Austin Realtor or Dog Catcher?

by Steve Crossland, REALTOR in Austin TX on April 6, 2008 · 22 comments

I recently showed a property occupied by a large barking dog. The showing instructions said “appointment with owner”. When I called the seller, the voice message said “if you need to show the property, call the agent”. I called the agent who gave me a different number to call, for the daughter of the seller, who the agent said might be able to go take care of the dog. The agent also told me that another agent had showed the property with the dog inside and said it barked a lot but didn’t cause any problems. I might go try it if I can’t reach the daughter, she said. The daughter didn’t answer when I called, so I left a message. Whew, a lot of effort to try to try to show a property.

When we arrived at the property, my two buyers and Sylvia (who came along with us that day) waited in the van while I scouted out the dog situation. Sure enough, it barked loudly as I looked in through the side glass, but it’s tail was wagging. I opened the door, made the required kissing noises in between “Hey there…Good dog..Hey there”, holding out the back of my hand. The dog, barking incessantly, moved backward toward the kitchen and I followed, hoping to move it into the garage.

As I moved into the kitchen, the dog suddenly stopped barking and bolted around through the living room and out the front door, which I left cracked open in case I needed to exit quickly.

As I emerged onto the front porch, Sylvia and our two buyers were standing outside the van, looking north up the street and shouted to me, “he’s gone!”. They told me the dog came out of the house like a bolt of lightning and headed straight up the street and disappeared.

I locked up the house and we drove up the street looking for the dog, but saw no sign of it. Sylvia called the agent and told her what happened.

At this point, what is the proper protocol? We had a heavy schedule of occupied homes still on our showing list, and a time schedule to keep. Do we stop the showings and become Dog Catchers, drafting our buyers into that role as well? Or do we make sure the listing agent is informed, then move on? We continued on with our showing list, leaving it up to the listing agent to inform the sellers and find the dog.

This decision was viewed as uncaring and irresponsible by the upset owners, who called to complain to our Broker that we didn’t continue our search and/or wait at the house for the sellers to get home. On the other hand, I’m not sure our buyers would have been happy with halting the showing schedule to become dog catchers. Also, there were all pre-scheduled showings for other homes we had called that morning. We would have needed to call through the showing list again to reschedule the times. That seems like a lot of people to inconvenience over a loose dog.

While I understand the feelings of the sellers, we followed the showing instructions as provided, and I don’t think me or my buyers should pay the price for a seller’s decision to not make better arrangements for the containing the dog. The dog was later found and returned to the house. I won’t be showing that property again unless the showing arrangements change.

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Albuquerque real estate April 6, 2008 at 8:07 pm

Oh no! What a disaster; I sincerely hope that you aren’t pressured into showing it again unless the dog’s gone. Bummer. I’m glad they found the dog though.

2 ryan campbell April 6, 2008 at 9:04 pm

Hey Steve. love your blog!

i had a similar situation showing a property not long ago. Austin is a dog lovers town no doubt. While i understand your precautionary move in leaving the door ajar, you should of anticipated this reaction from an animal in his/her territory.

While you and your buyers schedule/time is important… dogs are indeed mans best friend and really more important than our “schedules” throughout our busy days.

I understand your mentality. I stuck around with my buyers (who are “dog people”) and caught the dog.

There is a certain level of precaution to be taken when showing properties with dogs. If the sellers and their listing agent can’t ensure a copasetic showing we need to inform them of this.

3 Steve Crossland April 6, 2008 at 9:25 pm

Hi Ryan,

Good to hear a dog lover’s perspective. I don’t like dogs, or cats for that matter. Being a landlord made me that way, so perhaps I lack some needed sensitivity.

Next time I would definitely handle the entire thing differently, perhaps by not trying to show the property at all. It’s frustrating when you have a buyer from out of town though, and limited time.

Dogs and showings don’t mix. I would never allow a seller to create the problem in the first place. Instead, we’d look for options on how to remove the dog from the showing equation (kennel during the day, keep at a friend’s house, etc.)

