House For Sale
I’m saddened by an unfortunate experience with my clients.
And it happened because of the four difficulties that come from working with private sellers.
I share the story to encourage or equip agents when dealing with private sellers. Or perhaps to advise them to think again. I also share this story as a warning to sellers so they can experience success instead of loss.
Recently, a lovely young couple asked me to help them find a very specific kind of property. As soon as they described what they wanted, a property came to mind. It was a perfect fit. There was just one problem. It wasn’t listed.
I remembered though, that the owners had wanted to sell it in the past.
Allow me to stop here to tell you that I have helped my clients purchase for-sale-by-owner properties before. Every one of those experiences was painful either for me, my client, or everyone. So I wasn’t altogether excited about repeating the process. Still, the property was absolutely, completely, irresistibly perfect for my buyers. So I approached the owners. Perhaps they were still interested in selling.
What soon followed were four of the biggest, and most common, reasons that I, and many other agents, would rather avoid working with private sellers.
Five Reasons Agents Avoid Working with Private Sellers
Working for Free for Strangers
The thing about private sellers is that they don’t know what they don’t know. Like their house value for starters. How do they know any offer an agent would bring would be fair? The buyer’s agent often ends up educating, advising, and even assisting the seller without any compensation or even appreciation.
In one case, I advised a seller to get an appraisal. But I sure wasn’t about to do it. Conflict of interest much? In the interest of transparency and unbiased fairness, (and helping move things along for my buyers) I arranged and paid for an appraisal out of my own pocket.
Not only was I not compensated for the expense or even thanked for going the extra mile to be very clearly on the up-and-up, but I was treated with contempt for it. Unfortunately, this is a common thing with private sellers. Which brings me to the next point.
Being Treated Like a Slave
There’s the working for free mentioned above, and then there’s slavery.
For some reason, people think a buyer’s agent should work for free. This is especially true for private sellers.
One couple who had once upon a time listed their house, built in a 5-6% commission for the selling agent. When I approached them with a buyer, they fought with me about payment, insisting I should get nothing for brokering the deal.
Basically, they think they can bully agents. There’s no relationship – not a personal one, and most certainly not a professional one.
Being Treated Like a Murder Suspect
Private sellers tend to treat buyers’ agents like they’re selling mismatched knives out of a trunk.
I’ve stood on the front stoop in winter, without being invited in, and explained how my buyer wants to buy their house, only to be looked over with a raised eyebrow. Do they think I’m trying to trick them out of the deed to their house?
One time I presented my buyer’s conditions, one of which was a satisfactory water test. I even did the sellers a favor by furnishing them with the sample kit. Their response? Accusation.
“You’re just doing this for the buyer’s advantage!” they said.
But it’s a standard requirement from the bank. They won’t even fund a mortgage without a water test having been performed. Besides that, I’m not actually a selfish creep who’s out to get you. Everything I do, I do for the benefit of both parties. Thanks for the implication, though.
Look, I can understand why sellers would feel guarded and protective. Between all the door-to-door scams, robberies-by-phone, and fraudulent emails happening these days, a person needs to be careful.
But that’s what seller’s agents are for – to protect sellers from any creepy, horrible, out-to-get you agents who try to bring buyers for your house.
Directing a Soap Opera
The thing about dealing with people is that everyone is dealing with something. Maybe they’re selling because of a divorce, or illness, or even death. Maybe there was a job loss and the financial situation is critical. Maybe the couple just doesn’t agree on anything, including the price, or whether to sell at all.
Wading through those waters is generally the seller’s agent’s role, and we’re happy to come alongside.
When there’s no seller’s agent though, there is no buffer between the seller’s drama and us, the buyer’s agent. Suddenly we have to navigate the personal stuff on both sides of the boat. It’s tricky, it’s demanding, and actually it’s pretty doggone impossible, given the previous three points.
The Biggest Deal Killer of All
This one’s not specific to private sellers, but they sure can sport a streak of it. The biggest deal-killer? Greed. Too many deals have fallen through and houses lost because of plain, old fashioned greed.
In one case, my buyers had offered the private seller Thirty Five Thousand Dollars more than the appraised value of the place just because they wanted it so badly. The seller’s response? They wanted more. They wanted an additional Twenty Five Thousand Dollars.
Allow me to gaze into my crystal ball here for a minute and tell you what’s going to happen to them and anyone else who overestimates the value of their house and refuses to accept less.
Ah, yes. I see it. A cloud looms in the distance. The house stands alone and sad looking, its original owners pining for the money they will never, ever see. Oh, and there – I see the banker raising an eyebrow in confusion. He shakes his head and snickers at the idea of lending more than a property is worth.
As long as sellers insist on getting more than a fair, sensible, and realistic price for their properties, deals will continue to die at the feet.
