What not to say when selling your house
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Selling your home can be an exciting but stressful process. You’ve built many memories there, and you want to make sure that the new owner takes good care of it. You might be inclined to tell potential buyers all sorts of stories about your home and share its unique quirks, in the hopes of securing a sale. But usually, it’s better to stay quiet.
It pays to remember that real estate sales, while often emotional, are business transactions. You want to maintain all of the bargaining power that you possibly can to secure a high price. You also don’t want to fall afoul of any laws, rules or regulations. Here are a few things you never want to say when selling your house — and a few things you should always disclose.
Don’t discuss these things with buyers
It’s tempting to want to be present when your real estate agent holds an open house, or to want to talk with potential buyers once they’ve submitted an offer. After all, these people want info about the home, and you live there — you know all there is to know. But avoid that urge, and instead, let your agent do the talking. Agents are professionals who can give potential buyers the information they need without revealing anything that might negatively impact your bottom line.
Some of the things to avoid revealing, both in conversation and in the listing itself, include:
- How much you paid for the home
- How long the home has been on the market
- Why you’re selling the home (particularly if it’s being sold as-is)
- How many people have toured the home
- How many offers you’ve received
- Whether you are willing to negotiate, and how much
- If you’re under time pressure to sell quickly
All of this information can give buyers an edge in negotiating. For example, imagine that you’re interested in buying a home priced at $250,000, and the seller tells you “I’d like $250,000, but I can negotiate — I really need to have it sold in two weeks so I can close on my next home.” Armed with that knowledge, there’s little chance you’d offer the full asking price.
“You shouldn’t discuss your bottom line — the lowest price you’re willing to accept,” advises Devon Wayne, owner of homebuying company ASAP Cash Offer. “By revealing this information, you give the buyer an upper hand, as they know how low they can go in their offers. Secondly, you shouldn’t discuss your financial situation with the buyer. This is personal information that has no bearing on the negotiation and can only work against you.”
Don’t ask your real estate agent to break the rules
Just as there are things you should never say to a buyer, there are also things you should never ask of your real estate agent. Both your agent and your transaction as a whole are bound by various laws and regulations.
Many states have legally required seller-disclosure forms that must be filled out for any property sale. You should never ask your agent to violate these rules by failing to disclose mandatory information, like the presence of lead paint or water damage, or to knowingly withhold legal documents needed to sell a house.
You also want to avoid asking your agent to do something that might violate the Fair Housing Act. Even some things that seem innocuous could come back to bite you: For example, hopeful buyers might write you a personal note or “love letter” explaining why they love your house and should be its next owner. If someone’s letter reveals that they’re a member of a protected group and you don’t sell to them, they could potentially sue you for a Fair Housing Act violation. Protected groups include race, gender, religion and more, and family status is protected as well — that means that if someone says they want to raise their children in the home, they have revealed protected information. Don’t ask your agent to request letters from potential buyers, and don’t ask them to reveal this type of information to you.
Finally, members of the National Association of Realtors are obligated to follow that organization’s code of ethics. Among other things, this code requires them to submit offers objectively and quickly, maintain client confidentiality and not conceal adverse facts about a property. These rules exist for your protection as well as the buyer’s. Don’t ask your Realtor to compromise their professional ethics.
Do provide mandatory disclosures
Though it’s best not to reveal more than necessary to potential buyers, there is some information you absolutely do want to share with them. In most states, there are legally mandated disclosures that sellers must make buyers aware of.
For example, you can’t knowingly misrepresent the boundaries of your property and make buyers think they’re purchasing more land than they truly are. You also need to disclose things like easements or hazards that could impact the value of the home and the buyer’s ability to use it.
Also, make sure to check your local real estate and property law to see if there are unique disclosures that are required in your state. These may include the presence of lead paint or a septic system, for example. Your agent should know all the laws in your area, but if you have any doubts, ask a local real estate attorney for guidance.
Find a real estate agent you can trust
Relying on your real estate agent to handle communications and details is generally best practice when selling your home. That’s why it’s crucial to find an agent you feel comfortable with and trust to handle things in your best interest.
Start by asking friends and family to recommend agents they’ve had good experiences with in the past. You might also want to walk or drive around the area you’re interested in and make note of the names on any “for sale” signs you see. Once you have a list of candidates, arrange a few interviews so you can ask questions and get a feel for how well you’ll work together. With the right agent by your side, your transaction will proceed more smoothly, and you’ll have the benefit of experienced professional advice.