I cringe every time a home seller and home buyer make contact with each other. While on the surface it may seem like a good idea, it is actually fraught with issues. Simply put home sellers should avoid talking to home buyers directly to avoid misunderstandings and future liability.
You hired an agent let them do their job.
Home sellers I know you are just trying to help. And, I know you want to get your house sold, but you talk too much!! As a matter of fact, this is one of many good reasons agents ask you to vacate your homes during showings.
Every time, I warn a seller about speaking directly to a home buyer, they look at me like I have two heads and say they would never do that. Yet, when the first opportunity arises, they are all over it and the words just start coming!!
Top Reasons Why Home Sellers Should Avoid Talking to Home Buyers Directly
The first two reason have to do with words. Words matter, especially when discussing real estate. Real estate agents spend much of their time carefully selecting how they present information. As a matter of fact much of our training revolves around how we present certain information. You have hired a listing agent to sell your home, you might as well let them handle it.
Use the wrong words and you have now created a liability that could follow you for several years.
Reason #1- Disclosure
Many questions revolve around home buyers wanting to know about details of the property or neighborhood.
Answering anything with a definitive answer needs to be thought out very carefully. Do you really know if the roof was replaced in 2010 or you are not sure?
A great example is you move into a house in 2014 you are now selling. The previous owner states they replaced the roof in 2010 and you tell the buyer it was replaced in 2010.
But upon moving in the buyer finds the permit at the town hall because the roof is in “premature” failure and it was actually 2000 not 2010 when the roof was replaced. Now this can become a litigious issue that you may have to pay for if the home buyer should pursue.
But alternatively, if you are not sure, answer accordingly. Rather than just stating 2010 as the roof replacement, I would say that the previous seller disclosed 2010 but you have not verified one way or another if it is true or not.
Another common question is where are the property lines. With out a full property survey with bounds place at each corner a seller should never answer as a matter of fact. Yet, agents and sellers do all the time. Don’t say that xyz are the boundaries when you are not fully sure.
When I am asked a question of a home buyer I get the answer from the seller, but often ask how they know that to head off any trouble. For example, in reference to property lines, I will ask if they have a survey, which often is a no…. then I will follow up and ask how they know those are the property lines. Often the answer is that is what the previous owner told me. Not good enough to definitively answer the question with exact property lines.
Your agent should be the gate keeper of information. Our job is to have you move on with no liability down the road or have a deal blow up because of something you said. If you inadvertently run into a buyer and they start asking questions, request that all questions are directed through your listing agent.
Reason #2- Fair Housing Laws
Buying and selling real estate is about property. Not people. Anytime you start talking about people you could be going down a slippery slope and violating fair housing laws.
Yet, it happens all the time. Thankfully most buyers are willing to dismiss seemingly innocuous statements and not make an issue about it. But, you never know you could have the one person who will. Fines, penalties and civil lawsuits are not cheap revolving around fair housing laws.
What are Fair Housing Laws
Fair housing laws are federal and states laws that prevent a seller, landlord or agent from refusing to show or sell to a person based on protected classes of people. This also includes suggesting a particular person belongs or does not belong in a certain neighborhood.
Housing discrimination based on the following categories of people under federal law:
- Race, Color, National Origin
- Familial Status
Massachusetts also adds the following classes:
- Section 8 or Public Assistance
- Sexual Orientation
- Gender Identity and Expression
- Marital Status
- Military or Veteran Status
Ok, so you say you would never do that. But again sellers do it all the time. Seemingly benign statements can get you in trouble. Here are some statement I have actually heard as a buyers agent while running into home sellers with my buyers.
“There are two Chinese families that live down the street” Upon seeing my clients they made the assumption my clients were Chinese, they were not. It now can be misconstrued that this is a Chinese neighborhood and they are not welcome.
“This is a great family neighborhood” A single man had brought his sister and her two young children on a showing as he wanted his sisters advice. The seller assumed they were married and were a family. Again, that statement is discriminatory suggesting only married people should live in this neighborhood.
“We have a great temple across town that was just built, it is beautiful” Again the seller made an assumption that my clients were a certain religion and they were not. The seller’s statement can now be misconstrued that people of a certain religion should live on the other side of town, not their neighborhood.
And, there have been certainly way more statements made over the years by home sellers that violate fair housing laws. I don’t believe any of the sellers had a malintent. The sellers were just trying to be helpful and point out what they thought was important to the buyers.
In actuality the sellers are opening them up to fines penalties and civil lawsuits. Remember selling real estate is about real property and not about people. Avoid talking about people period, it leads to trouble.
A Word About Buyers “Love” Letters And Violation of Fair Housing Laws
While this does not translate directly to talking to a buyer, it has everything to do with fair housing laws.
Lately a trend has been for home buyers to write a “love” letter telling home sellers how much they love their home and how they want to make it their forever home to raise their family, etc…..
It has been extremely popular especially in a situation when there are multiple offers for the seller to choose from. The hope is the buyer can play on the sellers emotion.
My recommendation as a listing agent is for the seller not to read a buyers “love” letter, especially in a multiple offer situation. The danger is a seller picks an offer based on the “love” letter, from the family when there was a similar offer from an unmarried couple.
I have had sellers in the past say “I really want my house to go to a family to raise their kids like we did in this house”. Furthermore they may have met the family coming through their home, had a brief chat and felt a connection, even with out the letter. But never, ever pick an offer based on the people.
