All things dogs is the subject of Main Street’s real estate column for our annual “animal” issue. Whether selling, renting or buying, man’s best friend needs to be considered.
Dogs have been sharing their lives with humans for at least 20,000 years. The relationship may have started when wolves scavenging food scraps from humans gradually began assisting humans with hunting and sheltered in their caves. Over the millennia canines evolved into members of the family through the natural selection of friendlier, more obedient dogs. For at least 6,000 years dogs were deified in Egyptian, Greek, and Mayan cultures, but they developed a bad reputation in the Bible and Islam as people realized the threat of rabies. By the Middle Ages laws were put in place to eliminate strays and restrict dogs. (See photo of Adonis with his dogs on leashes while pursuing Venus on next page). Leash laws, dogcatchers, insurance company restrictions on dog breeds and exotic animals, landlord stipulations and homeowner association rules restricting pets all followed.
Tough to rent with a pet
Any dog can affect your choices when you’re looking for a rental. Nationally, while 75% of renters have a furry friend, 60% of them said it was difficult to find a pet-friendly home. This is especially true in this market, in this area, at this time since any rental is hard to come by. In all of Litchfield County there were only 29 unfurnished rentals listed on the MLS and only two permitted pets, seven placed restrictions, and 20 would not allow any pet. Summer furnished rentals are a little easier but no more plentiful. Of 15 current furnished seasonal listings one accepts pets, nine have restrictions, and five prohibit all and any pets.
Talk to an insurance broker before you get a dog
Many landlords, even those who accept pets, will not accept a tenant with breeds on the “bad dog list” fearing damage to the property as well as potential liability exposure for a badly behaved canine. Responsible landlords will usually have a pet policy with additional deposits, monthly pet fees, rules, and proof of a renter’s insurance policy before agreeing to lease a property. Renter’s insurance protects the tenant from any losses of household goods but also protects the tenant and landlord from liability suits for any kind of damage caused by the tenant or his dog. There is the service animal loophole. Federal fair housing laws require landlords to allow reasonable accommodations for disabilities including service dogs and emotional support animals.
Most insurers will not issue rental or owner policies for certain breeds of dog from Pit Bulls to Rottweilers to Chows. Others, like Chubb, may request a “no bite” history. Regardless of breed if your insured dog does injure another dog or a human, your insurance underwriter will pay the injured party but will probably not renew your policy.
According to Linda Robertson, a broker with Assured Partners in Lakeville, CT, who has owned black labs and loves dogs, these same breed limitations often apply to anyone seeking insurance as a condition of getting a mortgage. Without a homeowner’s insurance policy banks will not usually provide a mortgage on the property. So unless you are an all cash buyer, a Pit Bull can ruin your chances of home ownership.
When you are buying a home think of your dog’s needs. One study found that a third of millennials purchased homes strictly based on their pet ownership. One real estate broker confirmed this from personal experience. “My husband saw the back yard and wanted the house before we even saw the kitchen.”
Inside look for floors that will resist scratches and accidents. Is there a mudroom or a pet washing station? Evaluate the staircase and consider the age and agility of your pet. Outside consider whether the yard has a fenced-in area or room for one, the proximity to neighbors, and street traffic. Is there a dog park near by for socializing? Are dog walkers and kennels available near by? Be sure that any homeowners association will permit the size, type, and number of pets. You have Silo Ridge Club in Amenia, NY, where more than a third of residents have dogs, prides itself on being pet-friendly. There is no limit on number or type of dog, only restrictions for the badly behaved. Why not cruise the streets near your new address and ask anyone walking a dog how canine-friendly the neighborhood is?
Where did dog houses go?
Doghouses situated in back yards used to be common when dogs had a purely functional purpose like hunting, herding, or guarding. With growing affluence, local regulations about chaining up dogs outside, barking regulations, and the increasing popularity of non-shedding breeds and smaller dogs, dogs have moved indoors as family members.
Know a community’s canine regs
Every community and state has specific regulations regarding the behavior of dogs. Almost all require that the dog be licensed for a fee where you live, have a record of rabies vaccination, and wear an identifying tag. Along with changes to your driver’s license and voter registration when you move, you should also move your dogs’ records. Generally whether in New York, Connecticut, or Massachusetts dogs are not allowed to trespass on other people’s property, which translates into dogs being on a leash if they are not on your property. Dogs are also supposed to restrain their barking. The definition of excessive barking is specific to your town. For example in Salisbury, CT, continuous barking for periods of over 20 minutes for three days out of seven could merit a ticket. Animal control officers issue barking and trespassing tickets, usually as the result of a neighbor who complains.
On the road with a dog
It might be easier and less expensive to take your dog(s) with you on a trip rather than leaving them in a kennel. If you are travelling with pets make plans in advance to find a pet-friendly hotel. Travel websites like Expedia, booking.com, and canine-specific sites like Bring Fido list hotels that accept dogs. For example, The White Hart Inn in Salisbury has pet-friendly rooms, which have direct outside access.
Selling your house with a pet presence
Just as sellers should declutter, they should also remove evidence of their pets. Deodorize, hide and clean the litter box, deep clean, repair damage caused by pets, spruce up the yard. While owners are advised to leave home while realtors show their house to prospective buyers, cats that want to escape and dogs that want to bark at strangers should also be relocated. Sometimes a well-behaved, groomed dog can be an asset to a showing or an open house and make it feel like home, but remember not all buyers are dog lovers and some buyers have allergies. Don’t forget the neighbors, especially if they have an aggressive dog. Alert them to showings so noisy dogs can be kept inside or go for a walk.
Chief barketing officer
Dogs can help realtors make new connections on Instagram, greet clients, and provide some comic relief and immediate rapport at open houses. It’s easy and natural for a realtor to strike up a conversation while walking a dog or going to the dog park. Not to mention pooches are great listeners, and have a positive attitude. Locally Holly Leibrock of Elyse Harney Realty, brings Cobalt, her “Swissy” (Great Swiss Mountain Dog) to showings, but Cobalt never comes inside a house. Dogs also provide security to agents when meeting up at an unfamiliar house. Besides they enjoy the ride and the company. Some dogs even have their own business cards. Dog licenses are much easier to get than real estate licenses and dogs don’t have to go through continuing education classes like their owners.
Christine Bates is a registered real estate agent with William Pitt Sotheby’s International Real Estate in New York and Connecticut. She has written monthly for Main Street Magazine since its very first issue.