When Catherine and her husband, Spiro, received a text message that potential buyers for their Herndon, Va., home wanted to stop by on a rainy Friday in May, the couple gladly accepted the time frame, even though it meant that Spiro had to make a two-hour conference call using a hot spot in his car rather than from his home office.
Catherine, who was dog-sitting for her daughter that day, had to keep the pet out of the house.
“We figured it was worth it, because only a fairly serious buyer would come out on a rainy morning,” Catherine says.
Unfortunately, the buyers never showed, a fairly common occurrence for frustrated sellers. Worse, the buyers’ agent never contacted the Alifrangises to apologize. Instead, she rescheduled for the following day and then again failed to show.
“We contacted the buyers’ agent and her manager and never got an apology from either of them,” Catherine says . “Our Realtor followed up as well and reported back that the buyers’ agent had blamed the buyers for not being available because they have a baby and it’s hard to get out of the house. But that doesn’t explain why she didn’t contact us either time to let us know they wouldn’t be coming.”
Catherine says the impersonal system of scheduling via text messages gives agents the opportunity to be rude and dismissive of homeowners’ concerns.
“When we’ve sold homes in the past, we could discuss the timing or explain that we would leave as soon as the buyers arrived, but now there’s only an option to accept or decline the appointment or narrow the appointment time a bit,” Catherine says. “The lack of a personal touch seems as if it affects everything in real estate today. Even with our own Realtor almost everything is done by email, including when it was time to renew our listing contract.”
Of course, frustration with real estate transactions isn’t limited to sellers. Buyers have their complaints, too.
“The biggest complaint I get from buyers is when sellers stay in the house while they are looking at it,” says Eldad Moraru, an agent with Long & Foster Real Estate in Bethesda, Md. “It’s best for sellers not to be there at all or at least to leave as soon as the buyers arrive. The worst is sellers who follow the buyers around to show them features or talk about the place. Buyers feel as if they’re intruding and won’t even look at the house.”
One important role agents play is to keep the frustration from flaring up between the players in each deal.
“If the sellers are in the house, I try to engage them in conversation so the buyers can walk around alone,” Moraru says. “Sometimes, if the sellers are in one part of the house, I’ll open closet doors and point out things, almost forcing the buyers to really look at the property to see if they’re interested enough to come back when the sellers aren’t there.”
Moraru says that sometimes the listing agent hasn’t made it clear to the homeowners how important it can be to leave the home, but sometimes they just don’t listen to their agent.
You might think that because buyers want to buy a home and sellers want to sell a home getting the two together wouldn’t be that difficult. However, agents say that getting sellers to open their homes and buyers to stick to a schedule can be one of the most vexing aspects of a transaction.
“It’s surprising when sellers insist that buyers can come in only during limited hours or respond negatively to requests to visit a property,” says Jami Harich, an agent with Avery Hess Realtors in Fredericksburg, Va. “They’ll say it isn’t a good time. But when your buyer wants to see multiple properties, they sometimes just skip the one that isn’t easy to see.”
Buyers’ agents can do their best to accommodate homeowners, but sellers’ agents should make sure their clients know how essential it is to be flexible, Moraru says.
“If I’m with an out-of-town buyer and we need to look at 10 homes in one day, then it can be nearly impossible to change the schedule,” he says.
On the other hand, Moraru says that buyers’ agents need to at least alert sellers when they plan to bring their clients rather than show up unannounced.
“Sometimes buyers see a sign and ask to see a house when they’re out with their agent, but the agent needs to make the phone call from the car to see if that’s acceptable rather than just knock on the door,” Moraru says.
Sellers not only need to make their home available but also are expected to keep it in excellent condition and neutralize it so it’s more attractive to potential buyers.
“Most sellers today know how good their home has to look because of the ‘HGTV effect,’ ” says Gretchen Koitz, principal of the Koitz Real Estate Group with Compass in Chevy Chase, Md. “Everyone sees on TV how houses are supposed to look when they’re on the market.”
Catherine says agents often repeat the message that sellers need to neutralize their homes or make other changes without identifying the preferences of potential buyers or clarifying how long it could take to sell a particular home.
“My neighbor has lived without any of her personal belongings for more than six months while her home has been on the market,” Catherine says. “Every Realtor tells us to take down our curtains because young people don’t like them, but that’s not necessarily true of all buyers. Frankly, young people are not likely to be looking at the homes in this community. If an actual buyer came in and said a home is too dark, then homeowners would listen, but people are hardly ever coming to look at our homes.”