Sadly, the young couple I represented fell victim to some of these private seller behaviors. My buyers were respectful, flexible with the seller’s schedule, accepting of the seller’s terms, and even generous with their offer but, as often happens, the deal fell through. They were unable to purchase their dream property.
The not surprising final outcome.
My buyers found a much more appealing home that offered them way more value for their dollar. They have moved in and enjoy their new space.
The seller listed their property and eventually sold it for less than the offer that my buyer wrote and they paid a full commission for the sale.
This tale might be fictional, but it’s based on several real, local people and events.
On things that actually, really happen around here.
Bill had been turned away from every brokerage in town. No one was willing to sell his house for him.
No agent, whether moral or shady, would touch it.
And it wasn’t because of the property; the home and yard were in great shape.
The problem wasn’t the location. Actually, it was a highly desirable place.
Buyers were searching for a property like his.
Still, no one would list it.
Why? Because Bill insisted on selling it for double its value.
What was worth $300,000 in the local market, he decided he would get $600,000. And he was completely dead serious.
So he left office after office, unable to find the agent who would invest their marketing dollars in such. No one was willing to torpedo their own reputation by listing such an impossibility.
Bill returned to his home and promptly stuck a sign in the yard. If no one would help him, he would do it himself.
Two things can happen at this point, and neither is a good thing.
- Bill could sell the house to an unsuspecting private buyer who doesn’t realize it’s a horrible deal. Because ‘hey, it’s a private sale, so it must be cheaper’. Umm, no.Either the buyers come up with cash for the inflated price and buy something without any promise of equity for years and years and years or, more likely, the bank looks at the deal, and refuses to fund the mortgage. Because paying double is insane.
- Or, most likely, and what happens most of the time, the property sits. And sits. And sits.
Because people aren’t stupid. No one will pay double. Or even 30% more than it’s worth.
Look, if this forewarns you about anything, let it be this.
- Beware: private sales aren’t always on the up and up.
- Buying without an agent to protect you is risky
- And, if you’re selling, for Pete’s sake, remember people aren’t idiots – not buyers, not agents – and be reasonable. People (and banks) will only pay what things are actually, legitimately worth. Anything more is flat out greed.
Have you ever purchased an over-priced home? Why?
If you haven’t read Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, I’ll give you a quick primer on who Tom Sawyer is. Basically, he’s imaginative, making everything fancy and “high faluting”. He touches even the simplest things with an air of magic.
And had he grown up and built a house, this would be it.
Tom never outgrew his boyish love of playful surprises, and crafted a giant tree house for him and his family in a way never-before seen.
Only he could send vaulted ceilings soaring high over grand rooms while the space below possessed a palpable warmth. It is at once spacious and cozy, sharp yet comfortable. It’s the kind of grand home where a sophisticated adult can host parties. The kind of cozy family cottage where children climb trees, scrape knees, and collect a life time of memories. Perhaps even build a raft.
I’m sure Tom would have driven his wife crazy with his all-consuming dedication to detail.
He madly experimented with architecture, creating unexpected angles in surprising places. The bath and shower are not merely an appliance in Tom’s imaginings, no. They are an opportunity to create a sprawling spa beneath a tall window and steeply angled wall, amidst elegant slate tiles.
Standing in the kitchen, you find yourself in the very heart of the grand cabin. Rustic wood cabinets and black metal handles ground the room in the cozy, rustic feel of a tree house. Even the light fixtures slink long and low, adorned with carved leaves as though hanging like vines.
Tom left no detail unexplored. Like a skilled artist, he crafted surprising angles in unexpected places. The heavy, rich wood doors. Even arched windows.
And finally, perhaps as his own personal cove in which to read endlessly, he added a loft in his bedroom, the perfect place to tuck away his library and office. And, as he climbed the tree house ladder rungs to his hideaway, he doubtless relived childhood memories of his adventures with Huck.
So where would he build such a grand tree house?
At the end of a wooded lane, of course, where woods lay ripe for his own children to explore and invent their own adventures.
(Tour Tom’s house here.)
Once upon a time my sellers suffered a break-in. Things were stolen.
Guess who is the first person accused in such a situation?
After all, they have keys and access. Maybe the agent left the door open; maybe they didn’t watch a potential buyer as they toured through the house. Maybe someone got a hold of the keys that shouldn’t have. It’s a logical conclusion, and the agent would have little luck disproving any of it.
Luckily, I had invested in a lock box. They’re not mandatory, but I wish they would be. Because I had taken this step to protect the property, I was not held responsible for the items stolen. I did everything I could to protect my client.
The story could have ended differently.
