the “Seller’s Property Disclosure” (SPD). The document itself is voluntary, but (1) I’ve never had a seller who refused to complete it, and (2) failure to complete it does not relieve the seller and his/her listing agent of their responsibility to disclose all known defects or problems.

The SPD is very thorough in the questions it asks, but one shortcoming is when it asks about unpermitted renovations. It only asks the seller to disclose renovations done without a permit in the last 12 months. This creates a loophole which can be exploited by an unscrupulous buyer after closing.

Consider the following scenario: the seller does not disclose a basement that was finished decades earlier because it was done professionally — and the SPD didn’t ask about it. A few weeks after closing there’s a plumbing leak in the renovation. The buyer hires a lawyer who takes the seller into mediation (required by the contract), where the lawyer asserts that the seller told a neighbor, “There’s a plumbing problem, but we’ll let the buyer take care of it.” The lawyer had requested separate rooms for the mediation, so there is no way to confront the buyer or lawyer on what the seller knows is a totally bogus assertion. The seller would have to reject mediation and go to trial, at great expense, to make the buyer produce the false claim from a neighbor. So the seller agrees to settle for a 5-figure amount, plus his already high legal fees.

To me, this is legal bullying, but such tactics are sadly a tool that some lawyers are willing to utilize.