Aaron Reuben had been looking to buy a house for months and was having a hard time choosing the perfect property. “I kept going back to a house where a big, old friendly mutt followed me around from room to room. The dog made the house feel warm and lived in and I definitely reacted positively to that.” Reuben said.
If you’re selling your house, will buyers walking through react positively to your pet or should you plan on having Poochie spend some time away from the house during showings?
Cary Sleeper, a real estate agent at Sotheby’s had an immediate and strong opinion about family pets and home showings. “I absolutely believe the seller’s pets must be removed from the house during showings. Too many people are allergic to pets or so frightened by them that even evidence of a pet’s presence can be a deal breaker. Why take the chance and affect a possible sale?”
Melinda Luke, an agent at Coldwell Banker in Ridgefield, Ct. took a more middle-of-the-road approach. “You can’t generalize about this. Each home and each pet is different. Pets can sometimes create a cosmetic problem that may affect the sale, but some pets are perfectly fine staying in the house. The important thing is for the seller to develop a dialogue with their realtor before showings to determine what would be best in terms of the sale of their house.”
“Each family requires a personal approach,” claims Elaine Tross, agent at Halstead Properties. “You just can’t have blanket rule for all pets. Some pets are fine left in the house during a showing, while others really need to be confined or removed. If your pet loves people, he just might be a selling point rather than a deal breaker.”
But according to Pat Linnell, a real estate agent in Fairfield County for 23 years, “Charming and lovable pets are also a distraction for the buyers. The buyers may get caught up in the cute and cuddly puppy and forget to really look at the house. Since the point of the visit is to view the house, any distractions should be avoided.”
“You also have to consider the liability issues when leaving a pet at home,” says Luke, a view echoed by Danbury real estate broker and appraiser Linda Keenan of Hometown Real Estate. “Leaving your pet loose in the house during a showing is asking for trouble. You never know when a family with children will be walking through. Your “always friendly” dog may react inappropriately with strangers in the house. Dogs should be crated and even then, the agent should be made aware of the pet’s location. Realtors need to monitor buyer’s movements around the dog to avoid problems.”
All the agents agreed that signs requesting “Please Do Not Let the Dog (or cat) Out of the House” do not necessarily work and may create their own liability problem. Slowly opening the front door is time enough for Felix, your escape artist cat, to make a quick get-a-way. And your dog may just be frightened enough by the strangers standing at the front door to jump through the crowd and out into the street. Having had this happen, Linnell related, “And yes, it is pretty funny to watch a Realtor in high heels chasing a cat and trying to be as professional about it as possible.”
And what happens if your dog decides to put on a loud and scary-sounding, barking and growling show on the other side of the door? According to agent Linnell, in one instance when faced with this problem, she questioned the buyers about going in. “Fortunately, they did (dog-lovers, of course). We opened the door and a tiny Scottish Terrier raced away to hide. Unfortunately, this is not necessarily the way it always goes. The buyers could have decided not to enter the house, and a potential sale would have been lost.”
The alternative, to confine your dog to a room or garage during the showing has its disadvantages as well. A common sign at showings, “Do not Open door. Dog inside.” does protect your pet and buyers from interacting, but does not permit buyers to view that particular room or garage. Buyers may possibly wonder if there’s another reason why this room is closed off from view.
Exotic pets pose unique problems. According to Linnell, “Nothing chases someone (including me) out of a room faster than a pet boa constrictor. Creeping and crawling pets should probably be closeted or camouflaged as much as possible.”
Having an electric fence is definitely a plus for buyers with dogs, according to Agent Keenan. Agents Luke and Sleeper agree that it’s a selling point, but not usually a deal breaker since Fairfield County represents high income areas and buyers will just plan on installing one if they want one.
More important to pet-families are low-traffic areas or wooded areas for walking dogs. Buyers coming in from large cities may ask about pet-friendly neighborhoods, walking areas or availability of dog parks, but buyers who live in Fairfield County, according to Luke, are already familiar with these resources or they have large yards that allow for lots of running room.