Steve

4 Isaac Smelley April 7, 2008 at 1:49 am

Wow, I think you just alienated a good 50% of potential clients reading this blog. Maybe not the best choice of topics.

5 krocek April 7, 2008 at 8:53 am

The people who really screwed up are the dog owners. They shouldn’t be exposing their dog to a bunch of random people and random situations without supervision. Unsupervised pets, like children, should not be placed in circumstances that they can’t handle safely on their own. Anyone who blames you without casting a critical eye on the owners first is a hypocrite. And then they were upset with you for not caring enough about their dog!

On top of that, of course, they showed a lack of consideration for the realtors and buyers trying to see the house and therefore pretty much a lack of interest in actually getting their house sold.

What you should’ve done once the dog got out is a tough call, and not one I would want to have to make.

Anyways, thanks for all the writing you put up here, Steve. I’m an avid reader.

6 Greg April 7, 2008 at 9:04 am

Wow, I can’t believe you posted this either. You should have gone and caught the dog since you accidentally let him out. Yes, the seller and their agent should have been more accommodating, but the bottom line is that you let the dog out and therefore you are responsible for correcting your mistake. The sellers are rightfully upset and correct that you were uncaring and irresponsible. What if the dog had been hit by a car or otherwise harmed or injured? I guess little details like that aren’t important as long as you make your next appointment, right?

7 ryan campbell April 7, 2008 at 9:10 am

being a landlord made me dislike the careless animal owner tenants, not the animal itself.

However, cat pee can be the hardest smell to rid of a property. I have nothing against cats. I just wouldn’t allow cats personally.

8 talia_tx April 7, 2008 at 10:27 am

Wow, quite a number of angsty pet owners. Personally, I would find the fault with the sellers. They were the ones who accepted the risk of putting the care of their dog with complete strangers. Not a good decision, as shown by the dog bolting out the front door. As a pet owner myself, I’d never put my animals in that situation, as they’re my responsibility that I took on when I adopted them. The fee for daycare would just be yet another expense of the real estate process if I choose to sell my place while I live in it.

Plus as a seller, I’d think that one would want potential buyers to be in the calmest state of mind while looking through a potential place. A barking dog does not breed tranquility. Not a good idea to have a mental connection with annoyances and your place you want to sell.

Thanks for posting about these amusing real estate gaffes that people pull. It constantly amazes me the odd things that people do. I’ve always enjoyed your blog and the honesty you have in talking about your experiences.

9 Steve Crossland April 7, 2008 at 11:13 am

Well, hindsight is 20/20. I would definitely do it differently next time. Ultimately, I do lean on the side that places ultimate responsibility with the Seller and the agent. I was invited to go try to show the house by the agent, it wasn’t my idea. Had I been told to stay away, we would have skipped it altogether.

But once the dog did get out, I can see how some could view it as my responsibility to drop everything and make it my job to find the dog, even if that means dragging my buyers along for the ride. We did do that, just not for the length of time or to the conclusion some think would have been appropriate.

In the end though, if a Seller asked me what they could do to create the worst showing experience possible for potential buyers, and reduce the chances of a house selling by as much as possible, I’d tell them to leave a large, barking dog inside the house at all times. I can’t think of anything more incompatible with a sales effort.
Steve

10 ARZ April 7, 2008 at 4:31 pm

This is fascinating. Good story, and interesting responses. Ultimately, I think the seller is at fault. Moreover, you’re welcome to try but I doubt you can find that scared dog easily, especially when you are not a resident of the neighborhood and you never owned a dog yourself. At last, I have to say that I will never believe that someone bought a home because it has an adorable dog (or baby) inside, let alone an scary one.

11 KJH April 8, 2008 at 9:16 am

Wow, you don’t like dogs or cats? How sad for you. You should never leave the front door open for a dog to run out to get hit by a car. If it was an aggressive type of dog, the owners would never have left it there for strangers to come in.

