Honesty is always the best policy but there are several things you should never say to a prospective homebuyer. I’m not talking about things material to the house itself – if there are negatives you know about your home that aren’t readily apparent, you’re REQUIRED disclose those to a prospective homebuyer. Those type of do-mentions could include anything from the landfill that will be built adjacent to your home to the fact that the heating system is on its last leg. You must make those types of facts known to buyers or their realtors.
What you are not required to disclose are:
- Opinions you may have about
- your neighbors or neighborhood
- the local economy or job market
- the school system
- Personal information about yourself or your family
- Personal financial situations
- Your reasons for selling
What should you never tell a prospective homebuyer?
Many of the things I’ve listed are those that I wouldn’t want to hear either if I were a homebuyer but the first three … I would want to hear those if I were the homebuyer.
1. Never say: I *MUST* sell this house by [insert date]
When you mention a sell-by date, you set yourself up for a poor negotiating position (read Secrets of Power Negotiating). Knowing that you’re under a time constraint could cause the homebuyer to make a ridiculously low offer and then drag their feet when you counter.
When American business people first started negotiating with their counterparts in Japan, the Japanese would ask, “When is your return flight?” Since no one wants to fly home to tell the boss that no agreement was reached, the Americans were up against a proverbial wall and the Japanese knew it. It forced the American business people to compromise their position since there was a drop-dead date. Many times the negotiations wouldn’t begin in earnest until the ride to the airport!
2. Never say: We’re having financial difficulties
That really isn’t anyone’s business and like the previous point, it puts you in a poor negotiation position. Buyers could be tempted to exploit your financial condition and make a low offer. It could also scare away a real estate agent since you might drop them for another agent for a lower commission rate. Keep your problems to yourself. It’s no one else’s business.
3. Never say: We’ve already bought another house and we’re struggling with double payments
Again, you put yourself into a poor negotiating position. Anything that smacks of desperation can (and will) cause a homebuyer to make a lowball offer.
4. Never say: We spent two weeks getting the house cleaned up
Translation: we’re slobs. Homebuyers don’t want to hear that you had to expend energy, effort, and cash to get a home “up to standards.” They may wonder what other areas of the home you’ve deferred maintenance on.
5. Never say: We know we need to update the design
The natural question is: “so why haven’t you?” Let’s face it, the 80s light blue shag carpet is out, as is the harvest gold appliances. Don’t bring them up. Focus your homebuyers instead on positive elements such as your location, your proximity to desired venues or shopping, or the good school system.
6. Never say: We handled our pest control ourselves
Since most homes have mortgages, mortgage companies typically require a termite bond with annual checkups, but when it comes to the monthly maintenance, that isn’t always a requirement. When you mention that YOU handled your own pest control, it begs two questions:
- “Do you know what you’re doing?”
- “What exactly did you spray?”
Unless pest control is your business, it would be better to avoid mentioning that you spray your home yourself … even if you DO know what you’re doing.
7. Never say: The house has been on the market a long time
That information is readily available to the homebuyer anyway. If your home has been on the market a long time, the natural question is “why?” Is it because the price is too high? That’s almost always a homebuyer’s first inclination but it may be due to a host of other reasons:
- Your home is next door to messy neighbors
- Your home is in a poor location
- Your home is outdated in its decor or design
No matter, if your home has been for sale for more than 90 days … don’t bring it up.
8. Never say: We’ve outgrown the home
I get it. You have four kids and another on the way but if your potential homebuyer has 6 kids, they may accept your reason for moving and “move on” to a larger home down the road instead of seriously considering yours.
9. Never say: We’re moving because Uncle Jesse died in that chair and we don’t want to live here anymore
Some people and cultures may freak out if there’s been a death on the property. Though there are a few states that require disclosure if a death occurred on the property, most do not. Texas requires disclosure if the death resulted from safety conditions on the property and California requires that a death on the property be disclosed if it happened within the previous three years. A few states require that any death that made headlines be disclosed, but then some states prohibit AIDS-related deaths from being disclosed due to anti-discrimination laws.
The bottom line: if you’re not legally obligated to disclose a death, keep the information to yourself. However, you should also check with a qualified real estate attorney to make sure it won’t create any liability in your particular state.
Never disclose anything you’re not required to disclose when you’re selling your home. You don’t have to appear cagey or shifty, but you should steer any conversation you have with your own listing agent or prospective homebuyers away from the items listed. It will help you get a better price to keep those personal things to yourself!
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