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Mum's the word on why you're selling

Dear Steve,
We are relocating from Texas to North Carolina due to a new job that I have already started. Naturally we want to sell our house as quickly as possible, but I'm concerned that if the potential buyers should discover our anxiousness, they will gain an unfair negotiating advantage. My real estate agent said it is normal to disclose such a motivation, but can I expect him to keep the details a secret?
-- Vince

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Dear Vince,
In the poker game of real estate negotiation, you are holding a soft hand. But if you play your cards right, you probably won't have to slap them down on the table, even after the dealin's done.

You are absolutely right that the disclosure of your imminent relocation could give added negotiating leverage to the buyer. Motivation is one of the top things that buyer's agents and bargain-seekers look for. It's no secret. It's a strategy you'll find on even the most perfunctory "how-to-buy-a-home" primers on the Internet and at bookstores.

Of course, you should realize that you are under no legal obligation to disclose your motivation for selling. As the seller, you are only obliged to disclose relevant material facts or defects that would reasonably impact a buyer's decisions to buy the property.

If you are otherwise comfortable with the agent and have already signed a contract for his services, inform him that while other sellers might think it's okay to tip their hands, you don't. If you haven't inked a deal, well, consider that he might not be the best guy to have in your negotiating corner. (Of course, if you deep-six him now, he'll already know your motivation and could tip off another agent or buyer. It does happen.)

Ethically, a good seller's agent has a duty to not disclose your motivation to sell without your prior permission.

No matter how close to the vest you are, things could get hairy. Some overly diligent buyer could casually ask a neighbor you've confided in about the neighborhood, etc., and your secret could slip out. And of course, the direct question of "Why are you selling?" may come up, and an elusive response may intonate you are hiding something. At the very least, the buyer may want to get a target moving date from you. The less volunteered here, the better. A neutral answer of, "The owners will sell if they can get their price," is about as far as you'll want your agent to go.

The poker game might continue, however, if the buyer's agent comes back with: "Well, we'd just like to know so we can make an offer that best suits the seller's needs."

As you can see, it can get tough, but make sure you hold your ground. Since you obviously won't be around during showings, your wife or kids, if you have them, probably shouldn't be either. You don't want a family member to have to answer the question of, "Where's the man of the house?"

If the home is slow to sell, there may well come a point where you will actually be ready to disclose your motivation as a way to scare up a few more potential buyers.

Until that time, mum's the word.'s corrections policy -- Posted: Aug. 6, 2005
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