The longtime real estate agent snickered when I asked her to look back on her career and her clients. She said she had learned something that all realtors soon come to realize:
“Owners are moaners, and buyers are liars.”
Would she be willing to expand on that? Oh yes, she’ll dish – provided that I do not print her name here. She is mostly out of the game – she has announced her retirement several times – but keeps getting “just one more last deal” that she can’t turn down.
She probably won’t have any more clients in the future, but just in case, she wouldn’t want them to look her up and find an article full of what some might call indiscretion and gossip – and what I would call good 411 and background advice.
She has represented both buyers and sellers in an area that features a mix of small towns and rural or semi-rural homes in popular recreation areas dotted with parks, lakes and hilly, wooded hiking trails. There are many exceptions, but full-time residents are typically drawn more to the towns, and weekenders to the countryside.
The owners-moaners and buyers-liars cross both categories, town and country, she said.
“Owners who are selling their houses complain about everything,” she said.
The owners complain that the realtor (as opposed to an unlicensed and uncapitalized real estate agent) is recommending a listing price that is too low; she points out that it’s in the interest of a realtor to list a house for as much as seems plausible. The higher the selling price, the more commission.
Owners also moan when their listing agent recommends upgrades: fixing the roof, painting the bedrooms, sprucing up the garden, and more. “They said it’s been fine with them for years,” the realtor said, “and wonder why it wouldn’t be fine with whoever moves in.”
She’s had owners who insist on being in the house when she shows it to prospective buyers, even after she explains that many buyers are more comfortable in a house that is empty not only of the current owners but of all their stuff, too. It’s easier to show an empty house where buyers can envision their own stuff and not be distracted by the owner’s stuff.
She’s had owners who insist that no children be allowed when the house is shown, even after she explains that many families want their kids to be part of the process.
“I’ve got a lot of valuable things, and kids will break them,” one moaning owner told her.
“Put your valuables away,” she advised.
“No, I want to be able to see my things all the time, and enjoy them,” he replied.
She had a surprisingly difficult time, but she ended up selling that house after the owner relented and began allowing families to come in. She still thinks she might have gotten more, and it would have sold quicker, if he had listened to her.
And then there are the buyers. The liars.
The first and foremost lie: “They don’t tell you how much they really are prepared to spend.”
Instead, they low ball their own real estate agent. If they have $600,000 to spend, they might tell their agent “$400,000 to $500,000,” thinking (a) they might get a bargain and (b) if they open the kimono about what they can really spend, their agent will quickly bump them up to looking at $600,000 or even $700,000 homes.
Consequently, the first part of the hunt is too often wasted looking at homes that the buyers don’t like or want. Too many things wrong. If buyers have priorities, the realtor said, the more they spend the more they’re going to get from their wish list.
And that’s another lie. The wish list. Too many would-be buyers don’t clearly enunciate what they want. True, they sometimes don’t know, and their priorities evolve as they look at more properties. Whether at the outset, when first meeting the realtor, or well into the process, after seeing lots of properties, buyers need to keep the realtor apprised. If a screened-in porch moves up the list, or a nearby dog park moves down the list, tell your real estate agent immediately.
“It should be an ongoing conversation,” the realtor insisted.
For example, a couple told her they wanted a house in the woods at the end of a long driveway. It turned out, after seeing a few places, that they didn’t want to feel so isolated. They wanted to see neighbors. They wanted to be 10 minutes, not half an hour, from bread, milk, beer and gas.
Buyers, especially weekenders looking for country escape homes, often lie about how much work they are willing to have done on their new home. They say they want something that is “move in” and “needs no work. Zero work.” But then it turns out that they’re not merely willing, but eager to build up or out or replace and repair things to make the new place just a little more perfect.
The realtor had a client who didn’t mention until well into the house-hunting that she wanted a place she could rent out on Airbnb. If the realtor had known that, they would not have wasted time looking at houses in towns with strict laws limiting short-term rentals.
The realtor had one client who swore she was not going to spend another penny on her new weekend home beyond the purchase price, but quickly found a property she liked and announced that she would be willing to make a few changes after all.
“What changes?” the realtor inquired.
“Well,” the buyer said, “we might be able to keep the fireplace and chimney, but everything else should be knocked down.”
At the same time, the realtor tells of a couple who vowed that they were looking for a big project – a major renovation they could undertake in large part themselves – and then found themselves arguing, even before they made an offer, about when, how, where and why a place should be renovated.
“You never told me that,” they accused each other.
Looking back, the realtor said, laughing, the buyers had more problems than lying to their real estate agent about what they wanted. They had been lying to each other, too.