It happens all the time – the seller needs to move or tenants move out before the house is sold. This changes the implied relationship between Seller and Agent and opens up all sorts of liability issues that often aren’t acknowledged, let alone addressed.
With a vacant house, the Agent’s role and responsibilities often expand to items they are not normally involved in – repair, upkeep, landscaping and leasing to name a few – and with these come questions of liability and legal risks that should be considered.
There is a legal affairs podcast on the National Association of Realtors website that discusses just this issue and offers risk management tips that Sellers and Agents can use to mitigate their risk.
The standard way to address most potential legal or risk issues is to get things in writing and this is no exception. If a Seller and Agent are going to go out of the normal scope of what is covered in the purchase contract they should put whatever the agreement is in writing. The Agent is going to maintain the landscape watering? Fine, get it in writing. The Agent is going to do some touch-up painting? Fine, get it in writing. The Agent wants to make it clear that even though the house is vacant they assume no more risk or liability than if the owner or a tenant was occupying it? Fine, get it in writing.
So just remember, when either side is going to assume some unusual responsibility outside of the contract, specifically with a vacant house, let’s get it in writing and make sure both sides are comfortable and covered. For more information on this, or any other Real Estate question you may have, please feel free to contact me.