Tuesday, April 7, 2015

5 Ways for Agents to Avoid Getting Sued

Hackers can cost you plenty
In today’s world there are many ways for technology to work against us. As real estate agents we depend heavily on computers and other devices to keep us organized and to maintain a lot of information about clients. Unfortunately, if that information is compromised in some way it is us who will be held responsible. Banking information, social security numbers, tax returns and other private information must be kept secure. Not only do we need to use all measures within reason to protect this data (antivirus software, encrypted storage methods, proper use of passwords and so on) but we need to limit the number of coworkers that have access to this type of information. There is also something known as Cyber Liability Insurance which will help to protect us in the event that an information breach does occur. If you don’t have this type of coverage, you might want to consider it.

Open houses are opportunities for the less than honest among us
Not everyone attending an open house is necessarily interested in buying a home. Thieves are opportunists and an open house may provide them the opportunity to steal valuables or to find a way into the home at a later time. Be sure to inform your clients to lock up any valuables before the showing and not to leave any spare keys in plain sight. You might also consider adding a clause to your contract that holds you harmless if something does in fact turn up missing.

Many real estate agents do not have the proper automobile insurance
This is one area of protection that most agents never even think about. If you aren’t already aware of it, most insurance policies do not cover business use of a vehicle. If you are driving your car for a work related purpose and have an accident, your insurance company may refuse to honor any claims. The same may be true for any employees and if they have an incident you may be the one to get sued by them. It’s probably a good idea to check with your insurer to find out exactly what their policy is for driving your personal vehicle while working. Many insurance companies offer a low cost supplement to your standard policy (often referred to as Hired or Non-Owned Auto Insurance coverage) that will protect you in this type of situation.

Old fashioned accidents still occur
Times have changed but people still trip and fall on other people’s property. While General Liability Insurance does cover these types of incidents at your office you should be sure that you have adequate protection. The minimum required by law varies from state to state but you might consider coverage that goes far beyond the legally required minimum. Being sued for 2 million when you are only covered for 1 million won’t do you a bit of good and could easily be the end of your career. By the way, holding a meeting with clients at your office or hosting an open house in snowy, rainy or icy weather conditions could be an invitation for trouble.

Be careful what you say AND what you don’t
At no time in history have there been more liable suits filed than in recent history. What you say (and how you say it) can quickly end up in litigation. Choose your words carefully when giving advice and insist that your clients sign a waiver if they decide to skip an important step in the home buying process (such as not showing up for a house inspection).  If a problem is discovered at a later time you could be held responsible for the lack of action on your client’s behalf. Always get everything in writing and if you don’t already have it, invest in a comprehensive Errors & Omissions Insurance policy. If you don’t have this type of protection you are taking a big risk.

Obviously there are many other circumstances that can occur to anyone of us that can end up in litigation. The bottom line is that you must protect yourself as thoroughly as possible and failing to do so can end tragically if you find yourself on the losing end of a legal battle, even if you feel that you didn’t do anything wrong.

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