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10 questions home sellers hope you don't ask

Think you've found the home of your dreams? So did Hansel and Gretel.

The fact is, every property has its dirty little secrets that only the owner knows about.

In a perfect world, owners would come clean about the quirks and glitches in the old homestead when they fill out the property condition disclosure form that many states require. But as Hansel and Gretel found out, real estate is fraught with subterfuge.

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Real estate agents routinely caution sellers to dummy up and clear out during showings lest they inadvertently spill information that might give the buyer leverage to negotiate a lower price. For this reason alone, it's rare that seller and buyer actually get together prior to closing.

But if you happen to meet the seller or pepper the agent, as query intermediary, with the right questions, you may just wheedle enough information to satisfy yourself that you're getting what you're paying for -- or justify trying to pay less.

Here are the top 10 questions home sellers don't want you to ask.

1. Why are you selling?
Your first order of business as a buyer is to find out the seller's motivation; that is, how desperate are they to sell?

"If you hear something like, 'Well, we'd like to move out into the country,' you don't have a motivated seller and quite often you're just not going to get a decent deal on a house that way," says Tom Wemett, past president of the National Association of Exclusive Buyer Agents and a buyer's broker in Rochester, N.Y.

"But if you find out that they've already bought another house and are about to carry two mortgages, there's motivation. A divorce, loss of a job or job relocation, now there's motivation."

Sometimes the seller will be forthcoming, other times not. In the latter case, says Wemett, "you need to use some intuition and gut feel. With divorce, for instance, you see women's clothes but no men's clothes. You have to take whatever is told to you by the seller or the listing agent with a grain of salt."

2. What did you pay?
When the homeowners moved into their house and how much they paid for it are matters of public record, so it's futile for sellers to try to withhold this information. Nevertheless, they don't want you to know these particulars, again because they can help enormously when it comes time to write an offer.

Generally, if a homeowner has been in the house for many years, they probably bought it at a relatively low price, built up considerable equity and benefited from appreciation. Conventional wisdom holds that this seller may be more inclined to come down on their asking price than someone who has only been in the home a short time and built up little equity in the property.

3. What can you tell me about the neighborhood?
Such a lovely loaded question! By keeping it open-ended, you may stumble upon references to the garage band next door, the dog kennel over the fence, the upcoming picnic to raise money for the neighborhood class-action suit.

"You can also find out positive things," says Wemett. "For instance, if you are a family with kids, are there other families with kids in the neighborhood?"

It's always a good idea to drive, walk or bike through the neighborhood at different times of the day and night to try it before you buy it. And don't forget to chat with the neighbors, especially about your prospective new address.

Next: "If schools are a priority for you ..."
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