Sellers are apt to say the wrong thing. Buyer's agents are trained to gather information and use it against the seller. Agents who are REALTORS® are not allowed to talk to the seller in a manner that would be deemed unethical or as interference. Not every agent is a REALTOR®. However, even an innocent question could turn into a complicated answer, some of which could affect the seller in a bad way.
Types of Questions a Seller Should Not Talk About With a Buyer
Sellers never think they are saying anything that could come back to bite them. They want to be friendly and informative and helpful. I can tell them to keep their mouths shut but it doesn't do any good. Instead, I suggest they say, "Please discuss that with my agent," as a way to defuse and deflect questions. They can also let the buyer and the buyer's agent know that they are not being impolite but their listing agent has advised them to not answer any questions, whatsoever.
Here are questions that can cause problems in a transaction if the seller talks to the buyer about them:
- How long have you lived in the house?
If you've lived in the home for only a few years, the buyers might think you're selling because the home isn't what you thought it would be when you bought it; that something is wrong with it. If you've lived in the home for a long time, buyers think you have so much equity that you don't know what to do with it.
- How many offers have you received?
If you have received a lot of offers and your home is not sold, buyers will wonder if there is something wrong. If you haven't received any offers, they will also think there is something wrong. You don't win anything by answering this question.
- How much was your highest offer?
Hey, if you never ask, nobody ever tells you. That's the thinking behind this question. Sometimes, it is slipped in so quickly that a seller will respond without realizing it. You don't ever want to show your hand.
- How fast do you need to move?
If you tell the buyer that your wife has been transferred out-of-state and you wished you had sold last month, you are telling the buyer that you are desperate for an offer. Desperate sellers get lowball offers.
- Where are you moving?
If you're moving to a less expensive community, buyers will think they don't have to pay your list price because they might decide you don't need it. If you're moving to a higher priced area, buyers might be afraid to make an offer because they worry it won't meet your net requirements.
- Why are you selling?
If you answer this question, you may as well stencil on your forehead write a lowball offer. Even joking about it and saying, to make piles of money can backfire. Agents and buyers will judge you on this question and try to use the information against you. Just don't answer it.
- What are your neighbors like?
People are judgmental. Don't give a buyer a reason to eliminate your home from their list of possibilities. If they want to know about the neighbors, let them talk to the neighbors without your input. Unless there is something about your neighbors that make them a material fact, a reason not to buy, don't talk about them. If you say they are wonderful and the buyer later believes that to be a false statement, they might sue you.
- How much do you owe?
Whether you have a mortgage, how much is owed on your mortgage, is really nobody's business but yours and your agent's. Unless the mortgage balance turns your sale into a short sale, it's not important and is insignificant to the transaction.
- What kind of repairs have you made to the house?
Many seller disclosure documents discuss repairs. There is no reason to discuss them prior to an offer. Sellers often remember repairs as costing more than the repairs really cost. In many cases, the cost of a repair does not add much to the value of the home. You don't want a buyer to wonder if your home is falling apart.
This is why sellers should not be home when a buyer comes through to tour. Not only does a seller's absence allow the buyer privacy and time to consider the home as her own -- which she can't do if a seller is present during the showing -- but it prevents the buyer from talking to the seller. It also stops the buyers' agent from talking to the seller.
Let your agent talk to the buyer's agent. That's why you have hired an agent to represent you. Let your agent do his or her job, and you'll be a lot happier at closing.
At the time of writing, Elizabeth Weintraub, DRE # 00697006, is a Broker-Associate at Lyon Real Estate in Sacramento, California.