How Sellers Lose Their Chance With Buyers

Real Estate Agents Share Many Don'ts For Sellers

July 26, 2009|By Mary Umberger | Mary Umberger,Tribune Newspapers

If you're trying to sell your home, you probably don't need to be told the yada, yada, yada of real estate: Keep it clean. Eliminate clutter. Use neutral colors.

That's all true. But there are things that sellers do - or refuse to do - that can jinx a sale. We asked agents to tell us what sellers do to shoot themselves in the foot. And we got an earful.

Here's how not to sell your home:

Refuse to get real about price: : "If you don't have a motivated seller in this market, you're not going to have a deal," said Honore Frumentino, a Prudential Preferred Properties agent in Chicago. "The days of testing the market are gone, and the price has to be on the money.

"Sellers have to be at the bottom 30 percent of pricing [for comparable homes] and in the top 30 percent on the house's condition."

Be insulted by lowball offers: : "I tell all sellers that 100 percent of buyers are coming in with lowball offers these days," said Lino Darchun, an agent for Coldwell Banker in Chicago. He said it's usually a mistake not to respond to an offer that seems overly low.

"They have to counteroffer," he said. "I've told them, 'If you play it right and with a certain sense of good humor, I've seen offers worse than this one come up to an acceptable level.' "

Be : present at showings or give too much information: : Arlington Heights Baird & Warner agent Fran Bailey said she once brought a client, who had made it clear that she was uncomfortable having the sellers present, to see a home.

Bailey politely asked the seller if he'd step outside.

"He said no, and announced that he was the narrator and would lead a tour," Bailey said. "My client shook her head and got back into the car."

Frumentino said that generally buyers don't want a lot said to them upon entering a home. And even the most pleasant sellers tend to offer too much information, too soon. "They throw out things like, 'That basement hasn't flooded in 40 years,' and the buyer hasn't even been to the basement yet," Darchun said. "And all of a sudden the buyer is thinking, 'I'll bet the basement floods.' "

Have a spiffy condo but scruffy common areas: : "I've walked into buildings where there's deferred maintenance all over the place," Darchun said. "The carpet hasn't been vacuumed in weeks and there are noticeable stains.

"But then we walk into the unit, and it's the Taj Mahal, it's stunning," he said. "Unfortunately, it might never sell or it won't sell at the price it deserves because others haven't taken care of the common areas."

Ignore the curb appeal: : Frumentino said some homeowners are oblivious to overgrown bushes or cracked sidewalks.

"Some people go in through the garage and never walk up to their own front door," she said. "I tell sellers, 'Let's walk up this path, because that's how buyers are going to see you.' "

Bailey said she once was at a house where there was another agent inside showing it, so they went to the backyard to wait.

"By the time we walked past the six cars in the driveway - clearly, some of them wouldn't run - and then into the very overgrown backyard, the client was pretty much ready to leave."

Overpersonalize the home: : Just because a special-purpose room enchants the owner, don't presume it will enchant buyers, the agents say.

"We had a house listed that had a disco," Frumentino said. "You would expect John Travolta to walk out. It had a light show and the music system, and they painted it all black, with no windows.

"We had it repainted and done over to turn it into an exercise room."

In a similar vein, Frumentino said an emphasis on religious decor can stop buyers in their tracks.

"I once showed a very cool, contemporary house that hadn't been selling," she said. "There were candles all over, incense burning and little altars all over the place."

It was a distraction - and the main thing that buyers remembered after they left, she said.

Fail to be honest with the agent about the gotchas: : "Sellers have an uncanny ability to forget things" that are problematic about a house, Darchun said. "I tell them to please share everything, because sooner or later it's going to be found out."

He said one sale almost sank because the buyers suspected the house's deck didn't meet building-code requirements.

The sellers were evasive about the construction circumstances, though finally acknowledged its no-permit construction. He said if the homeowners had let him in on the situation beforehand, a lot of time and tension could have been saved.

In multiple offers, choose the highest without a thought: : "Believe it or not, we still get multiple offers, and it's sometimes a mistake to accept the top dollar, but not the most-qualified buyer," Darchun said. "They look at the quantity, not the quality of the offer.

"I've seen a dozen deals fall apart where the seller took the top dollar but the buyer only had 5 percent down or had to sell their own home, or any number of different things that they weren't putting into the offer."

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