BLOG VIEW: As a former REO manager and senior vice president of a major third-party asset management outsource company, I have toured numerous REO properties in various states over the years. In my current position with a national field services provider, I also hear often from listing agents about a variety of safety issues they deal with on a daily basis that can impact not only their clients but also their real estate practices.
One of the things that always scared the ‘stuff’ out of me when I was touring and inspecting properties in foreclosure was finding a swimming pool on the property. Why is that? Because, all too often, a health and/or safety issue was present, such as an unsecured gate, an uncovered and often empty pool, or an uncovered pool that was full of the foulest, greenest water ever seen.
Pools that are left empty and uncovered present a significant risk of injury in the event someone happens to fall in. Pools that are not running and filled with foul water not only pose a drowning risk but can also become breeding grounds for millions of mosquitoes, thus creating another health concern (West Nile Virus, anyone?).
What's more, in-ground pools that are covered can sometimes give unsuspecting people the illusion that they can walk across the cover, when in fact it could give way, resulting in a drowning (this sometimes happens when a pool cover is blanketed with snow).
Even pools that are running and properly maintained for marketing purposes pose a safety hazard, simply because of the risk of drowning. Making this all the more terrifying for the various parties involved, the risk is always there, 24/7/365, even if the gates are secured.
A swimming pool is one example of what attorneys in the property preservation field call an ‘attractive nuisance.’ This is due to the fact that certain individuals might try to access the pool by jumping a fence.
Heck, even a ‘klutzy’ real estate agent could potentially fall in and not know how to swim.
So what should lenders, servicers, property preservation companies and listing agents do when there is a pool at a vacant REO property? My experience is that each lender and servicer has their own policy about how to deal with swimming pools: Some will require that they be drained and covered, and that all gates be secured with locks. Some will want to actually fill-in the (in-ground) pools with dirt in certain neighborhoods, to resolve all matters of liability – while others will require that they be cleaned and properly maintained on a regular basis during the sales and marketing process. In some cases, alarms are installed to prevent ‘pool hopping.’
In my experience, any given lender/servicer policy regarding swimming pools – like decisions on repairs, rehabilitation and so on – is situational. Very often, multiple factors are considered, such as the location of the property, its value, difficulty or ease of access to the pool, and possibly how much it costs to service the pool and keep it running (pool pumps require a ton of electricity and are known to significantly boost homeowners' electric bills – and regular pool service isn't cheap!).
I feel that it is very important that listing agents know the policies of their clients in this regard, especially where potential liabilities are present. I would recommend that regardless what a particular lender/servicer requires, the potential health and safety issues should be addressed and clearly communicated. Sometimes policies are not so rigid that a client won't consider a different treatment for a swimming pool, given certain circumstances.
Should an agent fail to communicate potential health and safety issues to their client, one can be sure that a property preservation vendor-contractor will not hesitate to do so. Personally, I feel it is in the best interest of a listing agent to be on top of this and other types of liability-related issues, as they are more frequently on the front lines – but certainly property preservation companies play an active role in this area as well.
After all, this isn't just a liability issue – it's practically a moral obligation.
Lynn Effinger is a veteran of the housing and mortgage servicing industries, with more than 30 years of experience. He currently serves as executive vice president of ZVN Properties Inc.
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