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Homeowner suing brokerage for theft during open house

A recent case in Chicago has the real estate industry reevaluating their position on open houses, how to safeguard, and whether they are even worth the risk.

open house theft

open house theft

Open houses: worth the risk?

In Chicago, I was recently alerted to a new lawsuit involving a theft at an open house. During an open house on April 22 in Highland Park, a wealthy Chicago suburb, the resident allegedly had $162,000 worth of jewelry stolen. According to an article in the Chicago Sun Times, Lena Katamnin is suing Midwest Realty Ventures, a Prudential Rubloff affiliate, for unspecified damages.

According to reports, Katamanin’s lawsuit alleges that Midwest Realty Ventures had “sole control” over her property during the open house, and, because of its “careless and negligent acts,” are thus liable for the theft.

Now, open houses are often up for debate anyways, as to whether or not they should still be done. The main thing going for open houses, even in this technological world, is that top producers maintain that they are still a great source for leads. They’re not necessarily great for selling the house, but as far as an agent’s business goes, they are still a top lead generator and referral source.

This lawsuit is an eye-opener

I have to say, I haven’t personally heard anything like this happening, ever. Chicago Agent magazine recently published an issue about open houses, and I have to admit, a few things crossed my mind: are the valuables hidden by the owners, or by the agent? Are they hidden within the home? Is the agent supposed to watch everyone who enters the open house, not only to gauge interest but also to make sure nothing shady is going on (and also to look out for the agent’s own safety, another big issue with open houses)?

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Diana Ivas, a RE/MAX agent in Hinsdale, commented, “We have the seller sign a disclaimer that the agent is not responsible for such an occurrence that could happen at an open house.”

An anonymous commenter also had this to say, “In this day and age, I question the wisdom of open houses in occupied homes. Should we throw open those doors and permit anyone and everyone to wander through? The odds of obtaining a qualified buyer for that particular property are low. The likelihood of open house visitors being unqualified, or curious neighbors, or decor-idea shoppers or larceny minded rogues far outweighs any benefit. I understand that it is a prospecting tool, and a way to meet prospective homebuyers or even sellers. But at what risk to the homeowner?”

If you’re an agent, what do you do? Besides maybe not holding open houses and avoiding this potential mess entirely? Do you have the homeowner sign a disclaimer? Do you have the homeowner lock away valuables or stow them away to their liking? Should open houses become obsolete, seeing as there are other ways to get referrals and sell homes without putting peoples’ possessions and safety in jeopardy?

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Written By

Stephanie Sims is the managing editor of Agent Publishing, which currently has online publications in Chicago, Houston and Miami. With expertise in evaluating housing markets, website content and social media strategy, and reporting information agents want to know about, Stephanie can be found at her desk with coffee that got cold or not eating lunch because she’s busy planning editorial assignments and interviews for the Agent Publishing websites.



  1. Joe Loomer

    November 15, 2012 at 1:39 pm

    I’m pretty sure if you pulled out a waiver for your clients to sign before holding an open house – without a great script to talk them off the ceilling –  they would balk at you doing the open house in the first place.
    Navy Chief, Navy Pride

  2. Emmy Basch Simpson

    November 15, 2012 at 1:42 pm

    I tell my seller clients when we do a walk thru right after the listing agreement is signed that they must must must put away all valuables – jewelry, electronics, and so on. I constantly remind them, too – especially if an open house is being held. Invest in a safe if the items you need to stow away are used regularly…or a safe deposit box for important papers and so on.
    Should we be held responsible? Not if we’re doing our job as a listing agent.

  3. VickiMoore

    November 15, 2012 at 2:35 pm

    I always tell my clients you’re opening your door to strangers – even for private showings.  If you have anything: jewelry, firearms, prescriptions, checkbooks, passports, credit cards, taxes – get them out of the house.  Identity theft is just as important to safeguard against.  But I don’t have them sign a waiver – well, I haven’t yet.

  4. FredLight

    November 15, 2012 at 6:58 pm

    This is why doing a video walk through is far superior than an open house.  You have an “open house” 24/7 around the world.  The neighbors, the curious and the unqualified can see and walk through the house without bother ing anyone or wasting anyone’s time.  For those who are seriously interested, it a FIRST SHOWING.  When they make that appointment for a private showing, it’s a SECOND SHOWING.
    And, most of all, security is not an issue in any way.  Not to mention, as a Realtor you don’t have to spend your Sunday afternoons babysitting someone’s house and blowing up balloons.

  5. J Philip Faranda

    November 16, 2012 at 8:18 am

    Let’s suppose the agent accosted the thieves in the act. What then? Tackle them?
    Take one in the gut for the sale of the seller’s material possessions? People need to secure their valuables. Real estate agents cannot sell and prevent crime simultaneously. It isn’t safe and it doesn’t sell the property.

  6. JimLee

    November 16, 2012 at 8:26 am

    Still another great reason not to do open houses. We do broker opens for agents in the area but almost all of our sellers are relieved when we tell them we won’t be doing a public open house.

  7. MiriamBernstein

    November 24, 2012 at 11:41 am

    then there are thieves who appear, keep the agent occupied and one takes her purse, her car and house keys and then leave while the agent continues to do the open house….

  8. Lahore Real Estate

    November 28, 2012 at 6:44 am

    Why residents don’t save their items although they know someone may see the open house whether they are with broker or not. We cannot blame someone until we know who the thief is. It is our responsibility to save any kind of important things in own house.
    Marketing Manager

  9. Pingback: Should Real Estate Agents Attend Home Inspections?

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