Anatomy of a Showing: Is Same-Day OK?

The matter of booking showings with very short notice has come up several times with my clients lately, so I thought I should address it for everyone. With the recent holidays the time required for booking a showing has been longer than normal, but even in normal circumstances there is a fine balance required to get you in to view a home or apartment.

Requesting a showing with very short notice is like springing a pop quiz on the current residents.

Requesting a showing with very short notice is like springing a pop quiz on the current residents.

The Process of Booking a Showing

The appointment booking process may seem like it's seamless when you're working with a good agent, but there's a lot of behind-the-scenes work involved. In a worst case scenario, here's what would be required to view an apartment or home.

  1. You indicate that you want to view a property.
  2. Your agent determines what times you are available.
  3. Your agent reads the instructions provided by the listing agent for booking appointments, and hopefully follows those instructions to request an appointment. This could be any of several methods:
    1. Calling the listing agent.
    2. Sending a text message to the listing agent.
    3. Emailing the listing agent.
    4. Using one of the online scheduling calendars provided to agents.
  4. The listing agent then contacts the occupants to request permission to show. In Chicago apartments this must happen at least two days before your appointment to avoid the risk of a lawsuit.
  5. The tenants must do whatever is necessary to ensure they are not home during your appointment time. This may require hiring a dog sitter, babysitter, or completely flipping their wake-sleep schedule.
  6. The listing agent confirms the appointment with your agent, and gives instructions for how to access the property. This could be through any number of methods:
    1. The keys may be stored in a secure lockbox or with a doorman on the property.
    2. The listing agent or an on-site property manager may meet you to let you in.
    3. The current occupant may show you the property themselves.
    4. The keys may be kept at an offsite location anywhere in the greater Chicagoland area, requiring your agent will have to drive to that location to pick them up.
  7. Your agent confirms the date and time of your showing.

How Quickly Can it Happen?

At a bare minimum if the property is empty, keys are on site and you have already discussed your schedule with your agent, you can get in to view a property within a couple of hours of it appearing in your MLS account.

However, if it's an occupied apartment the best case would be if your agent can "piggyback" you onto an appointment that's already been booked. That way the notice of entry would have already been given to the current tenants. If there's no opportunity for piggybacking, then you'll have to wait the requisite two days. Plan ahead!

In a fast-paced market it's very important to get in to view a property as soon as possible. Both agents should be aware that if there's a lot of competition the standard procedures may need to be skipped. You should also be ready for this. If your schedule is very busy and you cannot be available for showings at a time that's convenient for the tenants you may need to have your agent go and preview the listing with a video camera and share the video with you afterwards.

How Quickly Should it Happen?

When homes and apartments are on the market, occupants will want to take certain precautions before strangers come in for a showing. If you're looking to purchase a home or apartment building you'll want to make sure that the current residents are as comfortable as possible with your presence. After all, you may have to deal with them when negotiating a price, or they may well become your tenants if you purchase the property as a landlord. Beyond security issues, some homes may also be staged to portray them in the best possible light. While this tends to make for a rose-colored view of the property, it also means that beds get made, wet towels get picked up off of the floor and dirty dishes are cleared from the sink. All of these things make for a more pleasant showing experience so it's probably for the best if you give enough warning for the owners or tenants to get the place tidied up for you.

Don't be that guy.

Don't be that guy.

If the listing agent has to attend the showing, you'll also need to accommodate for their schedule. Weekends and evenings can book up pretty quickly for a listing agent, especially in the warmer months.

In general if you want to make sure that there's enough time to get through the entire checklist above, it's best to book your showing appointments at least two days ahead of time.

If it's late December, add a little more time and be more flexible than normal. Holiday plans and illness can both get in the way of your ability to view a property.

What are the risks of booking too far in advance?

So you're coming into town for a week in March. You know this in December because you've already booked your plane tickets and your hotel. You will need to see as many properties as possible. Obviously the properties on the market now will not likely still be available when you get to town, so scheduling showings 3 months in advance is probably overenthusiastic. Generally for the sake of getting everyone's schedules to fit together nicely you'll want to hold off until 2-3 days before your intended appointment to commit to the properties you want to see.

Of course, the further in advance you book your showings, the greater the chance that the properties will be taken by others before you can get there. If you want to book more than 3 days out you can certainly do so, but don't be disappointed if your tour winds up having gaps in the middle or getting canceled altogether.

What are the risks of booking with very short notice?

Viewing a property with too little advance notice doesn't just make for a messy house. The consequences can have lasting effects on the seller's bank account and could very well harm your agent's career.

Agents will go to pretty great lengths to show a property. If you request a showing with short notice, they may have to tear their entire schedule apart to make that appointment happen. If an agent does that and then learns that you're "just browsing" or that you've "just started looking and will not buy for several months yet," they may take their frustration out on your agent by refusing to show them any more properties. It's illegal for a brokerage to blacklist another brokerage, but I can definitely vouch for agents blacklisting other agents if they are repeatedly rude.

If you request showings with short notice over and over, your agent will eventually think of you like this.

If you request showings with short notice over and over, your agent will eventually think of you like this.

Beyond the possibility of harming your agent's industry reputation, you could also cause the property owner to wind up in court! The Chicago Landlord-Tenant Ordinance mandates two days notice. If you don't give proper notice, the tenant can get an injunction against the landlord to prevent them from entering. They can also terminate their lease and sue a month's rent. That seller could very well end up paying their tenant thousands of dollars for the fifteen minutes you spend in their property. You see it as a simple showing. The tenants may view as a step closer to a forced move. You can't really blame them for making you observe every formality before you can view their home.

"But I'm not looking to buy apartment buildings," you say, "I'm buying a house!" Remember that a lot of condos and single family homes are currently occupied by renters, even if they're being marketed for sale to new owner-occupants. You won't always know until you arrive that a property is occupied by renters.

This is not a race.

When you're looking to move to a new home, regardless of if it's renting or buying, you need to take some time and plan your course of action before you head out and start viewing property. Sit down with your agent and discuss your schedule ahead of time. Rely on them to accurately describe the current pace of the market. Unless you're seeing market times of less than two days, there's just no reason for you to insist on a same-day showing.