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Honing Your Home Buying Skills

Screen Shot 2014-03-21 at 11.42.11 AMWe all know it: selling your home can be mighty stressful. And poorly behaved buyers only add to the strain: hot prospects become no-shows, signed offers fall through due to ridiculous request, and buyers who think a house title also entitles them to their pick of your furnishings. We've seen and dealt with them all. And in a market with as tight inventory as it is right now in Boston, those things matter. Greatly.

Usually, a little give-and-take is normal, but some buyers push the envelope, as well as the sellers' buttons. Some of our clients have even taken extra careful measures in presenting an offer, careful to make sure that the deal doesn't fall through, as a property that's available today might not be available tomorrow. Remember, it's slim picking out there, so buyers should beware of the stigma sellers hold them to, or suffer the consequence of losing that investment. And though we're always here to help guide to through one of your biggest purchases, we can only do so much to mitigate how a seller responds to you, your offer, and what you bring to the table.

So, we present eight things you should most definitely avoid when you're nearing an offer point. According to research these common mistakes annoy sellers enough that they would rather move on to the next hot client, given the pent up demand for properties out there, and its limited supply at the moment. So if you're a home buyer on the prowl, take this as a list of things not to do.

Avoid Skipping appointments

If you're in the habit of skipping important meetings, then you're basically a goner in the real estate game. The same principle applies with meeting with your broker, or worse, the seller since research has found that this is the No. 1 complaint of property owners. Even if it's not a personal no-show and your broker is representing you, not showing up or canceling a meeting gives a negative vibe out to the seller.

Imagine how a seller feels when you announce at the last minute that you'll visit next week instead. Or you simply don't show up, without an explanation. There might be a million different excuses out there, but at the end of the day it boils down to being rude. As we always practice, Follow the golden rule of treating others the same way you want to be treated.

The bottom line here is clear: Unless you've had a truly last-minute emergency, cancel hours -- not minutes-- before a scheduled appointment. Trust us, sellers appreciate being kept on the loop the same way a buyer would want to be updated each and every single minute that passes after an offer has been made. To sellers, you are the offer waiting to happen.

Ignoring pre-set 'house rules'

Just because it's a home doesn't mean it's your home. At least, not yet.

Some prospective buyers treat a home like they've been living there for decades --unlocking doors, cranking up the heat or air conditioning, and letting their kids run wild, bounce on the furniture, and borrow toys. Some looky-loos use the toilet -- which gets problematic if the house isn't occupied and the water has been turned off.

Sellers are, of course, allowed to set some ground rules  - "no shoes" being a popular one - which are usually included in the showing instructions. Your broker should be on top of informing you of any special requests by the seller well before you set your first footsteps into the home, because in the event the sellers aren't home, it's up to them anyway to enforce those rules.

Interestingly, a new tactic nowadays is for sellers to install microphones and cameras in the home they've listed. From baby monitors to teddy-cams to suspiciously open laptops, this trend is slowly catching fire as a means to measure prospective buyer's level of interest, or lack of it. So again, buyer beware: hold off on any telling signs that could signal your position. Always assume that the sellers are closely watching.


Want to alienate the sellers who currently own your next house, not to mention your real estate agent? Start complaining about small issues, like carpet and paint colors. Just remember that compared to the acquisition cost of the property, these cosmetic complaints are not nearly as expensive as the house you're buying. These are all things you can bring up as a point of negotiation in your offer. If the seller so happens to decline your requests, factor in the cost after you've acquired the property. Sweating the small stuff can lead to your deal falling through.

Now, if it's important and not just cosmetic, bring it up right there and then. Or better yet, consult your broker on what to do. Always turn to your buying best friend for advice, as they would or at least should know what needs to happen next.

In many cases, such an opinions about- and objections to something small is not a price-reduction strategy. We strongly recommend to our clients to refrain from using this strategy, as it's an extremely bad one to practice. Paint, carpeting, holes, and the like are easy fixes. We do recommend focusing on the big-picture items, like location, light level, and layout.

Most important thing about nitpicking is to make sure that if you do point out flaws, it's directed towards the property and always not the sellers or what they have or haven't done to the place. Just like buying is an extremely personal journey for you, selling their property is also a serious life event to the current owners - and you don't want to mess with that.

Presenting a long list of defects

One weapon in the buyers' negotiating arsenal is to write a long list of what's wrong with the house. Not really - at least not anymore.

