From the True Gotham Archives (because I’m still on vacation):
This weekend in The New York Times, Teri Karush Rogers put her finger right on a major point about Manhattan real estate: sellers are used to behaving like royalty. She tells stories of sellers changing their minds on major negotiation points, hiring egomaniacal attorneys, asking five-digit fees for curtains and the like.
In the current real estate market–with plenty of inventory in most price ranges–buyers are demanding at least a modicum of fairness and professionalism. Which is probably fair enough.
Off the top of my head, here are some of the challenges sellers have presented us with, personally, in the last few months:
- Insisting on a sales price directly in line with market appreciation numbers reported in the press–in one case this cost my client hundreds of thousands.
- Insisting on the identical price as a nicely renovated neighboring apartment.
- Overvaluing a renovation.
- Insisting that a property be shown to “serious buyers only,” when our experience, expertise, and work is predicated on finding serious buyers.
- Insisting that my assistant feed, walk, and scoop poop for two aggressive little dogs every time the apartment was being shown.
- In one special case we had to make beds, fill the dishwasher, and–it’s a long story–clean up a bloody mess.
- Extremely restrictive showing hours, for instance 11 AM -2 PM Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
- One seller decided he wanted to move his furniture back in to show the apartment (I was ambivalent in this case for various reasons, but was fine with it.) It was a little surprising when he asked me to pay for the move, however.
- Sometimes sellers make it very tough for buyers to visit after contract signing–in one recent case it was because the seller didn’t like how long the buyers took to sign the contract.
- I had one recent seller refuse to leave in an air conditioner, which played a major role in a deal falling apart (although that was a case of a particular buyer, too).
Rogers also brings up a great point: sellers should not be at showings. I have noticed they can make it tough to find out what people really think about the place. Prospective purchasers are almost always kind when a seller is present. They’re brutally honest to brokers. There’s nothing worse than having everyone rave about the property, while no one makes a single offer. When that happens, you’re clearly in need of some more good information from would-be buyers that the seller has stopped you getting.
Rogers also describes how having sellers hanging around at showings can mess up the deal by making people uncomfortable.
It’s the surest way, say brokers, to cut a buyer’s interest off at the jugular.
"Once you lose a buyer’s focus, you can’t get it back," said Rochelle Bass, an executive vice president at Bellmarc. "That’s why I never let sellers be home. It’s the kiss of death."
"Helicopter" sellers have their reasons for hovering. "To some people it’s a very personal experience," Ms. Sacks said. "They want to show everything. They’re proud of what they’ve done, and they feel they can do a better job selling it than anyone else because they know it so well."
But being asked to marvel over outdated, tacky or merely mundane improvements is too much for some purchasers.
"If someone says, ‘Wow, I just put in a new heater’ — does anybody care?" said Ellen S. Simon, a senior associate broker at Bellmarc, briefly evoking the lonely tree falling in the forest. "All they care is that it’s not cold. Either be nonchalant about it or use a broker to spin it and make it seem really great without overkill."
Ms. Sacks noted: "It’s kind of like an overwhelming salesperson when you walk around the store. Even if you love it, you can’t stand being followed around and being told, ‘Look how wonderful my closets are.’ "
Hanging around also interferes with the crucial mental leap that the buyer must make to imagine living in the property.
Innocent slips of a seller’s tongue can be equally deadly, said Marguerite Platt, a senior vice president at Halstead. Her seller inadvertently spooked a pair of buyers away from a nine-room apartment on Fifth Avenue overlooking Central Park. As the buyers ogled the view from the windows after their bid had been accepted, the owner agreed, "Well, it is nice, except when the parades go by." The buyers promptly withdrew their offer.