Agent Provocateur: Agents DO care about safety on viewings but probate guidelines would be welcome

“The company was not in breach of any guidelines for estate agents nor were there any Health and Safety Executive recommendations particularly relating to a property being offered for sale.”

and

“No company of estate agents in the country has a written procedure nor was he aware of any having special rules in the case of a property being part of a deceased estate.”

These are two quotes from the defence counsel for estate agents Strakers, taken from The Swindon Gazette, relating to the poor lady who fell down a well in April last year at a probate property where an open house viewing was taken place.

The Health & Safety Executive investigated what had happened, resulting in a £200,000 fine to the agent instructed, Strakers.

One of the first questions I used to ask a seller when instructed was: “Is there anything we need to know about the property when showing people round?”

Anything they said – granny in a certain room, an over-friendly dog, a stiff garage door, etc – was always passed on to staff and a note made on file.

All of this makes sense and is common practice.

However, the issue, raised in the second quote, is what you do when the relevant source of information is an absentee landlord who has never visited the property, or is a home owner who is deceased.

Most agents do use common sense, and on reading this will make their own judgement on changes in the way they assess risk.

However all would, I’m sure, welcome specific guidance from the HSE on probate sales.

Let’s hope what they DON’T do is commission a worthy group of civil servants, who probably have little idea of the day to day issues estate agents face, in months of protracted waffle. The likely result would be a huge complicated document covering every single possible risk decipherable only by lawyers. When that happens it usually results in little useable substance and more costs the industry doesn’t need.

As a company providing viewing services to agents, safety concerns that might affect Viewbers and viewers are requested at the booking stage – and to date information provided has been clear and to a high standard – which is exactly what I’d expect from the vast majority of agents who care about what they’re doing.

Let’s not lose sight of the fact that this was a very rare incident, but from which we can all learn.

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15 Comments

  1. 123430

    Always an opportunity to pitch your niche nonsense for lazy agents service, Viewber.

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  2. simonjfisher

    We had a sale a couple of years ago where the basement was full of dangerous black mould and was generally hazardous to view with no fixed lighting. We did an open house and got all viewers to sign a sheet confirming the advice we had given them about safely viewing the property and then gave them face masks & torches. It seemed straightforward enough to me to take relevant precautions, and no one got injured during the viewing so it did it’s job.

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    1. Bless You

      Yes, good idea.. I still think a good lawyer would have found you guilty though.

      I cant see why the agent was found guilty and not the owner. In lettings it states the agent is an inbetweener and the landlord and tenant are the clients.

      I dont think the law knows what its doing half the time,   you cant protect against the law of chaos and a judge having a bad day.

       

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      1. PeeBee

        Wise words from my Barrister:

        “You don’t get justice in Court…

        …just a verdict.”

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  3. AgentV

    We often have small terrace properties to sell, built with the staircase going across the house rather than front to back. The stairs are therefore often steeper than normal ( the vast majority of viewers are experienced with viewing this type of property anyway). I warn viewers about it, but I would love to know where I stand from a H & S point of view. Do I have to warn everyone? What happens if someone slips and says they weren’t warned? What constitutes a staircase that they need to be warned about (angle etc.)? Even this one small area raises so many questions.

    Anybody any ideas?

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    1. LettingsInsurer75

      Better safe than sorry, and all that…

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    2. PeeBee

      AgentV

      “The stairs are therefore often steeper than normal… I warn viewers about it, but I would love to know where I stand from a H & S point of view. Do I have to warn everyone?”

      Yes.

      And not just a steep staircase.  Every staircase.  And not just every staircase – add to that every doorstep… every raised thresh… every change in flooring level… every change in flooring… every door… every window… every radiator… hot tap… cold tap… toilet… socket/switch…

      …get the picture?

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  4. PRman

    Bit selective with the quotes there Ed. The original report at http://www.propertyindustryeye.com/newsflat-estate-agent-fined-200000-after-woman-fell-down-well-during-viewing/ makes it clear that the agent had been warned about the well three days before and that the staff member sent to inspect it just assumed there was a metal grille underneath but never checked. Hence the £200,000 fine. First rule of reporting is to be balanced in your coverage, as Ros was with hers, which probably explains why Ed is an estate agent and not a news man. Each to their own…

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    1. PeeBee

      Also worth reading the original EYE article following the incident in April 2016:

      http://www.propertyindustryeye.com/agent-speaks-of-horror-after-woman-viewer-falls-down-well/

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  5. Woodentop

    This opens a can of worms for the politically correct! Now we shall see property fact finds for vendors/representative, disclaimers galore, health & safety disclaimers for viewers, issue of hard hats, safety boots, hazard suits and scuba tanks, dog repellent, allergy medicines with more medical disclaimers, torch with spare batteries, next of kin in case of emergency, medical & pet allergies disclosure by viewers and those that accompany them, walking aides, roadworks barriers, safety tape, safety signs, safety ropes and harness, flood lights, emergency walkway boards for inside and out, salt/grit for winter paths, umbrellas …. the list goes on or will common sense prevail? Joking aside I can recall where all these and more have or should have been used at properties I have sold over the years, who hasn’t? If you go down the line with civil servants, politics kick in with covering every eventuality for fear of missing something out and don’t give a stuff about the people who have to implement “due care and diligence”.  Whatever happened to, if you fell over … it was your fault for not looking where you were walking?

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  6. PeeBee

    Simple solution…

    Complete a RAMS prior to your initial visit to the property.

    Only thing – and this will no doubt keep me awake tonight figuring out the answer…

    …would you then need to complete a RAMS in relation to completing a pre-visit RAMS?

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    1. Ding Dong

      so long as the person is competent, then i assume that would be seen as reasonable

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      1. PeeBee

        How would you judge the competency of a person?

        Would you have to fill in a CRAMS for them?

        Who would fill that in?

        Would they need to be competent?

        Oh chuff! – another sleepless night I fear…

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        1. Woodentop

          Not forgetting you have just provided evidence for lawyers to nail you to the wall.

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          1. PeeBee

            Would the lawyers need a RAMS to do that?

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