Coming across an aggressive dog or unfriendly cat is par for the course when taking clients on property tours. But Karen Abram, RENE, an agent with Keller Williams Realty in Calabasas, Calif., wasn’t prepared to come face-to-face with a wolf at a recent showing.
Abram and her buyers initially mistook the animal for a large dog in the corner of the living room. The sellers, who were present at the showing, explained that they rescued the wolf from the wild, which raised the hairs on the back of Abram’s neck. The listing agent hadn’t mentioned anything to Abram about a wild animal—let alone any kind of pet—in the home. Abram and her clients left immediately, and she called the listing agent to report the situation. The listing agent, Abram says, was unaware of the wolf. “I nearly had a heart attack,” Abram adds. “That was really scary and could have been really dangerous.”
People keep all kinds of unusual animals at home, which can put real estate agents and consumers at risk during a property sale. It’s a common danger in rural communities, where farms and ranches often house wild turkeys, pigs, birds and horses, for example. Snakes and alligators also are fairly common pets in some areas of the country, but even poorly behaved dogs and cats can pose a threat. While sellers are responsible for ensuring everyone’s safety on their property, there are situations where the listing agent can be held liable as well. So, when does a seller’s pets become your problem?
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There are many stories of real estate professionals being attacked by animals on the job:
- A bulldog injured a real estate agent who was showing a property in Canada in 2020. The agent discovered she wasn’t the only real estate pro wo be attacked by the dog.
- In December 2019, an agent in Waco, Texas, and her clients were attacked by two pit bulls when the agent opened the garage where the sellers were keeping the dogs. The agent and clients required surgery for their injuries.
- An agent in Northern California who was selling her own home kept five goats boarded on the property. Despite the agent's warning, buyers opened the gate to pet the goats and were trampled by the animals.
Safety education and proper communication are key to navigating encounters with dangerous animals in the real estate process, says Charlie Lee, senior counsel and director of legal affairs at the National Association of REALTORS®. Agents should consider the safety precautions they’ll need to take if they accept a listing with a dangerous pet, he says.
“If the listing agent is aware of the pets in a home or on the property, they must let the showing agent know—especially if the animal is dangerous,” Lee says. “At that point, the onus is on the showing agent to proceed at their own risk. Agents should advise sellers to remove potentially dangerous animals from the property. If that isn’t possible, they need to ensure that everyone who enters is aware of the animal's presence.”
Listing agents should include a warning in their online listing about the presence of a dangerous animal and post notes throughout the home to alert visitors to the animal’s location. Susan Peer, an agent with Keller Williams Realty in West Des Moines, Iowa, even posted to the door photos of the garage, where she kept her four large dogs quarantined during showings, when she was selling her own home. “We also put up baby gates and posted ‘do not open door’ signs,” she says. “We put in the listing that the dogs would be removed for second showings.”
If your sellers have an animal that could potentially scare off buyers, you might advise them to get a pet license or permit to demonstrate responsible pet ownership, Lee says. “If the broker is aware of local laws regarding potentially dangerous animals, they can assure that the sellers are in compliance,” he adds. If aggressive pets cannot be kenneled or properly restrained, you may not want to list the property until you have a long-term solution for the animals to be removed.