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Should your clients bring their kids house-hunting?

Kids will be kids, including when their parents bring them along to showings and open houses.

Alberta realtor Michael Montgomery recalls one toddler scrawling all over a freshly-painted wall with coloured markers. This resulted in “a difficult conversation with the homeowner,” laughs Montgomery, a broker/owner and coach/podcaster based in Calgary, where he teaches courses at the local board.

In another instance, Montgomery was showing a property to a family when their little boy decided to relieve himself over the balcony.


Multiple challenges


Whether or not to bring their children to showings and open houses can be a tough decision for your clients. Naturally, they want their children to feel part of the home-buying process. But there can be multiple challenges to bringing them along. Behavioural considerations aside, there may be restrictions on the number of people allowed at a showing, particularly in these times when we’re still technically in a global pandemic. If a sitter isn’t available, though, parents may have limited options.

When allowed, bringing kids along is easier with babes in arms, older children, and teenagers, Montgomery notes (adding the caveat that babies’ diapers should never be changed in the sellers’ home).


Don’t expect sellers to childproof their homes


By most accounts, issues arise mainly with toddlers, along with children up to about the age of seven. There are liability and safety concerns, including a higher risk of the sellers’ personal items being handled, inadvertent property damage or loss, or a child potentially taking a tumble down the stairs or into the pool. Sellers can’t be expected to childproof their homes for the sake of potential buyers’ children.

“It can be stressful for the buyers as they have to swivel, to watch the children while going through the home,” says Montgomery. “They’re so focused on the child that they can lose focus on the house. They’re distracted.” Open houses are likely to present even more challenges in this regard than showings. “There are more things competing for attention,” states Montgomery, who recommends booking a private viewing instead.


Kids can impact negotiations


Bear in mind that “kids have no filter,” he continues. In a worst-case scenario, this could adversely impact your negotiating stance, he cautions, with a child “disclosing facts that you don’t want the other party to know” in the admittedly-rare situations where your buyers cross paths with sellers. Montgomery recalls a colleague once telling him about a child proudly trumpeting to the homeowner, “My parents are going to buy this house!”

They did. But forever after, they wondered if – without that announcement preemptively spilling the beans – they could have gotten it for less.

So should you, the realtor, gently suggest that, where possible, parents leave toddlers at home with a sitter? “I definitely would,” says Montgomery. To make it as easy as possible for clients and avoid any backfire, though, he also offers alternatives.

“I’ve had one parent stay with the child in a vehicle, while the other goes through the house, then they switch,” he says. Another option, if everyone’s comfortable with it, is having the realtor or a sitter that’s been brought along occupy the children while the parents go through the house.


Entertainment is key


Keeping the children contained and occupied with electronics or a favourite toy or movie is key. A sitter or family friend, whether back at home or brought along to the showing, could help foster the children’s involvement in the process by viewing a virtual tour of the home with them at the same time that the parents are touring it in actuality.

To this end, Rafia Shetye, a fledging realtor and developmental support worker for her local school board in Markham, Ontario, suggests offering puzzles or colouring books to children at showings, letting them know that these are rewards for behaving and being good ‘assistants.’

Sheyte explains that “involving children in these ways can help them feel a sense of control and ownership.”

Royal LePage agent Sam Cuda stresses that it’s crucial that the listing agents’ instructions are followed. Restrictions on showings due to the pandemic vary across the country and are relaxing in many areas. However, according to Cuda, they’re still in place across much of the Greater Toronto Area, where he works.

Strict showing instructions often allow for no more than two to four people at an appointment and sometimes prohibit children altogether, he’s found. “Covid has changed things so much,” he says. “I used to go to showings where kids were bouncing around everywhere. I don’t see that now.”


It’s about respect


When families do have kids in tow, Cuda, a former teacher, often performs a simple magic trick and promises that he’ll do another later if they’re on their best behaviour. “It really works!” he claims.

He also makes certain that the kids are closely supervised and are clear on the rules beforehand. “It’s about respecting people’s properties,” says Cuda.