Imagine an agent showing a property without a lockbox. Even if it were someone else’s listing, if something goes wrong, the showing agent could be accused of theft, trespassing, and other avoidable things just because some agent wanted to save themselves a few bucks.
TIP: Risking your reputation, the reputation of your peers,
and the safety of your clients
is the stupidest way to save a piddly $130.
A lockbox is only as good as its lock, though.
It may be tempting for people to come back when the realtor isn’t around and take another look at the house. We can’t control where buyers go after showings.
If a broker uses the same four-digit code on every single lockbox on every single one of their listings for example, how secure is that? It doesn’t take much for a buyer to peek over an agent’s shoulder and clue in. Even these four-digit coded lockboxes aren’t that secure.
That’s why I’m thrilled about the Real Estate Board’s new Bluetooth-operated lockboxes.
First, to access the lock, an agent must make an appointment to see the listing, and I confirm.
When they show up and open the lockbox, I immediately get an email saying that so-and-so from ABC Realty has entered the property.
I always know when someone is there and I always get a notification.
The best part is that it locks them out.
They can’t re-enter the property repeatedly, and no one can sneak back in later without an appointment without being noticed.
These new lockboxes are ultra-secure, and only cost $130.
It’s a small price to pay for protection of self and others.
I recognized the address right away. I had been there before. The foundation was in deplorable condition.
I knew they would not buy it.
But, I booked the appointments anyway. We saw five houses on a beautiful Saturday afternoon.
Once they saw the house with the crumbling foundation they exclaimed they would never invest in a house like this.
“I know,” I said. “I knew about the foundation, and I knew you would never ever buy it.”
They looked confused. “Why did you take the time to show it to us then?”
“Because I respect your need to make your own decision. I will not filter the choices based on my opinion, but on yours.”
They nodded, and seemed to appreciate that.
It had only been our second time shopping. They did not know me well, and this was a perfect way to demonstrate that they can trust me. I knew that if I tried to prevent them from seeing a home they wanted to see, they may question whether I had my own agenda.
Eniko and I don’t choose to show only homes that offer the highest commission.
We don’t limit the buyers shopping to only listings through the brokerage we work for. (Even though we have a lot of inventory to choose from). We respect our buyers’ decision to choose, and furnish them with all the options they request.
Once buyers get to know us though, something changes.
Suddenly we’ll get texts asking, “What do you know about this property? Have you shown it?”
Once we have developed a trust relationship and we get asked these questions, we can avoid unnecessary showings.
It’s at this point in the shopping experience we tell the buyer, “The house is beautifully redone and has a lot of character however, the basement is built on blocks and is horizontally caving in. There is constant water in the basement as a result of the shifting of the east wall of the basement.
We all save time when that happens. But saving time is always secondary to integrity.
By the way, that home with the theoretical basement on blocks that’s caving in? We may not recommend it to one buyer, but we might just call the concrete worker we know who said he was looking for homes where he could raise the house and redo the foundation.
There is a buyer for every house at the right price.
ACCREDITED BUYER REPRESENTATIVE
Showings can be scary.
And a little… overly personal.
Some things are better left unseen, you know?
Want to sell your house? Start hiding stuff. Well, unless you want to frighten away potential buyers. Then by all means, leave out the diapers and sour milk.
Things Buyers (And Agents) Don’t Want To See:
An old-style gun rack is a scary sign to a buyer. If it’s full of guns, you look armed and dangerous. If it’s empty, they’re wondering where you hid your artillery. Either way, the thought of negotiating with you may well scare off buyers.
The handcuffs hanging from your bedroom closet door are way too much information. Be who you are in the bedroom and enjoy it, but announcing your fetishes to the buyers walking through your house may not help your sale.
It’s wonderful if you are blessed enough to have a pair of shoes for every day of the year. But every pair doesn’t need to be in the entrance, does it? Tripping on shoes and being unable to see the floor kind of puts a damper on a showing. (We won’t even talk about the smell.)
From the moment we enter, the buyer is annoyed and distracted.
… that’s not what you were going for, was it?
What You Eat
I’m constantly baffled by how common it is for sellers to host a showing while the dishes and food have not been cleared from the table.
Look, buyers don’t care what you had for breakfast. They do, however, connect the dots between a person who does not take care of food and a person who then probably does not take good care of a property.
Tip: It is generally a good practice to put the milk back in the fridge before you all leave for the day.
Little Tommy is getting potty trained, is he? We can tell. We’re glad it is going well and celebrate your success. … but please don’t leave the evidence of his failures lying about, stenching up the place.
Soiled underthings tend to impact the ambiance and detract from the buyer experience, you know?
Basically, try to avoid anything personal, messy, stinky, or inappropriate being visible during a showing.
When it’s for sale, it’s not your home anymore. It’s a product. And your product needs to be presented attractively in order to sell.