Jump Through Hoops

September 17, 1995|By Adele Evans | Adele Evans,Special to The Sun

After surviving VA loan red tape, drilling a $4,800 well and negotiating the price down to the last cent, they weren't exactly happy when the buyer wanted them to re-stain their deck. They were even angrier when he walked from the deal.

"We waited and waited and waited. Then he backed out. The whole time he was acting like he couldn't afford the house, and it turned out he got $300,000 for his old house. And his accountant told him he'd better buy a higher-priced house or get killed on taxes," said the seller, who requested anonymity because her house is back on the market.

That buyer not only negotiated them down to the bottom dollar, but then turned picky. The seller learned through the grapevine that he'd already looked at 42 houses.

Similar buyers are becoming more common in today's market. "Let the buyer beware," is changing to "let the seller beware."

Real estate agents, lawyers, home inspectors, lending officers and sellers themselves agree that it's tougher than ever to sell a house. Not only is it a buyer's market, but those buyers are increasingly -- and sometimes unreasonably -- demanding. Coping with such fussiness is a delicate business, and many deals blow up at the settlement table over a leaning garage or a swimming pool not being filled in.

Some agents recommend the seller bend over backward. Others say there are measures sellers can take to ensure smoother negotiations and avoid at least some of the surprise nitpicking that can rear up during the long road to the settlement table.

"We've come out of the 1980s, where buyers were the weaker party and sellers had the power. Now, because of the increase in inventory, it's a buyer's market. They want to even the score," said Adam Cockey, managing director of W. H. C. Wilson & Co.

"The buyer is demanding more, just naturally," agreed Bill Flynn, president of operations at O'Conor, Piper & Flynn Realtors, one of the top three real estate agencies in Maryland. "There are more inclusions like, 'We saw you have a lawn mower. Is it working?' Or they might say they want the refrigerator, or feel that the property should be as close to perfection as possible."

"It's getting ridiculous," said Mary Bell Grempler, chairman of the board of Coldwell Banker Grempler Realty Inc. " 'Buyer beware' is out the window. They're protecting the consumer to the point where it isn't common sense."

Others agree that today's savvy, informed buyers and new buyer-agent relationships present a double-edged sword. Yes, the buyers don't get ripped off as much, but now sellers must jump through more hoops than ever.

Most real estate brokers believe the primary problem, or at least challenge, is the buyer's mind-set. Many buyers are investing a huge portion of their savings in the home, and have heard the horror stories about nondisclosure and "money pit" houses. They want the house and neighborhood to be as perfect as possible.

Biggest perfectionists

First-time buyers and corporate relocations are among the biggest perfectionists when it comes to demands, real estate executives say. First-timers don't have experience in buying a home, they are often investing all of their savings, so they want things absolutely perfect -- even in a 40-year-old home. Those who do a lot of relocation often expect to move again in the near future, so they demand homes in top shape -- in case they need to turn right around and sell them again.

"They're thinking of their dream house, and they [lower-priced homes] don't have all the bells and whistles they expect," said Marean Eikenberg, an agent with Coldwell Banker Grempler's Phoenix office.

"For example, $90,000 is a lot of money, but for a property in a specific location, you may be getting the lowest-priced house. Most people don't realize location is the main thing."

"They're more frightened of repair costs," agreed Patricia Jenkins, agent with Coldwell Banker Grempler. "They've maxed out on payments and can't afford anything else. Often it's their life savings."

Natural anxiety turns to unrealistic expectations as early in the process as choosing the location. Ms. Eikenberg said she hasn't run into many sticklers, but the ones she has come across often want higher-end locations for lower-end dollars.

"People want Phoenix for $100,000. They want properties in an area and don't realize that there's no way they can do it at their price. When you suggest another area they say 'Oh no. I don't like that neighborhood.' I usually don't work with them beyond that point."

Once the initial hurdles of pickiness have been crossed and the house has been targeted and the offer made, there's a second, even more formidable tier of potential demands: the home inspection report.

Home inspection pitfalls

Real estate agents feel that the practice of the buyer hiring a home inspector is basically smart, but add that the inspection reports often go beyond basic structural, mechanical and electrical basics -- causing buyers to panic, sellers to dig in their heels, and deals to sour.

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