Home sellers with cats have their own unique set of issues. Fortunately, most cats choose to become “one with the floor” and disappear at the first sign of strangers, so having a cat friendly enough to be a presence at a showing is unusual. What is more common, unfortunately, is the smell of cat urine in and around the litter box. Or, even worse, the smell of cat urine embedded in carpeting or wood floors. Complete removal and replacement of the carpet or flooring may be the only solution since buyers will automatically deduct the cost of replacement from the price of the house–or worse, eliminate the house entirely because of the smell.
What other steps can you take when selling your home that will protect your pet, your property and your sale? Definitely plan to schedule showings “by appointment only.” Yes, you may lose some buyers who insist on immediate gratification but in the long run you’ll save yourself and your pet a lot of headaches.
If you’re home at scheduled visit time, take your dog for a walk or a ride in the car. If you have a cooperative neighbor, perhaps he/she would be willing to keep the dog at their house during showings. Or, if you have a pet sitter willing to work on an on-call basis, the sitter can take the dog out for a walk or a ride in her car.
Scheduling appointments will also give you time to scoop the litter box, and sweep the litter around it. Better still, hide the litter box entirely. Wash all the dog and cat bowls and pick up all the dog toys scattered around the house.
If you’re at work or away, perhaps your pet sitter can be cajoled into doing these tasks for you.
On the other end of the spectrum, families with pets trying to rent an apartment, whether in Manhattan, Westchester or Fairfield County find a whole different array of problems.
Emily and James Blankschen spent months looking for an apartment to rent that would accept their two large dogs, Zoe, a 40 pound Lab Cross and Huey, an 85 pound Lab Cross. “We looked everywhere for an apartment that would accept pets. If my dogs were smaller it may have been easier to find a place since many landlords who did allow pets limited the pet’s weight to less than 25 pounds. We were lucky to eventually find a landlord with two dogs of his own who understood our problem and ultimately rented an apartment to us.”
According to agent Sleeper, the softer real estate market has not softened landlord’s reluctance to rent apartments to families with pets. “With about 1/3 of apartments pet- friendly, I’ve seen just a slight increase in pet-friendly apartments. It’s a very difficult market. I will often include a photo of the pet with the application so the landlord can see the pet for himself. This can some times make a difference between allowing a pet or not.”
In Ridgefield, where there are fewer apartments for rent, and those that are mostly condominiums, according to agent Luke, there’s been no increase in available pet-permitted apartments. In fact, existing condo associations may have by-laws that either disallow pets entirely or limit the size or weight of a dog. Even if the owner of the unit decided to rent to a family with pets, the condo association rules would prevail.
Regarding the Westchester County Market Agent Sleeper says, “What I do to see are landlords requiring heavy pet security deposits, sometimes a whole month’s rent, since they feel that pets cause extensive damage and getting a property back to spec will be costly.”
In New York City the picture is vastly different. The rental market in Manhattan is extremely strong, according to agent Tross, and there’s been no increase in pet-available apartments. “In fact, if anything, landlords are even more stringent because the demand is so high. I deal mainly with rentals and the sale of condos and co-ops and it’s a challenge to find an apartment that will allow pets.”
With condo associations, and co-op boards that vote on prospective tenants, Tross will prepare an entire “board package” about the prospective tenant including personal and financial information, and always a photo of the dog.
In 2003 a study was done by FirePaw, The Foundation for Interdisciplinary Research and Education, a 501(c)(3) charitable nonprofit organization that focuses on research and education to stop animal suffering. The study was developed to determine if pet friendly rental properties hampered sales.
The study concluded that 70% of rental are families with pets. It also showed that pet friendly apartments were rented in 19 days as opposed to 29 days for no-pet apartments. This was tempered by the limits of size of dog with 44% of pet friendly apartments with only 11% allowing large dogs.
Either way, pet-friendly rentals make economic sense. Apparently the stats contained in FirePaw’s book, “How Landlords Can Make More Money by Going Pet Friendly” haven’t reached the landlords yet.
Whether selling your home or attempting to rent an apartment, if you have pets, you can expect to be faced with decisions affecting your pet family. Finding a pet-savvy realtor with whom you feel comfortable and who can provide the resources necessary to meet the needs of your pets and your family is a must.
A directory of pet-friendly realtors can be found at www.petrealtynetwork.com.