12 Sylvia April 8, 2008 at 5:44 pm

As everyone says, hindsight is 20/20. If I had it to do over, I would have stayed behind and looked for the dog and let Steve go on with the buyers or vise versa. It was such a shocking experience. Even if I could have caught up with the dog, I wouldn’t have been able to catch it or try to lead it back home not knowing if it would attack me in the process.

13 DenaDavis April 8, 2008 at 9:07 pm

Steve,

What a mess! You know — sellers just dont realize that “easy to show” can mean easy to sell. Buyers dont want to walk into a 3 ring circus. You were doing the right thing by your client. After all– what if this turned out to be their dream home. Sellers AND sellers agents just need to realize that if they dont make everything easy for the buyers agent to show— then they are running a SALES PREVENTION department.

You did the right thing. You are a real estate professional– not a dog catcher. Its up to the seller to drop everything and play dog catcher.

I had a similar situation the other day in showing a tenant occupied property. The key got stuck in the lock because there was an issue with the locking device. We called the property management company and they told us it was our responsibility to sit there and guard the house until they got there to change the key. After all the tenant belongings could have been stolen. I dont think that was right either. It is up to them to keep their equipment working. We called— we waited for some time. But are we to sit there for several hours until their maintenance guy gets there? We had clients with us. Now we are playing security guard.

14 Cathy April 9, 2008 at 9:54 am

As a child growing up, Steve had many animals and he cared for them deeply. Charley (Cocker-Poodle), Nebo (Dashund), Sonny (Beagle), Duffy (cocker-poo) and let’s not forget our cats who lived well into their teens. We were a Navy family and transfers caused us to find new homes on occasion for our beloved pets. For instance, the cat who lived on Adak, Alaska, was provided a new home as well as our dog. So don’t be so harsh on Steve as I do know he has a great love deep inside him as a child with his pets. His Dad loved Chihuahua’s and his favorite quote: “little dog, little mess…big dog, big mess.”
Signed, Steve’s Mom

15 Steve Crossland April 9, 2008 at 10:35 am

Gee, it’s nice to know the women in my life (Mom and Sylvia) have my back, though it’s somewhat embarrassing to have Mom sticking up for me. I was going to delete your embarrassing comment Mom, but Sylvia made me post it.

It’s true, I don’t personally, deep in my heart, hate cats and dogs, but as a landlord and Realtor, they are in fact often troublesome and problematic to my business life.

Since our 14 year old Cocker “Molly” died last year we haven’t replaced her with a new pet, though evidence of her incontinence was abound in our previous home.

We are so busy at this stage of business and family life that I don’t think we can properly care for a new pet and give it the attention it needs. It would be left home alone most of the time. I guess NOT obtaining a new pet is an act of caring on my part. I’m sure when we retire and are empty nesters, my childhood love for animals will return and I’ll have a trusty pooch at my side as I read Dickens and sip Lemonade in the veranda.

Steve (pet lover at heart)

16 Michael @ The Stage Coach April 9, 2008 at 2:51 pm

hi, Steve:
Sorry to hear about the runaway. Honestly – all you dog lovers think the dog would have come back to Steve? C’mon. Not a chance. The Dog may have lurked around the outside for a while, but it is doubtful he would ever allowed himself to be caught him.

Having some Sales experience here’s my two cents: It took 4x calls to try to get an appt to show the house, and an actual appt was never really accomplished? This does not pass the ‘Three Strikes and You’re Out Rule’. Unless the house was specifically requested by the buyers, I would have just scratched it off the list. There’s only about 11,000 other houses for sale in the Austin Area. Ask the Selling Agent to email you when/if they have an open house and you know the pets will be controlled. May be a few voice mails saying his listing was skipped today due to the dog will get the message across to the Realtor.

