What not to say when house-hunting

House hunting can be one of the most enjoyable parts of buying a home, but don’t forget that while you’re investigating the strengths and weaknesses of a property, the sellers and their agent are investigating your strengths and weaknesses as a buyer, too.

“It’s perfectly normal to want to chat about the pros and cons of a property during a viewing,” says Tony Clarke, managing director of the Rawson Property Group, “but don’t be fooled into thinking that nobody is paying attention to what you say. The impression you create in the minds of the sellers and their agent can be detrimental to the success of your offer – but it can also be a great opportunity to gain an advantage over other potential buyers.”

According to Clarke, the first thing to realise is that selling a home is more than just a financial transaction – it’s an emotional experience for sellers who are saying goodbye to a place that probably holds a lot of special memories. Their decision to accept or decline an offer is not always based purely on the numbers presented, and can easily be influenced by how much they like – or dislike – a potential buyer.

“You don’t have to suck up to sellers, but you do need to be sensitive about the sentimental value a home may have for them,” he says. “You might think the massive renovations you plan are exciting, but to them, it could feel like you’re tearing down everything they put into their home. It’s not easy to picture your baby’s nursery as a man cave, or the kitchen you built by hand torn out and replaced, and sellers may well choose a slightly lower offer rather than hand their home to a buyer whose plans they don’t agree with.”

In addition to keeping major renovation plans to yourself, Clarke also suggests refraining from negative comments on the existing décor.

“It seems obvious that insulting the current owners’ tastes would be a no-no,” says Clarke, “but it’s easy to forget yourself in the heat of the moment and blurt out something inappropriate. Just remember, that hideous wall-hanging may have been embroidered by someone’s beloved grandmother, and that olive green bathroom suite was once hand-selected with great excitement.”

An accidental insult can weigh heavily against you when it comes time to view your offer, but an honest compliment can go just as far in your favour. Do not, however, be tempted to go overboard with the enthusiasm.

“Never, ever admit that you’ve found your dream home to the sellers or their agent,” says Clarke. “If they know you’re in love with the property, they’ll have much more ammunition to negotiate a higher offer. Showing interest is fine, as are a few compliments, but save the real gushing for home.”

Of course, there may be some questions you need answered before you can be sure if it’s your dream home or not.

“Asking questions is expected,” says Clarke, “and can show that you are a serious buyer, which is good. Just be careful who and what you ask, as it can backfire in some situations.”

One fairly common example of this is asking the existing owners the reasons behind the sale.

“People sell for all kinds of reasons, and not all of them are good,” says Clarke. “Financial difficulty, divorce or even a death in the family are possibilities, and forcing the seller to divulge these details can be painful for them. If you really need to know the reasons, rather ask the sellers’ agent in private. It’s a more discreet way of satisfying your curiosity, and won’t pour salt into any wounds.”

You’ll also want to be careful if you decide to chat to any of your potential neighbours.

“Talking to neighbours is a great way to get an honest opinion of life in the area,” says Clarke, “but you do need to respect people’s boundaries and know when to back off. Don’t be pushy if someone doesn’t feel like talking – you don’t want to be known as ‘that nosy neighbour’ before you even move in.”

Another common mistake to avoid when house-hunting is claiming that the listing price is unreasonably high.

“You have every right to think a house is overpriced,” says Clarke, “but try not to say so out loud. Sellers can interpret this as an insult on the quality of their home, and agents can take offence at the implication that they don’t know how to accurately value a property. Neither of these will get you bonus points if you plan on making an offer down the line.

“Similarly, making a particularly low offer can be viewed as an insult, and will likely get you written off as a frivolous buyer. Making an offer below the listing price that you legitimately feel is fair is one thing,” says Clarke, “but chancers trying their luck with several rock-bottom offers are fast going to find themselves in the agent’s bad books. This can make it very difficult to be taken seriously on future offers.”

The moral of the story, according to Clarke, is that making a good impression isn’t difficult. It just requires a little mindfulness, sensitivity, and an awareness of the game at hand.

“You don’t have to be dishonest or deceitful,” he says, “and you don’t have to try to be best friends with every agent or seller. Just treat them with respect and they will respect you – and your offer – in turn.”

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