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The Seller’s Role: How Big Is Their Part?

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By Al Heavens

(MCT)—Spring arrived very early this year in much of the country, bringing what traditionally is the best time to buy and sell real estate, even through the downturn.

Issues of tight credit linger, and median home prices continue to decline, though more slowly. Yet there appear to be enough positive indicators to push once-reluctant sellers into the market.

Among those pluses: record-low fixed interest rates for mortgages and the highest affordability levels since record-keeping began in the 1970s.

For sellers, it is time for real estate theater. The house is the star. The cast includes agents and brokers, home inspectors, title people, mortgage companies, lenders, underwriters, and, obviously, buyers.

What is the seller’s role, and how big is their part?

That varies, said Diane Williams, a real estate professional in Blue Bell, Pa.: Some sellers’ personalities make them very “hands-on”; others consider the agent “the professional with great experience —‘you handle the transaction, I am too busy to worry about the day-to-day.’ ”

Some sellers proofread entries in the multiple-listing service and brochures about their properties “with a microscope,” Williams says. Others won’t even bother to look at their listing.

Paul Leiser, a real estate professional from the New Jersey shore, believes the Internet has “empowered both sellers and buyers with more data than they have ever had access to before.”

While “we are dealing with more informed involvement on the part of both the buyers and sellers, it still requires the REALTOR® to analyze all that data and summarize it in a way that provides useful information that can be utilized,” Leiser says.

Confrontation can be minimized, he said, if an agent keeps the seller informed every step of the way.

“Sellers get particularly ‘brainy’ in terms of the value of their home, but the reality is that they may not be aware of all recent comparable sales, or been inside those comparables, to really pinpoint value,” says Mark Wade, Philadelphia agent.

These days, said Art Herling, another Blue Bell professional, houses are sold twice: once when the sales agreement is signed, and the second time during negotiation over the home inspection.

“Communication with the seller during the process is always important,” he says.

Broker Craig Lerch Jr. from Abington, Pa. says sellers needed to know that there were two “wars that you need to win: the beauty pageant and the price war.”

“Once both are in line, the house should sell,” he says.

Sellers seem open to what he and his agents suggest, Lerch says. First is to have the house professionally staged, rather than have an agent tell them how to do it.

Sellers are “changing colors that are too bold by having them repainted,” he says. Some are having their houses tested for radon, inspected, and even appraised before they hit the market.

Cherry Hill, N.J.-based home inspector Harris Gross says sellers “interpose themselves” in one of every 50 inspections.

Sometimes, the seller perceives the inspection as a reflection of their maintenance habits or “they are there to defend each point raised during the inspection with the goal of saying their home has no defects and the issues raised are without basis,” Gross said.

“I typically try to tactfully discourage this type of seller behavior when these situations arise,” he says.

Sellers seem to be intervening a bit more in this market because they’re aware of the competition—and recognize that it might be a while before another prospective buyer shows up, said Kristin Keller, of Key Building Inspections in Kimberton, Pa.

Having the seller present can make the buyer feel “awkward and intimidated about asking questions, Keller says. “The objective of the home inspection is for the buyer to understand the condition of their purchase. It’s an education process.”

Still, Marilou Buffum, a Philadelphia-based agent, says she understands the emotional reaction of sellers who “have lived in and love their house.”

“Our job as their agents is to advise and to educate them as to the present climate and conditions,” Buffum says. “We cannot make decisions for our clients. We only advise and represent.”

©2012 The Philadelphia Inquirer
Distributed by MCT Information Services

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