From a Staging point of view, some thing absolutely, positively has to be done about dogs and cats for showings. This is the owner’s responsibility. Ok, you don’t have the money to put your dog up at doggy day care for three months. I get it – but let’s think about it. We keep our big dog in the laundry room with the door closed when we have guests as she hates strangers. Why not take a picture of the laundry room from the doorway, then print a sign that says, “Do Not Open, Large Dog” and add the picture to it? Laundry Rooms are not generally the selling factor for most homes – “Honey, I know the house is dated and needs a ton of work, but did you see the Laundry room?” – this will give the buyers a vague idea of what’s behind door #1.

Another Stager I know did a house where they insisted on keeping the dog corralled in the Master Bed Room. “They [buyers] can see the Master over the gate…” She tried hard to steer them in a different direction, but lost the battle.

People love their dogs more than they like other people. And many times, more than they want to sell their homes.

17 Lenny April 9, 2008 at 7:22 pm

I have been reading these posts and wondering what I would have done as a buyers agent in this situation… and what I could have done differently if I was the listing agent…

AHA!!

From now on I am going to ask all my sellers for a “call in case of emergency #”…. in fact 3 or 4 might be better!…
AND… i will write the #’s on the key fob in the supra box.

in fact maybe abor could add another field in the mls for Call In Case Of Emergency!

my 2cents about this doggie thing: an agent that decides to go into the house should bear the responsibility of the escaped animal….

18 Sam April 9, 2008 at 11:50 pm

This is just my opinion and I do not pretend to be an expert on this issue as it covers a difficult decision. I am not myself a real estate agent, yet, but for what it’s worth I think Steve did the correct action. I really would also like to thank him for posting this specific article. It helps future new agents such as myself think what would I do in this circumstance. My thoughts are simple: Avoid the situation completely.

Steve has a fiduciary/agent responsibility to his buyers to keep their appointments and he executed that professionally leaving the loose dog behind. Was this fair to the homeowners? In my opinion yes. Why? Steve and his party did attempt to seek the dog out, but his greater responsibility is to his buyers (even at his own expense – should he incur liability for a lost animal, but that was not an issue since the animal returned/was found).

I do not know Steve personally, but I seriously doubt he’s a mean spirited and horrible person (he would not be able to run a successful real estate business if he were). As for responsibility of the the lost animal? If harmed, killed, or lost permanently would the liability rest with the buyer’s agent? I’m not an attorney so I would not know that answer. In my personal opinion the responsibility for care of an animal is with the animal’s owners. They certainly had prior knowledge of potential strangers coming into their home, part of the whole selling the home routine. Also Steve leaving the door open with a strange animal is just plain common sense; I would not want to suffer getting injured either and having a quick escape is a good idea. I do not want to incur such overall liability myself I would simply avoid such properties until the animal(s) are secured.

This issue extends beyond the concern for an animal’s welfare (in my opinion that would be the least of concerns – I am not sorry to say that I think humans come first and I am a pet owner).

Imagine if the dog got loose as it did and instead of getting lost or harmed it attacked a person or damaged property? What if the dog attacked Steve and seriously injured him or one of his buyers when it ran outside? No matter how nice or friendly an animal appears if it is not your animal stay away from it.

Personally I agree that animals have no place in a home for sale, period. Arrangements can and should be made or the seller is simply not serious about selling.

I think DenaDavis said it best, “Sellers AND sellers agents just need to realize that if they dont make everything easy for the buyers agent to show— then they are running a SALES PREVENTION department.”

FYI: I am a pet owner and have a cat that bolts out the door at ever opportunity. If I were in a situation of selling a residence I would leave my cat with either my vet or family if costs were a concern. Even disregarding that situation I would not want buyers seeing a litter box or smelling “cat” since there are people who are exceptionally sensitive to animal’s (that would kill a buyer’s interest really quickly – “Sorry I’m allergic to the house”). I would also have the place cleaned (pet treatment cleaning) prior to having a real estate agent list the property.