While sellers find it tough to always keep their home in pristine condition, they get particularly peeved when visitors leave it worse than when they arrived.
“I’ve had sellers call to complain that buyers came through and left the oven on, left the front door unlocked, moved covers to look at stored items, tracked in mud or left their empty plastic water bottle on the kitchen counter,” Harich says.
Buyers aren’t the only ones who sometimes leave messy conditions behind; home inspectors can also be the culprit, Moraru says.
“In one extreme case, a home inspector was testing the drainage in the house and turned on every single faucet and tub to let the water run for 20 minutes,” says Moraru. “The tub in the bathroom on the second floor had a clog, and we all found out when water started pouring through the ceiling because the tub had overflowed.”
While the seller was furious, the buyers still wanted the home, and the home inspector and listing agent paid for the damage.
Koitz says that home inspection issues tend to cause the most conflict between buyers and sellers, particularly because people in the D.C. area know that there isn’t a lot of flexibility around price negotiations in sought-after neighborhoods.
“When buyers ask for a home inspection contingency, it opens the door to a laundry list of items that they want fixed, and they end up butting heads with the sellers,” Koitz says. “It’s important for a buyers’ agent to let their clients know that a home inspection is an opportunity to learn about a house and find any major issues. Home inspectors come up with a list of items for future reference, such as the need to replace a water heater in a few years so buyers can budget for that, not so they can request a new one from the sellers.”
Harich says when she encountered buyers who asked for a repair on every item in their inspection report, she explained to them that the sellers weren’t offering a brand-new home.
“They wanted the sellers to bring everything into compliance with new zoning laws, but that can be nearly impossible on an older home,” Harich says. “The sellers offered to fix a few things and then said otherwise they would wait for another buyer, and then these buyers opted to accept the sellers’ offer.”
Koitz says that a particularly difficult situation occurred a few years ago when her sellers received a massive list of issues to address after a home inspection.
“The buyers were first-time buyers and European, so they weren’t familiar with what the home inspection meant,” Koitz says. “I had the sellers write a note to the buyers about their experience living in the house and had them share some information about the property and explain its quirks. The buyers then pared down their list to about three items.”
When representing buyers, Koitz says, she explains the potential consequences of asking for something unrealistic, such as requesting a replacement for a working furnace that happens to be old.
“I suggest they ask for a home warranty instead so that they get the house they want and have some extra peace of mind about upcoming expenses,” Koitz says.
Negotiating takes place over more than just home inspection items, of course. In a tight real estate market, buyers often find the experience of making an offer infuriating.
“Buyers get wildly frustrated when the homeowners say they will review all offers on a certain day and time,” Moraru says. “They feel as if their offer should be considered immediately, and sometimes they get so angry they withdraw their offer. But even worse is when sellers say they will do that and then accept an offer ahead of the deadline, leaving some buyers without an opportunity to make an offer at all.”
Moraru says both buyers and sellers get annoyed by delays in negotiating, although he admits that sometimes a delay is being used as a tactic to encourage someone to accept a counteroffer.
“It’s especially aggravating when you get a really quick first response and then wait two or three days for a response to the counteroffer,” he says.
Another issue that irks sellers is the radio silence they often receive: Many sellers find that the lack of feedback from potential buyers and their agents disheartening.
Sellers sometimes are left to wonder whether their curb appeal or their price or some other aspect of their home is keeping buyers from making an offer, Koitz says. She says a no-show sometimes occurs when buyers drive up to the house and decide against it because of its appearance or the neighborhood, but that agents should take the time to let the listing agent know if that’s the reason.
“Realtors often seem oblivious to buyers and sellers,” Catherine says. “When our agent asks for feedback, they either don’t reply or they reply with something that they have clearly made up or that shows they don’t know our house. We had one person say the buyers didn’t want our house because they needed a space with a high ceiling for a grand piano. We have a grand piano in a room with a two-story ceiling.”
Harich says she calls buyers’ agents and emails them as soon as possible after they have visited a property to request feedback and tells them, “I’ll give you feedback on your listings if you give me some on mine.”
“Sellers want to know why they aren’t getting an offer, and most of them are willing to listen if they get honest answers from buyers’ agents,” Harich says. “For instance, if I hear that a house smelled smoky, I can remind the buyers that they promised to smoke outside and to leave the windows closed so the smoke doesn’t drift inside.”
When buyers and sellers get frustrated with each other or with the real estate process, an agent can play an important role in smoothing the way to a move.
“Buying or selling a home is an emotional transaction,” Koitz says. “The Realtor for each side needs to stay calm and be the person to temper expectations and reduce conflict.”