QA related to real estat transactions

Many real estate agents suggest their sellers put the house keys in a lockbox because this makes it easy for agents to gain access to the property to show the home to prospective buyers.

Lockboxes are a convenient and commonly used way to accommodate showings. But they do come with some potential risks.

You have no doubt seen a lockbox hanging from a door handle when you visited or passed by a property that’s for sale. Some newer electronic lockbox models have additional security features, such as the ability to alert the brokerage when the box has been opened, identify the real estate agent who opened it, record the time and date it was used, and only open it during specific scheduled showing times.

If you are contemplating whether to provide lockbox access to your home, here are a few things to bear in mind.

First and foremost, as a seller you are not required to provide lockbox access to keys for your property. Your agent can only give lockbox access to your home if you have provided consent, ideally in writing.

Many sellers do opt for a lockbox because it can be practical, especially when the home is vacant or located in an area that is distant from the seller’s brokerage. The alternative is for the buyer agents to travel to the seller’s brokerage or to the seller’s agent to get the key and to return it. You can see how time consuming that could be.

Agents, brokerages, and clients recognize that the use of lockboxes requires a significant amount of mutual trust. An agent is aware that the lockbox code cannot be shared with anyone who is unauthorized to enter the home because of the potential risk to real and personal property, privacy, safety and security of both buyers and sellers. They also understand they are responsible for the safekeeping of the property when they are showing it.

Buyer agents must get advance permission from the seller’s brokerage, the owner of the home, or if the property is being rented, the tenants. You can be assured that before using a lockbox to visit the home, they must always have a confirmed appointment so that there are no surprises.

Even with these safeguards in place, it’s important to be aware of some potential risks that come with using a lockbox. There is the possibility it could get broken into, or the wrong person could get unlawful access to the lockbox code.

You might think it’s easy to break a lockbox, but it’s likely easier to break into a property through a window or door.

Discuss lockboxes with your agent and ask questions about their brokerage’s lockbox security protocols to prevent the wrong people from accessing the key. Good questions to start the conversation are how often they change the code, and what type of lockbox they use. 

If you decide that you are not comfortable using a lockbox, talk to your agent and agree on a plan, in writing, to only show your home to interested buyers with scheduled appointments when your agent or you are present.

Your real estate agent may ask you to complete an information statement about the property you are selling.  

The statement will provide information related to defects, renovations, and other pertinent property information, based on your knowledge and experience.

Before you complete the statement, you and your real estate agent need to be clear about how it might be used.

Information statement for your real estate agent

Your real estate agent may ask you to provide information about the property that is intended to help them support you in selling your property and identify any disclosures you, as the seller, are required to make by law. 

In this case, it should be clear that the information in the statement you are completing is for your real estate agent and is not to be shared with buyers. 

Information statement for interested buyers

Some sellers make information available to interested buyers. If you intend to prepare an information statement for this purpose, speak with your real estate agent about the pros and cons. 

This statement is sometimes referred to as a Seller Property Information Statement (SPIS). 

If you provide your real estate agent with an information statement that is intended to provide information to buyers, your real estate agent must disclose this fact to every interested buyer. If an interested buyer requests a copy of it, the real estate agent must provide it. 

The sale of a home can be a stressful and busy time for any homeowner which is why it is important to work closely with your registered real estate professional if you are planning an open house.

Your best approach is to ask as many questions as possible about what you need to do to prepare as well as making sure you understand what occurs during an open house.

While not an exhaustive list, here are some examples of questions you might want to ask your real estate agent:

  • Will your agent be present during the open house?
  • Will attendees of the open house be asked for identification?
  • Will all attendees be escorted throughout the home, and will your agent limit the number of individuals in your home at any one time to ensure they are personally escorted?
  • Will your agent check all doors, windows, and other access points prior to locking your home at the end of the open house?
  • Ask your agent for advice on whether you should allow photographs or videos of your home to be taken by buyers or anyone else.

Some steps you can take to prepare for an open house:

  • Remove small valuables from view.
  • Relocate fragile items on tables or ledges that might easily be knocked over. 
  • Remove medications from all rooms in the home including your medicine cabinet.
  • Keep your bills, credit card receipts, and bank statements out of view. You may want to store them with your other valuables.
  • Take inventory/pictures of your property and what was stored so you will know quickly if anything is missing.
  • Consider removing personal photographs that may be on display.

In certain market conditions, sellers may find that more than one buyer is interested in their property.

This is a competing offer situation and creates unique conditions in a real estate transaction. Sellers need to consider how to respond when presented with a competing offer situation. Working closely with your real estate agent will ensure that you understand the process.

Your real estate agent represents your interests in the transaction. The decisions about how offers are presented and responded to, as well as which offer is accepted, are made by you.

Number of offers

Buyers in Ontario who have made an offer on a property are entitled to know the number of competing offers. Your real estate agent must share this information with every buyer who has submitted a written offer. If you want your agent to share the information with any interested buyers, you may direct them to do so. 

Content of offers

Sellers in Ontario choose how much other information, if any, they want to share about the offers they receive. Sellers are not required to share this information and agents working for sellers are not permitted to share any of the content of the offers unless the seller directs them to. 

If you are a seller

Here are the considerations to keep in mind as a seller:

  • You decide how much information you want to share about the competing offers.
  • Your agent will advise you based on the characteristics of your property, market conditions, the content of the offers you receive and other things. 
  • You need to provide clear written direction to your agent before the content of any offers can be shared. 
  • Personal or identifying information contained in offers cannot be shared. 

You might make this decision before or after offers are received. You can change your direction to the real estate agent at any time. 

Tips for sellers dealing with competing offers

A seller facing competing offers has to consider how they want to deal with the situation. The seller can decide to: 

  • accept the best offer; 
  • negotiate with one buyer and reject all other offers; 
  • negotiate with one buyer and advise other buyers that their offers are being set aside while the seller negotiates; or 
  • reject all offers. 

Part of the strategy may involve whether the content of competing offers is shared. 

Even in a competing offer situation, buyers have other options and may choose not to continue to participate. A seller may attempt to negotiate only to find out that it was the best offer the buyer could present. In the meantime, other buyers have found new properties they are interested in. 

If you decide to share the content of competing, a buyer may decide they do not want to participate in a process where the content of offers is shared or may take steps to protect the content of their offer.

Your real estate agent can provide advice and guidance, ensuring that the obligations and the options available are understood, and can help you navigate the complexities of dealing with competing offers.