-Sam

19 Debbie April 10, 2008 at 3:34 am

I regularly read Steve’s blog because I enjoy his posts and I also find people’s comments interesting whether I might agree with them or not. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen so many comments on any of Steve’s posts before. I am one of those readers who enjoy reading his blogs but I never post comments. However, this time I am. Let me also say that I am a major pet lover and have had pets since I was a small child…just about every kind you could think of. I’ve known Steve for 10 years, in fact, I used to work for him as his and Sylvia’s leasing agent when they used to own a property management company that he sold a few years ago. He does not hate pets at all but what he/we saw of some of the damage that pets can do to a rental property can definitely affect you and sometimes just plain shock you. Maybe that’s why some of you think he doesn’t like pets. I don’t blame the pets because if their owners leave them alone all day they may get bored, lonesome and may not be able to wait for their owners to get home so they can go out to relieve themselves. That’s certainly not to say that all pets do damage to properties so please don’t think I’m insinuating such a thing.

I’ve been a leasing agent for almost 15 years and while I don’t so any sales I have certainly done my share of leasing and working for property management companies. My experience with lease properties being shown is that agents and their clients have actually called me from the property if they heard a dog barking inside because one of both of them were afraid to go in. The pets would be in a crate but just the barking they could hear would scare them and cause them not to open the door. I have always requested that the tenants either remove the pet while they are away, crate the pet or if it is a little dog maybe put a baby gate up in a hall bathroom. One thing is that it is for the pets protection and the other reason is because there are some people who are really, truly afraid of animals…large or small. I also believe that if someone is afraid of pets that they surely won’t look as much as they would if they were more comfortable. Now cats are a different story….like I said, I have one. Cats usually run and hide or they are escape artists! All in all, whether a property is on the sales market or the leasing market, I really believe it is better for a pet and for the showings to not have a pet loose in the property.

I also want to add that even if you see a dog wagging its tail through a window like Steve did or even if you happen to know the pet they can have a change of heart as to whether they are ok with a person right then or not. Not long ago I was at my son’s and his girlfriend’s apartment and she has a dog about 50 lbs., half Lab and half Ridgeback. I have known the dog for years, have been around it a lot, have even had it up in my lap believe it or not and one day I was at their apartment standing there with my son and his girlfriend and I said my usual “bye Ambrosious, sweet girl, see you later” and all of a sudden she growled, stood straight up and went for my face knocking me backwards and before I hit the floor my son caught me. Needless to say, the girlfriend was horrified, it scared my son and there was absolutely no reason why the dog decided to do that which she had never done before. Maybe she was having a bad day! But seriously, while they are our babies and we love them, cats and dogs alike, they are animals and can be unpredictable. I just believe that for everyone’s best interest that pets shouldn’t be allowed to be left loose in a house if their owner is not there. And, again, I’m talking about the pets and the people’s best interest.

Finally, I have one last thing to say about Steve in his defense about not hating animals. One time we had a duplex that we managed and it was vacant. The tenants had been gone for about a week and I had stopped by one evening about midnight to check on a carpet install (yes, I’m a workaholic). I thought I heard something in the back yard at the patio so since I had my husband with me I went to check on it. Much to my surprise, I opened the door to find a pit bull standing there. Ok, I admit, that scared me half to death. It looked skinny like it was starving and it was wagging its tail like it was really glad to see someone. It turned out that someone had just put the dog in the fence and abandoned it with no food or water and that is cruelty beyond my imagination. I found something to put some water in for it and carefully opened the door to give it to the dog. Then I called Steve and told him about it and he said he would come take care of it. Now Steve could have called the dog catcher, just let it out of the fence, said too bad, but you know what he did? He came to get the dog, put it in his truck….in the back seat no less…and took the dog to a shelter because he wanted it to be cared for and he wanted it to have some food and water. He told me the dog kept licking his (Steve’s) ear and face as to show it was so grateful that Steve was rescuing it. So for anyone who may think Steve hates animals or doesn’t really care for them, you would be mistaken and I just felt like I had to tell everyone about the Steve that I know.

