Overreaction to nibble could make buyer flee


February 28, 1993|By ELLEN JAMES MARTIN | ELLEN JAMES MARTIN,(Ellen James Martin is a columnist for The Sun.)

Are you a home seller whose property has gotten no action during weeks on the market? Then a nibble may suddenly stimulate your hopes.

"In this market, people can get very anxious, hopeful and excited to think their home might be selling," says Kay Deitz, an agent with the Bel Air office of Coldwell Banker.

But she and other real estate specialists caution that a seller's overreaction to an expression of interest can be counterproductive -- especially if he attempts to seek out the would-be buyer.

"The buyer is like the man at the dance. He doesn't want to be approached by a partner. He wants to be in the power position," Ms. Deitz says.

Usually there's an agent or two standing between a hopeful seller and a prospective buyer. Even so, the two sides may come in contact.

Often, the prospect learns the home number of the home seller on the so-called "listing card," derived from the Multiple Listing Service. Nowadays, an increasing number of buyers assert themselves and call an owner directly to ask about a property. Or, the buyer and seller may meet when the property is shown.

During such encounters, it's unwise for the seller to try to actually court a buyer -- no matter how anxious he is to sell, real estate experts say.

"It's a big mistake for the seller to try to jump on a buyer who shows interest. If you have a nibble, you should be happy and patient, because the nibble could turn into a bite," says Carolyn Janik, author of "How to Sell Your House in the '90s," a Penguin paperback.

To be specific, it's a mistake for the seller to seek out direct communication with the nibbler, to hover or prod when the buyer comes through the house for a second or third visit, or to talk up the home too aggressively, should the prospect happen to call.

"Do not court the buyer because it makes you look like you're very, very anxious to sell the house. And that could put you at a disadvantage," Ms. Janik says.


Real estate specialists offer these pointers on how to kindle rather than extinguish the interest of a prospect:

* Know a nibble when you see it.

"Usually a seller can sense when a prospective buyer is particularly interested," Ms. Janik says.

Interested buyers may seek a second or third showing of the property, may linger for a lengthy period, may discuss the home in detail with each other during the showing and may even begin mentally placing their furniture in your rooms.

Some prospects make their interest still more obvious. "They'll say, 'Oh, finally' when they see the home, or they're call the homeowner to ask specific questions about the yard, or school," Ms. Janik says.

In addition, the interest of a prospect is often conveyed agent-to-agent through the local real estate community.

* Learn from the reactions of nibblers to your property.

The nibble you receive may or may not turn into an actual bite. There are no guarantees. But even if the buyer walks away without making a contract offer on your property, you will have learned from the experience if you use it to gather buyers' reactions.

What qualities does the home have that initially attracted the nibblers? Do they like the sunny dining room? Are they drawn to the oversized yard? On the other hand, do they think the swimming pool may pose a hazard to their children? Or do they think the price of the property is out of line with the rest of the neighborhood?

Don't try to call a nibbler directly. Instead, have your listing agent call the agent who is working with the nibbler -- or call that agent yourself, Ms. Deitz suggests.

"Ask the other agent, 'How does our house compare with other homes your buyer is considering?' 'Are we one of the buyer's three favorites?' 'Are there any problems with our property from the buyer's point of view?' " Ms. Deitz scripts.

* Don't play your agent's role if an interested buyer phones.

"Some people just want to talk to the owner themselves. They want to go direct to the horse's mouth," says Ms. Janik, the author.

If you as a seller get a call from a would-be buyer inquiring about the details of your property, answer all direct questions honestly, she says. But don't get into any financial issues with the would-be buyer. Rather, indicate very politely that financial questions will be answered by your agent, Ms. Janik advises.

* Restrain yourself from getting too carried away by a nibble.

If you've had a long dry spell, a first nibble may tend to arouse high expectations that your house will really be sold. But there are dangers to this level of excitement, Ms. Janik cautions.

"Talk is cheap. It's easy for someone to say, 'I really like the house.' It's much harder to get a commitment to the property," she says.

Sometimes a seller may mistakenly interpret a nibble as an indication that the market is picking up and will hold out for too high a price. More often, the seller will set himself up for disappointment by mistakenly assuming that an interested party a definite buyer.

"Always remember that a nibble is not a sale until it's a bite," Ms. Janik says.

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