In fact, this is a big tactical mistake home buyers usually are attracted to. In most cases, sellers don't care why you're discounting the house, only the bottom-line number you're willing to offer for it. They look at the offer sheet and ask themselves whether this is a figure they can be happy with, so a long laundry list of defective items in the home deflects their attention from your actual offer, or worse, they realize you're not a good match to the property and therefore decline your offer.

Instead, we usually approach the matter for our clients in a kinder, gentler manner: by submitting a list of comparables, the offer, accompanied by a personal letter introducing yourself and why you want the house. If major issues to plague the home and make it less than its counterparts, mention two or three of them and keep the tone neutral. We generally reference third-party sources, if possible (i.e. a home inspector's report).

For instance, as your representative, we could present data to the seller that emphasizes the points you've covered: say that in the 90 days the home has been on the market, three other homes in the same neighborhood have been sold. And while the reason for that is a mystery, the other homes all had updated kitchens, while the one you're interested in is in its original 1980's glory.

If you're really making an offer, don't "dig down into what is wrong with the house, and instead focus on why you want it and what you would like to see improved in it.

Requesting multiple 'visits' just before closing

This happens again and again.. and again. A buyer wants a lot of access after they've committed to purchase. They want to bring in decorators, architects, family or even visit it themselves. Meanwhile, the seller is getting repairs done, accommodating inspectors, packing and moving. Because the seller has a tight deadline, the onus is on the buyer not to add to the load by requesting additional showings.

A possible compromise we always turn to: Arrange to visit while the inspector is there. This present both parties another opportunity to revisit progress of all the items covered on the punch list, as well as another walkthrough before the final one prior to closing.

One of the worst strategies you can execute is to drop-in last minute and and scout for ammunition to ask for price reductions or improvements from the seller. Brokers are aware of this, as well, and should be on guard and on your side from the onset of the deal. Others might be shopping for the existing furniture and decor. Even after the ink has dried on the offer, buyers will notice a piece of furniture or a lamp or curio that they like "and ask for that to be left behind" as if it were included in the purchase price.

The general rule of thumb: Unless otherwise stated, the seller would most likely want the things they own and purchased themselves. They're human, after all.

Trying to renegotiate after striking a deal

Another thing that drives both sellers and brokers nuts are buyers who agree on a price, only to repeatedly demand concessions and discounts.

One big point of contention is the inspection. Barring unwelcome surprises or revelations that a seller concealed something - which is illegal and a form of fraud - the negotiated price should be the final price. If you estimate that something is about to end its useful life (i.e. roof, etc.), then bring it up in black and white long before agreeing on a final purchase price. This gives both you and the seller some elbow room to adjust.

The takeaway? Always remember that with an existing home, a realistic buyer knows everything's not going to be perfect.

Generating 'iffy' commitment letters

We call this one "seller's limbo."

Buyer and seller reach an agreement. Then a letter from the buyer's bank informs the seller that financing is conditional on a list of things that the borrower must do. Depending on the length of the list -- and exactly what's on it -- the seller doesn't know if they have a commitment, if they can go ahead and move or not.

It can happen to anyone since every seller's situation is different, so it pays to turn to the pros for help. The bank's list may offer sellers some clues. If you, the buyer, is asked to clarify where your down payment will come from, or account for a string of late payments, or explain a drop in credit score, that could spell out some serious problems.

The lesson? Put your financial house in order well before even thinking of putting an offer in. In fact, we recommend you work on it months prior to your intended property hunt. Trust us, this pre-emptive move takes away so much financial worry not only to the seller, but also to you, so you can have an appreciation of what you can or cannot afford. And if done properly, banks should facilitate and not debilitate your ability to close on that property you're vying for.

Rushing the closing date

Even in the best of circumstances, it's hard to leave a home for good. It's more difficult when buyers try to commandeer the closing (and moving) date.

For our clients who sell, the most annoying thing after exchanging signatures is for the buyer to want to close before the seller is ready to move out, sometimes even a month prior to the agreed move-in date!

Unfortunately, negotiating for an earlier move-in date is extremely common. Very often, buyers are trying to time the transaction to their own schedule or the sale of another house. We recommend that instead of rushing the sellers, agree on a date that is comfortable for all parties - and stick to it! Remember, you're not the only one who has a schedule to keep.

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