John's Florida Real Estate Blog


Sellers: Is Your Home an Obstacle Course? Can You Spell Lawsuit?

Over the years that I have been working in this business, I have had the opportunity to tour many homes. I have seen them in almost any condition that you can imagine. I saw one where I had to jump over a hole in the bathroom floor, while hoping that the bathtub I was aiming for was not sitting on rotten wood. (It wasn't).

Most homes are not a problem for agents and their buyers. However, there are quite a few that could leave the sellers, and possibly their agents, with injured buyers who might consider calling their lawyers.

So, if the idea of a court fight and lawsuits do not worry you, then skip this blog. But if you would like to sidestep that scenario, here are some things you can do to avoid creating an obstacle course in your home and finding yourself in front of a judge and/or jury.

  • Make sure the electricity is turned on at the home so at least the lights will work and no one will be as blind as a bat. Of course, you can leave the breakers off for the washer, range, fridge, hot water heater, etc. But lighting is important for safety reasons and for a better presentation of the property. Trust me, being in a dark home will turn off a buyer sooooooo fast and it will greatly increase the chances that injuries could happen.
  • To make that even more effective, if you have awnings,try not to lower them or no sunlight will enter the home to help people see where they are going. Once I was in a completely dark bedroom looking for the circuit board the agent told me was there. I lifted the latch to what I thought was the door of the board, only to have a table hinged to the wall come down on my head. Ouch! The lights were out and the owners had fastened the awnings in the down position.
  • Get rid of all those throw rugs you have around, especially on top of wall-to-wall carpeting or slippery floor surfaces. This will help ensure that no one will stub his or her toe and fall, or have his/her feet slip out from under them. If the rugs hide a defect, you had better disclose that anyway. So why not get it fixed instead and toss the throw rug?
  • If you have wooden stair treads, do not wax them up good before visitors arrive. Lots of excitement will happen when you lose your footing at the top of a 14 foot stairway. NOT!
  • If you think you are going the safer route and you put down carpeting on the stairs, make sure it is securely attached and does not make the stair's tread too narrow for a person's feet.
  • If you are in an old house with oddly sized stairs, you know the kind. The ones you are constantly tripping over as you go up and down. Put up a warning note nearby to let people know they should hold onto the bannister. Now stairs are standard sizes, but in old homes there can be some very weird ones that are just a little too high or a little too low. I often go up stairs after my elderly customers so I can catch them, just in case. At least I can provide a cushion for them :)
  • If you have so much "stuff" that you could practically appear on the show "Hoarders", you need to have room for people to move about your home safely. I was in a home (that I later listed after a cleaning) and every square inch was covered with piles of things. Through all of this were 1 foot wide paths for people to walk. How easy it would be for someone to take a header into all of the junk. And no way anyone with a walker, wheelchair, or cane could have gone from one room to the next. At least clear wide path for people. But keep in mind that even that will not entice many people to buy your home. It will just make it safer for them to take a tour.
  • If you have dogs and cats, don't let them run loose while visitors are there. If they are not friendly or are overly protective, you might see a dog bite take place or a nice cat scratch. Take your pets outside with you or place them in a cage. Even the car with the AC on will work for a few minutes.
  • If your pets are friendly, keep in mind that most people are not going to constantly be looking down at their feet as they walk. All you need is for Fluffy or Rover to get in front of their feet and you have a fall waiting to happen. And if they fall on the dog, then a bite as well.
  • If children live in your home, make sure that their toys are safely tucked away before buyers enter. Even a little piece from a Lego set can start the ball rolling toward an injury. Even small children can understand that when strangers come in, the toys disappear into their storage bins. Or at least under the bed :)
  • If you have flooring that is especially slick, like some glazed tile is, make sure it is always dry and that you warn people about it. This is especially true if you have people remove their shoes when they come in. People who wear nylon socks and then step on a glazed tile can expect to go "ice skating" across the room. I learned this the hard way in Spain where most floors are tiled. Bad news here is that if the buyer slips, falls and hits his head, it will be on nice hard ceramic tile, not carpeting. Not something you want to happen.
  • Make sure any toxic odors are not present. I was once showing a couple an older mobile home. I got there before them and went in to see that all was in order. Within 1 minute, my nose felt prickly, my eyes were watering, and my lungs were inflamed. I am not sure if the owner had doused the place with insecticide or whether it was formaldahyde leaching out of the wood, but I kept my buyers outside. Can you imagine if someone with COPD, etc had gone in there? No warning from the owner or the agent. Add to that the fact that it was about 100 degrees in there and you have a gas chamber. Not a good thing. Strong mothballs can do the same thing.
  • If you have low ceilings in some of your rooms, keep those ceiling fans OFF! I have seen too many people stretch their arms upward, only to have their wrists soundly whacked by the fans' paddles. I suppose if they were spinning very rapidly, they could even break a bone. So do not take a chance. Turn them off!
  • If you live in a mobile home, and many people here do, consider replacing the cheap metal stairs that came with the home when it was new with more substantial versions. The temporary ones were meant to be just that, TEMPORARY. Within a short time, they wiggle and wobble, and the wooden treads warp and rot. So get rid of them. They also normally have only a very small platform at the top, insufficient to hold more than one person.
  • Look around yard areas where buyers and there agents are likely to walk. Fill in any holes that they may step in,and get rid of any pipes, hoses, roots, etc that could cause a person to trip.
  • If a sidewalk is uneven, consider doing something to make it less hazardous. Of course, if the walk is city, county, or subdivision property, you should consult with them before taking any action. In the mean time you could put a warning nearby to alert people.

These are just some of my observations. I am sure you can think of many more. In most cases, we can live in homes with the above conditions because we know about the problems. We know about the low ceiling fan, how many steps there are on the basement stairway, where that gopher hole is out back. But visitors to your home will not. So minimize your liability and take a little time to make your home safer for buyers and their agents.

Better that you end up at a closing table when you sell your home, rather than in a courtroom trying to explain to a judge why Mrs. Smith fell into your jacuzzi.

John Elwell - REALTOR at CENTURY 21 Bill Nye Realty, Inc. 813-783-4444 or e-mail:  My main webpage can be found at:

John Elwell - REALTOR


Bill Nye Realty, Inc.


Licensed in Florida


Comment balloon 4 commentsJohn Elwell • May 29 2010 09:27PM


You have a great list.  I have one to add; I have found that tree roots growing up can cause you to stumble.

Posted by Marchel Peterson, Spring TX Real Estate E-Pro (Results Realty) over 9 years ago

Gotcha, in the second to last bullet point.  And you are right, they can sure catch you if you do not watch out for them.

Posted by John Elwell, You Deserve a Full-Time Agent, Not Reduced Results (CENTURY 21 Bill Nye Realty, Inc.) over 9 years ago

It is a wonderful list, an important one for sellers to review.  Thank You!

Posted by Dan Edward Phillips, Realtor and Broker/Owner (Dan Edward Phillips) over 9 years ago

John, when people live in their homes day to day, they do not realize anything is wrong until it is pointed out.  We have to put them in the buyers shoes so that do not have blinders on.  Thanks for a great post.

Posted by Don Spera, Serving York and Adams County, PA (CR Property Group, LLC) over 9 years ago

This blog does not allow anonymous comments