20 Sally Morris April 10, 2008 at 7:58 am

Steve I am a fellow Realtor in Greenwood SC with a new blog and I just found your blog. The first post I read is a winner. Loved it. Isn’t it amazing how little effort some sellers put into making sure to do their part in selling their home. I have pets myself and they are barkers too and recently put my own home on the market. I had to jump through hoops trying to accomodate showings and with my schedule it took some creativity but I did it. We’ve had to learn home staging along with everything else we have to be experts on so I guess now we must educate sellers on alternative care for pets when selling. Someone can start a new business. Will walk pets during real estate showings. Must have 24 hr. notice. Now that would not work for those agents who sit outside the home and call the listing agent to get in the home like right now:-) I’ll check back often. Have a great day!
Sally

21 Cruz April 20, 2008 at 9:14 am

You wrote: “I don’t think me or my buyers should pay the price for a seller’s decision to not make better arrangements for the containing the dog.” What you should have written was “I don’t think that I should be responsible for the consequences of my own actions.”

The viewing instructions as related said the dog had not caused any problems previously and should not prevent you from showing the home, not that the house could be left unsecured while showing, or could be shown without regard for the safety or security of the owner’s dog.

In the context of a dog left alone with a stranger entering the house, leaving the door open even slightly is every bit as troubling as finding a stray dog and deciding to walk it off leash (will it dart into traffic? will it attack cats, other dogs, or even people?), or letting it play with ones children assuming it is friendly, etc.

This is an an animal, so it was up to you to act as the responsible party — precautions to ensure everyone’s security should have been in play here. Instead, it seems that at every juncture you took into consideration only what was in the your best interest (and your clients), rather than acting responsible as the person who needed to address the the situation and its aftermath.

Leaving your wife there as your proxy to handle things (as best she could) while continuing your business would have been an easy and sensible solution. And even if ineffective (who knows where the dog went, and how much could be done while she was on foot), it would have been proof that you were taking ownership and responsibility for the problem you created and trying to set it right. Much better than calling the listing agent and saying “Hey, it’s your problem a) because I took carte blanche with your instructions and b) because I have better things to do now.”

22 Jackie Kyles May 24, 2008 at 11:46 am

Oh my word, I had something similar happen to me. I had my client and her Mother in my auto. We were told that the owner would leave her 2 labs at the neighbors. We go in look at the home and on our way out a lab rushes in…seems to know what he is doing but I wasn’t going to leave him there. So I grab his collar and head across the street to the neighbor who had a lab in backyard. I knocked on the front door and the door flys open and a boston terrier runs out mad at the lab for I guess being in his yard. I am yelling into the house for help, of course no one answers so I pull the door shut in case someone else trys to escape. Meanwhile the boston terrier is trying to kill the lab on the sidewalk so I grab up the BT and grab the lab by the collar and head back to at least stick the terrier back in his home…the door locked when I pulled it to. Now I’m struck with 2 yes 2 dogs. My clients are stand across the street by my SUV WATCHING not helping. I love animals more than real estate so I proceed with both dogs to the next house, of course the dogs are looking at me like I am crazy. I walk to the door of the next home where I see an elderly lady sitting in a chair in her living room…she is looking at me through the glass door but yet I still had to knock(not easy with a BT under one arm and holding the collar of the lab)she gets up looking mad at me, opens the door and says”Lisa is going to be mad when she finds out you let her dog out”…what in the heck, now I have an old lady yelling at me but I stayed calm…on the outside and explained my problem…she didn’t listen. Thank heavens the owner of the lab drives up…this crazy woman did not even help me with her own dog, I had to walk it to her door, still toting the BT. I tried to explain but she wasn’t listening either, I had to beg her to keep her neighbor’s dog after explaining what happened. My clients are still standing by my SUV watching so I go get in my truck and off we go like nothing happened.

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