The danger is the decision is giving favor to a family, because you want your home to continue being a great family home and you felt connected to the buyer either thru their love letter or you actual met them. Meanwhile turning down the same offer from the unmarried couple (Marital Status is a protected class by Massachusetts state law).
A clear violation of fair housing laws. An offer can be included or excluded based on financial consideration, strength of financing and/or terms and conditions, not on the people behind the offer. As a matter of fact the less you know about the people behind the offer the less chance you can get in trouble.
Reason #3 Sellers Make Wrong Assumptions About Home Buyers
Often when sellers and buyers do run across each other the exchange is quick and sellers have a tendency to make quick assumptions. When an assumption is made, usually a misstatement will follow.
As you can see above, assumptions can get you into trouble when it comes to fair housing laws. But they can also lead to statements that offend buyers or scare them away. In two of the above cases my buyers were pretty offended the sellers made assumptions about them.
Everybody is different and you just don’t always know how a buyer will react or what will push their buttons. But, what I can tell you if you offend a buyer they may just walk away no matter how much they like your home. Obviously, in the above section with the samples I gave, each statement was enough to offend the buyers.
But, fair housing laws aside, say you see a family looking at your home and you want to tell them what a close knit family neighborhood it is… kids always gathering in your yard, neighbors just stopping by to chat, etc…
You may just be the type of person that loves that, but who says the potential buyer is looking for exactly what you want. As a matter of fact they could be cringing because they want, quiet and privacy.
Or maybe you point out the busy road that always concerned you with the kids and follow up by saying its never been a problem. Maybe the home buyer didn’t think about the busy road now you have highlighted a negative.
Never make assumptions about home buyers and what they want or need. A buyer’s agent has spent time getting to know their buyer’s and generally know what is important to them or not in their new home.
Reason #4 Misunderstandings
Occasionally a home buyer and seller get together, unbeknownst to both agents and prior to the closing. With out an agent present misunderstandings can certainly arise.
Years ago, I had a buyer drive by the home they were about to purchase and engage in a conversation with the seller. They liked each other and it seemingly went well and promises made to each other.
The seller had promised the buyer they were completely painting the home’s interior prior to the sale and the buyer could pick two colors of their choice. I get a phone call a couple of days later, the painters were coming in two days and the seller wanted the buyers color choices. The buyers were freaking out saying they needed to get an interior decorator in…… You get my drift and turned in to two people pissed off at each other and then starting to mistrust each other.
Even after that was all said and done, the buyers had also promised the seller they could store items in one side of the garage for a month or two after the closing. The final walk through comes and I say something about the one side being packed full of items including a Range Rover. The buyers told me they already made arrangements with the seller. Okay…. what can I do about it now.
3 months go buy the seller hasn’t picked up their stuff, than 5 months and the buyer is pissed yelling at me. I told the buyer I was not made aware of the arrangement they had made and it was certainly not something I would have recommended in the first place. And, secondly if the buyer insisted on allowing it there is a way to legally protect their rights that I would have insisted on.
Another case of buyers and sellers having good intentions that turned bad. When it comes to agreements about a property you are about to sell it is important that your agent is aware of them so they are handled in a proper and legal way that protects your interest.
Reason #5 You Say Too Much
I am amazed at what sellers will say when I am out with my buyers showing houses.
Unless asked, do not go into the details of why you are moving, if they feel you are under pressure they will use it as a bargaining chip.
And if you do answer, keep your answer short and sweet. Don’t tell them your husband has a new job out in Ohio and you already bought a house, etc… We decided its time to relocate is a perfectly fine answer.
On the other hand I have had sellers complain about neighbors, the neighborhood or other negative aspects of the home or area, directly to the buyers.
Don’t talk about what is wrong with your house, or tell them how perfect your house is, don’t promise your house has never had a problem, or even talk about price, price reductions, offers on the table, etc…
Summary Of Why Sellers Should Avoid Talking to Home Buyers Directly
While there may be a time and a place for buyers and sellers to talk directly with each other, those times are far and few in between. It is usually recommended you limit contact between the parties of a home purchase.
It is just going to be human nature to start talking. You are going to want to be nice, accommodating and want to try to sell your house.
The best thing you can do is keep conversations to a minimum and ask all questions go through your listing agent. One simple question leads to another, that leads to another and then you are in a full blown conversation.
If you do find yourself caught in the situation, which I recommend you avoid in the first place, remember to keep your conversations based on facts about the property (not opinion), do not talk about people or assume you know what a home buyer is looking for or wants.
The goal is to move on from your house without future liability. While most home sales end up just fine for home sellers, take the steps to protect yourself.
One last note, most lawsuits between buyers and sellers arise out of disclosures about the property. How and what you disclose about your property is very important.
Words really do matter when it comes to real estate. Choose your words wisely and think before you speak. Better yet, you hired a listing agent, let them control the flow of information and document any conversations or communication about your home.
Other Home Selling Resources:
- Petra Norris Tips to Get Your Home Sold
- Anita Clark Home Selling Checklist
- Bill Gassett Tax Deductions for Home Sellers
- Paul Sian Should My Luxury Home Be Staged?
Why Home Sellers Should Avoid Talking to Home Buyers Directly was provided by Kevin Vitali of EXIT Group One Real Estate. Kevin Vitali is a Tewksbury MA REALTOR® that services northern Middlesex county as well as Essex county in Massachusetts. Are you thinking of listing your Tewksbury MA home or a home in the surrounding communities call Kevin at 978-360-0422