Talking Points: Open Houses


Updated on March 23, 2020

As the coronavirus situation and associated real estate-related activities continue to rapidly shift, C.A.R. is working diligently with the governor’s office to have real estate classified as an essential service. We are committed to keeping you updated on these vital activities. Continue to visit for the most up-to-date information.

Note: On March 19, Governor Newsom and the State Public Health Officer issued Executive Order N-33-20 requiring all Californians to stay home except as needed to maintain continuity of operations in 16 infrastructure sectors. This supersedes all existing local city and county orders that are less restrictive. The real estate industry is not exempt from this prohibition except as needed to maintain “continuity of operation … of … construction, including housing construction.” Therefore, REALTORS® should cease doing all in-person marketing or sales activities, including showings, listing appointments, open houses and property inspections. Clients and other consumers are also subject to these orders and should not be visiting properties or conducting other business in person.

How to Talk About Real Estate Open Houses in California

Key Talking Points


Expanded Talking Points

California REALTORS® keeping members, and their clients, informed

  • Introductions

    • Your Name -- Your Association -- Your Role 

    • Number of members

    • Markets members serve

  • Information and knowledge-sharing strategy to help keep our agents and their clients safe.

    • Our biggest priority is taking the necessary safety precautions as we work to deliver first-class services to homebuyers and sellers in our area.

    • The decision to host an open house remains at the discretion of our members and their brokers, as they are independent contractors, working in conjunction with their seller clients.

    • Of course, local government and health authorities will supersede company and seller decisions. For example, the recent Bay Area order will likely result in no open houses for the next three weeks. 


Collaborating with sellers

  • REALTORS® will honor the seller’s wishes when it comes to open houses, if they are allowed by law.

  • REALTORS® will have an open and honest conversation with their seller clients about the possible impact that limiting access to the listed property could have on the amount of time it will take to sell, the eventual purchase price and the marketing plan. 

  • REALTORS® can offer them feasible alternatives in today’s ‘new norm’ coronavirus environment such as three-dimensional interactive property scans, video tours and other methods to virtually tour a property. 

  • Once a decision is made, the seller will put their desired open house instructions in writing, or the licensee can document the discussion and instructions and provide a copy to the seller for their signature.


The Residential Listing Agreement and marketing properties

  • A seller’s legitimate concerns about strangers entering their property would most likely be a good faith objection to the Residential Listing Agreement (RLA).

  • You see, the RLA establishes the basic duties of the broker and seller in marketing a property, with Paragraph 7A authorizing the broker to market the property by any method and paragraph 7B stating that the seller agrees to make the property available for showings. But that obligation is limited by the seller’s duty to act in good faith to accomplish the sale of the property. 

  • Therefore, if a property owner wants limited access to their property, the RLA, the broker’s marketing plan and the right to conduct open houses should be amended and signed by the seller, in writing.


Open house precautions

  • Our goal is to maintain a safe and healthy environment for open houses.

  • We will continue to follow local practices already implemented for social distancing. 

  • If we do hold an open house, we will consider requiring the following: 

    • Visitors to disinfect their hands upon entering the home.

    • Limiting the number people in the home.

    • Providing alcohol-based hand sanitizers at the entryway and soap and disposable towels in bathrooms. 

  • If the client asks to have their home cleaned, we will request that the seller provide a list of products they prefer to be used, and after the open house, we recommend that the seller clean and disinfect their home, especially commonly touched areas like doorknobs and faucet handles. Also be aware that people can be asymptomatic and still transmit the coronavirus unknowingly.


Open houses: What you and cannot do

  • Given the current environment surrounding COVID-19, it would certainly be reasonable to refuse hosing an open house or showing a property. 

  • Remember, as we discussed earlier, the Residential Listing Agreement (RLA) authorizes the broker to market the property by any method selected by the broker, but the broker is agreeing under the terms of the RLA to exercise reasonable effort and due diligence to achieve the purpose of the listing — which is to sell the property. 

  • If the broker chooses not to conduct an open house, alternative ways to market the property will be discussed, like three-dimensional interactive property scans, video tours and other methods to virtually tour a property.

  • Ultimately, a disgruntled seller may choose to fire the broker, and a judge would decide whether the seller had good cause to do so.  

  • Our REALTOR® members are not required to put themselves at risk, but if the broker and seller agree to hold an open house, it is allowable to ask if anyone wanting access to the home if they have a cold, influenza or other contagious respiratory illness. 

  • Of course, questions like these will be directed to all clients equally, as REALTORS® abide by Fair Housing laws and treat all parties fairly. 

  • This standard holds true for refusing an open house or showing a property where the seller or sellers are aged 65 and older or have a pre-existing condition. Remember, Governor Newsom has asked that Californians take extensive precautions to avoid the spread of the coronavirus, which includes the self-isolation of those aged 65 or over. Informing sellers 65 or over of the self-quarantine guideline provides a service not only to the client but the public.

  • Asking people if they travelled abroad can also be asked as part of an overall screening policy, and the same questions must be asked to allclients, no matter the ethnicity, national origin, primary language or race.


Tenant/landlord recommendations

  • Tenants are required by law to allow entry into a property for purposes of showing, even if they fear being exposed to the coronavirus

  • There is no law that would give the tenant the right to refuse entry based upon an unfounded fear that a prospective buyer might infect them with the coronavirus. 

  • To avoid court when a tenant refuses entry, an agent could obtain a statement from the prospective buyer that they have no signs of any cold, flu or other respiratory illness to reassure the tenant. 

  • If the tenant has symptoms of or is suffering from the coronavirus, a landlord could not evict on this basis since it would likely constitute illegal discrimination.

  • Eviction is always a last resort, but note that while there is no statewide moratorium, there may be some localities that have imposed a freeze on all evictions. 


Additional Resources:


Governor Newsom Issues New Executive Order Further Enhancing State and Local Government's Ability to Respond to COVID-19 Pandemic


Coronavirus: A Guide for REALTORS® (National Association of REALTORS®) 

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