By Yvonne Dick

When it comes to selling a property, pets and people don’t mix. From an unpleasant odour that turns off prospective buyers to damage that can result in disclosure issues and lawsuits, selling a house with pets can cause trouble for sales reps.

Karri Flatla of Re/Max Real Estate in Lethbridge, Alberta says, “Pets can really make a home feel too personalized and put people off. When they are looking at a home they want to be able to imagine it as their home with their things in it. It’s always best to get the pets out of a home during a showing when you can.”

There are people who love dogs and cats and people who don’t like them at all. Some prospective buyers may have mild discomfort around a certain type of pet while others could be seriously allergic to them. For Flatla it is a balance between communication and doing the basic steps to stage a home for others to view and imagine as their own.

“I’ve read of a case where the sellers had pets and there was urine damage in the carpet – but sometimes it will pass through the carpet and the underlay and go straight on to the sub-floor. In this case, they’d cleaned it all up really well but when the new buyers moved in they discovered damage to the sub floor. Suddenly you’ve got a lawsuit about how the place was presented and whether or not the sellers knew about the flooring and if it should have been disclosed,” says Flatla.

“Think of the safety issues as well as the liability issues,” she says. “All kinds of people will come to an open house or a house showing. Elderly, small children, people related to the potential buyers. While they may be perfectly okay with pets being home during their house tour, there may be a safety problem.”

Fish are harmless, but the damage if water is spilled in large amounts is not so harmless. If the home has a tank with more than 10 gallons in volume, ask if there has ever been a big leak or spill. Reptiles in tanks can fall under the heading of health hazard. Some turtles and fish carry salmonella and other tank or cage critters run the risk of an escape. Birds can be loud and disruptive. Highlight the safety and welfare of the pet in relation to it being with the owner and not at the house during a showing.

Cats, well behaved, still plant themselves on the floor and other spaces where people may walk or be tripped up – including stairways and shelves near stairways. Dogs may be easy-going when the homeowner is around but suddenly territorial when strangers are going through their house.

Dogs in yards are also a bad idea. “Don’t just leave dogs chained up in the yard or in the garage,” says Flatla. After all, when buying a property a buyer will want to see the whole property, garage included.

Highlight damage that you see to the seller so they might repair things such as scratched doors and baseboards. Sometimes they need a little reminder to keep the litter box spotless (and out of sight) or not to let the dog jump up on the windowsill during everyday life so that it is easier to get the home ready for prospective buyers to come and take a look around.

If your seller is a co-operative sort and the pets are not around during home showings, there is still the pet’s gear, food bowls, bedding and evidence the pets leave behind in their everyday life at home. What dog owner hasn’t dealt with nose prints on mirrors and windows? Sales reps can make a plan of attack that will work in minutes to minimize the evidence and odour of pets in residence:

  1. Take a small bottle of glass cleaner, neutral odour sanitizing spray such as Lysol, paper towels, a rechargeable handheld vacuum and a travel-sized lint remover to each open house. (The spray is to make the air the freshest, not to be used on pet items or furniture.)
  2. When you get there, check for nose prints, hair on furniture and little “accidents” that can be taken care of quickly and easily.
  3. Stash pet bowls and bedding in as unobtrusive a location as possible.

If damage is unusually large consider disclosure issues when working on your contract with the home seller. For most situations, a little bit of extra elbow grease will be all that is needed to take a home with pets into a home with possibilities when open house time comes around.