Bitter Pill to Swallow

Preparing a seller for the reality of opening their home to the public

 Cori Lamont  |    March 03, 2011

Unfortunately, as with any business there can be a dark side. One such area in real estate is the harsh reality that sellers hold their home open to the public, and on occasion people exploit this by stealing. While uncommon, theft does occur, and sellers should be educated on how to prevent it. If and when the rare theft should occur, the majority of the items taken are usually not substantially personal. However, the latest theft trend is one of a very personal nature and can be harmful to the health of the family. Recently, stories have surfaced throughout the country, including in southeastern Wisconsin, where thieves are targeting open houses to obtain prescription medications.  

While the addict is most likely stealing to feed a drug habit, other thieves may have a different motivation. Considering one pill of oxycodone can fetch anywhere between $75-$100, some may be stealing inventory to sell. The thieves pretend to be prospective homebuyers and then steal some if not all prescription medications from the property. 

As per lines 174-178 “Open House and Showing Responsibilities” of the WB-1 Residential Listing Contract Exclusive Right to Sell listed below, it is the seller’s responsibility to prepare the home for open houses and individual showings. However, sellers often look to their listing agent for guidance.

“Seller is aware that there is a potential risk of injury, damage and/or theft involving persons attending an ‘individual showing’ or an ‘open house.’ Seller accepts responsibility for preparing the Property to minimize the likelihood of injury, damage and/or loss of personal property. Seller agrees to hold Broker harmless for any losses or liability resulting from personal injury, property damage, or theft occurring during ‘individual showings’ or ‘open houses’ other than those caused by Broker’s negligence or intentional wrongdoing.”

Listing agents should review this language with all sellers. In addition, licensees should have a checklist handy or provide suggestions to the seller as to how the seller can go about preparing a home for showings. For example, consider including a list of minor repairs or cleaning suggestions, encourage the seller to remove any pets during the showing, and require the seller to put away valuables including but not limited to all jewelry, electronics, banking or financial information, information that includes the name(s) of the seller’s children, and any other items that hold great sentimental value.

Another item listing agents should add to the list: the removal or locking up of prescription medications. For most thieves, the traditional modus operandi was to take the entire bottle of medication; however, it seems the pattern has changed a bit. Some thieves will now go into the home and take only a few pills from each bottle, leaving the homeowner to discover the theft when their pill supply runs shorter than the prescribed amount.

Licensees should encourage sellers to either remove medications or lock them up by purchasing a medicine lock box. An additional school of thought suggests splitting up the medication so that all of the medication is not in the same location. If it is believed a theft of any kind occurred during an open house or individual showing, the local police should be contacted.

Cori Lamont is Director of Brokerage Regulation and Licensing for the WRA.

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