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Time to let the show house go?

show house

Picture: Denese Zaslansky, CEO Firzt Realty Company; Tony Clarke, managing director Rawson Property Group; Dr Andrew Golding, chief executive Pam Golding Property group; Bruce Swain, CEO Leapfrog Property Group

Has our Covid-changed world rang the final bell for the traditional show house?

For decades the traditional show house has been part and parcel of traditional real estate practice. Mostly held on Sundays, but also on other days, an open viewing gave buyers the chance to view a home at their leisure with the estate agent at hand to answer any questions they may have. There was a buzz and an excitement that a virtual tour can’t replicate. Thousands of homes were sold as a direct result of show days and last year many of the major traditional estate agencies were still firmly of the belief that the show house will never go out of fashion.

However even before the pandemic, there were concerns raised about the safety and security risks of opening a home for public entry. Now there is also the added health risk of exposure to the coronavirus to consider.

These days estate agents have the following to consider about hosting a show house:

Safety and security

The past few years have seen an increase in reported incidences where opportunistic criminals posed as buyers to gain entry into homes to steal and/or rob once inside. Cilna Steyn, director SSLR, says robberies, harassment and so on is a very real risk. Consequently, the risk for an estate agent that they are exposing themselves too, their clients and the occupants of the home, has been talked about in the industry for a while now.

“The agent hosting the show house takes responsibility for the belongings of the occupant at that time, which could lead to major legal battles in cases where items go missing or damaged,” warns Steyn.

Read more: Has SA become too unsafe for show houses?

Cost

Cost is another factor. In Cape Town estate agents have to register and pay (R2100 new registrations or R1 321 renewals) for permits to display show house notice boards. This is an expense that many small agencies can hardly afford after months of no or little income due to the lockdown.

Exposure to Covid-19

During to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic estate agents are obliged to ensure all physical viewings comply with the COVID-19 health and safety regulations of the Estate Agency Affairs Board (EAAB). In terms of the regulations, estate agents must meet a host of safety requirements among them completing a questionnaire with each prospective buyer about their possible exposure to the coronavirus and their health, taking their temperature and recording it before allowing them to enter the home.

In fact, the EAAB guidelines advise that all property viewings should be virtual and physical viewings should only take place once the agent made sure the person(s) is “definitely interested” in buying the property.

Tony Clarke, managing director Rawson Property Group, says it is impossible to comply with this guideline and host a ‘normal’ show house as people will be appearing out of the blue. “An agent has no way to determine a buyers “definite interest” before exposing the seller’s property to such undue risk,” he says.

Liability

As mentioned, estate agents are legally responsible to ensure reasonable steps have been taken to ensure the safety and security of the home and all inside. The coronavirus pandemic has added exposure to the virus as another possible liability. According to Marlon Shevelew, director Marlon Shevelew & Associates, if an estate agent fails to take the steps a reasonable estate agent would have taken then the agent may be liable if someone viewing the house contracted COVID-19. “But if the agent took all the steps a reasonable agent would have, and complied with all the requisite regulations, then it is hard to contemplate a situation where an agent would be liable for any damages suffered by someone who had attended the open house.”

Steyn warns it is very important to remember that you may be prosecuted for attempted murder if you are aware of the fact that you are or could potentially be infected with the SARS-CO-V2 virus and you knowingly expose other people too it. Or worse, if you knowingly expose another person to the virus and they get sick and die, you may be prosecuted for attempted manslaughter.

Her advice is that, especially now, estate agents have an indemnity agreement signed by the occupant. “Should there then be any damages or exposure to SARS CO-V2, the agent can rest assured that she will not incur any legal liability, except in the case of gross negligence,” ends Steyn.

There are safer ways to view a property

Virtual and video home tours offer a safe and convenient way for all parties to view properties. The coronavirus pandemic and subsequent recent lockdown escalated the use of these visual aids by estate agents to showcase listed properties as physical viewings were not allowed. Most estate agencies reported that buyers and tenants welcomed these online visual aids but added that for most a physical inspection was still critical before concluding a deal to rent or buy.

For this reason, some estate agencies chose the option of ‘show by appointment’. Dr Andrew Golding, chief executive Pam Golding Property group, says for health and safety reasons they have elected to conduct viewings only by appointment, with one viewing at a time, and in line with the lockdown protocols. “So, while show houses are now permitted, the new show house is essentially a house on show by appointment.” According to Craig Hutchison, CEO Engel&Völkers Southern Africa, for their agency view by appointment has always been the preferred route of showing homes rather than the traditional Sunday showhouses where sellers are inconvenienced. Before a client may view a property, they are pre-qualified and their identity documents are checked.

Denese Zaslansky, CEO Firzt Realty Company agrees that it is time to let the show house go. “I do not propose we go back to ‘show houses’ as we did in the past. Crime is a major issue and apart from putting our agents at risk by having an open invitation, occasionally even an open door/gate is inviting problems,” she explains. Her proposal is also show houses by invitation only for a few select buyers.

Show house: yes and no

Despite the risks involved, there are agencies that decided to continue with show houses. Pierre Rousseau, general manager PropertyTime, says their agents have the choice whether they want to do show houses or not – “they are not forced to do any houses at all”. But he is in favour of the show house. “Why do we do show houses? Because we want exposure (for our sellers) to help sell their home and for us, the agent, to meet new potential buyers.”

He adds that agents never host a show house alone and in the Johannesburg area they have a security guard present. Home viewers also have to complete the visitor’s book and present their IDs.

Shevelew also believes that there is still a place for the show house. He says people are all aware of the pandemic and take a risk whenever they leave their homes. “Therefore, as long as the agent complies with the regulations in place and take the steps reasonably required of him/her then a show house is still an excellent way to market a property. The ways of the world are changing but the old ways may be with us for a while yet,” he ends.

However, for some the days of the traditional show house is over. Bruce Swain, CEO Leapfrog Property Group says the concept of the show house has certainly reached its sell by date. “As online marketing tools become more sophisticated and buyers’ preferred means of searching for properties, show houses don’t hold the appeal they once did. Add to that the need to adhere to social distancing best practices to prevent the spread of Covid-19 and the security risk posed by opening private properties to the public and it’s clear that the time has come to move on from the era of the show house,” he says.

Clarke says he believes going forward it will be the property owners and landlords that will insist on a move away from the show house. “We have to accept that the world has changed and will never be the same again, thanks to Covid, this also applies to our industry and the way we market property. We believe that it will be sellers themselves who end up galvanising change in the property industry. Given these precarious times, we believe it is the sellers who will start insisting that agents use virtual tools to market their homes, rather than open their homes to large volumes of people who might contaminate their space,” he explains.

Clarke says despite how powerful technology may become, property transactions will always require some level of face-to-face interaction, “and we need to facilitate this as safely and effectively as possible”.

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