When zealous home sellers become pests


February 21, 1993|By ELLEN JAMES MARTIN | ELLEN JAMES MARTIN,(Ellen James Martin is a columnist for The Baltimore Sun.)

He was an auditor with the IRS and was desperate to sell his Bethesda home. Indeed, he was so desperate, he became a pest.

Several times a day, he called his agent's office to ask about progress. Had there been another showing of the property? If so, what did the would-be buyer think? Would there be a contract offer coming in soon?

"It's him!" the receptionist would shout in an annoyed way every time he called the real estate office. Word that the IRS employee was phoning brought a chorus of groans from the agents there. Eventually, the auditor's photo became the target on a dart board in the office back room. Eventually, everyone in the office became so disillusioned that they stopped helping the man.

This true story illustrates the dangers of allowing your home-selling obsession to make you a pest.

"It's counterproductive to be really obnoxious because you turn people against you -- the very people you want to help you," says Robert Irwin, author of "Tips and Traps When Buying a Home," a McGraw-Hill paperback.


What's critical is that you balance your legitimate need for communication with the agent against the risk of making your agent feel smothered from your being overbearing.

Real estate specialists offer these pointers:

* Don't call your agent more often than is truly necessary.

You may have urgent reasons to sell. Maybe you're facing foreclosure. Maybe you have selected another house. Or maybe your company is transferring you and has made no promise it will purchase your home if you cannot sell.

It's understandable that your urgency could translate into a series of anxious phone calls to your agent. But remember that peppering your agent with calls will probably not help you and could actually hurt you if it alienates your agent, real estate experts point out.

If your agent is ignoring you, or if you have legitimate questions, you have substantial reasons to telephone your agent. But if the agent is doing his job and keeping you posted or if you're asking the same questions over again (because you failed to take down the answers the last time) calling repeatedly is a bad idea.

* Try to avoid phoning your agent late at night.

"Those 11 o'clock at night calls infuriate the agent and you don't want to antagonize him," says Lynn Creager, who sells real estate through the Phoenix-Hunt Valley office of Coldwell Banker.

Agents are more likely to be accepting of daytime calls on the weekend -- when many are working anyway -- than late night calls, according to Ms. Creager. But an understanding agent, who is serious about the business, should be accepting of an urgent call at any time.

"If it's something so important that you can't sleep at night, then call your agent regardless. If you can sleep, please let the agent sleep, too," she says.

* Cooperate in the showing of your property.

"Many sellers don't realize that as soon as they put the house up for sale, they're on call at any reasonable hour seven days a week," says Mr. Irwin, the real estate author.

It's annoying for a homeowner to have to accommodate strangers who wish to look at a property with very little notice. But it's even more annoying to be an agent caught between a buyer interested in seeing a house and the property's uncooperative seller.

By being inflexible on showings, you hurt yourself in two ways. You lessen the chances of a speedy sale and you antagonize your agent.

"Suppose you and your children are just sitting down to lunch on Saturday when your agent calls with a prospect to bring over immediately. Tell the agent you want the prospect to wait until 3 p.m. and the agent will pull his or her hair out," Mr. Irwin says.

* Don't follow an agent around during a showing.

Some homeowners hover during a showing because they're trying to be helpful. Others are paranoid about a would-be buyer making off with their belongings (though smart home sellers remove valuables before putting a home on the market.)

But by hovering, a seller not only lessens prospects for a sale. He also makes an agent uncomfortable and, very possibly, angry as well, says Ms. Creager, the Phoenix-Hunt Valley agent. Not only do many agents feel crowded by a hovering seller, but some also feel such behavior implies that the seller is trying to do their job.

* Never accuse a hard-working agent of not working hard.

"There's nothing worse than knowing you're doing a good job and being criticized at the same time. The natural human response of the agent is to pull back, to slow down and say, 'To heck with that customer,' " Mr. Irwin says.

Much of the work that agents do to market a property may not be readily apparent to the seller -- although the agent should communicate about the steps he's taking.

For example, a good agent will make a number of calls to talk up a property with other agents.

"What you want to do is to get a good honest assessment of how hard your agent is working," Mr. Irwin says. "If your agent is really working hard, play dead."

* Realize there are rare times when annoying your agent is a necessity.

If it's evident that your agent is not performing or if he's failing to call to keep you posted so that you're unable to assess his performance, you may -- on a rare occasion -- find it necessary to become overbearing.

"You should expect that you will have constant communication with the agent. That doesn't mean he's going to call you every five minutes. But at least once a week a good agent will follow up," Mr. Irwin says.

Given the scope of your financial interest in the sale of your property, you're entitled as a seller to the best possible service you can obtain, Mr. Irwin points out.

And if the agent isn't calling you, what alternative do you have but to bug him?

"Unfortunately, once and a while you just have to be a pest," he says.

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