Curve

Home for sale: Should I meet buyers myself or leave that to the agent?

Peter Warden
Peter WardenThe Mortgage Reports Contributor

In this article:

When you have a home for sale, you’d love to know what potential buyers think of your home. But will they tell you?

  • Most agents prefer to have the owners absent, so buyers feel freer discussing the home
  • Ask yourself if you trust your agent to convey opinions accurately
  • Consider having a friend “stalk” your open house and listen in if you want an unfiltered opinion

A good agent should be able to guess pretty accurately what prospects will like (and not like) about your property. And not all opinions should necessarily be taken seriously.

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Woof, woof

There’s an old saying: “Why keep a dog and bark yourself?” The meaning is simple. If you’re paying good money for something (a dog) that can do something (bark) better than you can, why would you choose to still do that same thing yourself?

The parallel with real estate agents is obvious. You’re paying good — very good — money for a professional service. You carefully chose your agent to ensure he or she was expert, competent, motivated, knowledgeable and a great salesperson, negotiator and closer.

Why would you — someone who’s unlikely to sell more than a handful of homes in your entire life — interfere with the work of a professional who does it daily?

Observer status

Some agents won’t mind if you alone — without your family, dogs, friends and nosy neighbors — want to be present for an open house. But yours will be more comfortable if you promise you won’t interfere, and most prefer the sellers to be out of sight completely.

Related: Hiring a real estate agent when you buy a home: Avoid these mistakes

It’s probably fine if you greet the viewers and their buyers’ agent warmly and serve coffee and cookies. But you shouldn’t join in conversations or answer questions unless your agent is the one asking them of you — or she gives you the nod to respond to someone else’s query.

If your agent makes a blatant factual error, take him to one side so he can correct it himself. There’s no advantage to you in making him look bad. In fact, undermining him could harm your interests.

Home for sale with a bad agent

You can’t be absolutely certain that the agent you hire is a perfect fit or the best you can get. (Even established real estate experts like the writers on this site have horror stories.) That might be the reason for wanting to be at home showings.

But you’re paying a pile of money for someone to sell your home. So find someone who will deliver value. Not sure what you’re agent is doing (or not doing)? Enlist the help of a friend to view the property with your agent.

Related: How to fire your real estate agent

If you discover your pro’s no good, you may have options, but listing agents are not always easy to fire. It’s best to vet yours thoroughly before committing.

Home for sale by owner (FSBO) or discount service

Or maybe you’re paying nothing. Perhaps, you’ve decided you’re going to be one of the roughly 8 percent of homeowners who sell their properties without using an agent at all. (That number jumps to 25 percent when you include sellers who hire a flat-rate service just to put their listing online.)

Related: Your complete guide to for sale by owner (FSBO) transactions

Alternatively, you might be using a discount real estate company that charges ultra-low fees but provides limited services. In that case, you or someone you trust will have to show your home to prospective buyers.

Don’t get too hung up over the idea that those with a home for sale shouldn’t show buyers around. True, those buyers may feel less free to criticize your home in front of you. This probably won’t matter if they want the house. If they don’t, you may not be told why. But you can probably get a good idea by asking friends for honest feedback.

Of course, some buyers may feel free to make nasty comments in front of you. They may even see it as part of the negotiation process. But are you really so sensitive you can’t hear that sort of criticism without it ruining your week?

Conducting your own showings

Prepare thoroughly before showings. Find online listings for similar homes nearby to see what information professional agents think is important. Then draw up a sheet that includes the key facts buyers will want to know.

Give a copy to each visitor and use one as your crib sheet for the tour.

Include color photographs that show the outside of the home and its best features. Buyers often visit dozens of homes and this will help them remember yours.

Tip: If you’re taking daytime interior shots, and worry the room appears dark, try not turning on the lights. Modern cameras can automatically adjust for low-light conditions but are confused by the bright patches lamps and pendant fittings create.

Related: How to stage your home yourself

As you enter each room with potential buyers, point out its best feature. That might be its view, the size of its walk-in closet, the fact that it’s spacious and airy…

Take time before your first showing to decide what you’re going to highlight first in each room. Feel free to point out secondary features, but don’t go into too much detail unless asked. Few buyers are interested in how many power outlets there are in Bedroom 4Four.

Review your home’s details. “October 2015” is a much better response to the question, “When was the kitchen remodeled?” than “Um. Let me think. It was soon after Aunt Matilda died, so it must have been, er…” And never lie. Intentionally misleading could constitute fraud or undermine the transaction.

It’s what friends are for

You’ll find out who your friends are when you have a home for sale. Use them to:

  • Spy at your open house — Have a pal make sure your agent’s doing a great job. But also eavesdrop on other visitors for real, unfiltered feedback that even the best agent might not hear
  • Improve your staging — If you’re going to stage your home yourself, pick the brains of friends with good taste
  • Help you pick an agent — Personal recommendations are a good way to choose a real estate agent
  • Provide general assistance — A keen amateur photographer could shoot your home. Someone with an oversized barn or garage could save you storage fees. Someone keen on writing could help with your information sheet

Use your friends’ talents and resources … providing you’d do the same for them.

Use your common sense

There’s really no point in your being present when your agent shows potential buyers around your home. The exception is when you lack faith in his or her abilities.

It’s fine to stay in for the first viewing to reassure yourself — or after multiple failed viewings when you’re worried the agent might be the problem. But there seems little point in cramping her style by being there routinely.

That’s not the case when you’re in a “home for sale by owner” situation or are using a discount service. You’re probably the best-qualified person to conduct viewings. And you should get someone else to stand in for you only if you think you’d be very bad at showing the property or you’re unusually sensitive to criticism of your home.

But don’t be constrained by these guidelines. Do what makes you feel most comfortable. There aren’t any “right” answers here.

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