When it comes to presenting a home to buyers, some sellers are clueless. Are your sellers’ homes leaving buyers with a bad impression? REALTOR® Magazine received more than 50 responses from buyer agents who revealed their pet peeves when touring homes with clients—offenses that, they say, have buyers racing for the door.
After 20 years of showings, Elke W. McMenemy, ABR, CIPS, broker-owner at St. Augustine Real Estate Inc. in St. Augustine, Fla., has practically seen it all, from the “fully loaded litter boxes” to the “roach-infested ovens.”
“These situations have proven to be frustrating and embarrassing to my buyers and me,” McMenemy says.
Mary Lynn Stenzel with Russ Lyon Sotheby’s International Realty in Scottsdale, Ariz., suggests agents be proactive in discussing with their sellers the cleanliness and presentation expectations for showing appointments upfront. Don’t assume your clients know what to do. Also, agents might want to arrive early to a listing appointment to double-check that everything is in show-ready shape.
Here are the 10 most common responses from buyer’s agents when asked about the worst mistakes they see when presenting for-sale homes to clients:
1. Leftover home owners
By far, one of the top offenses cited by buyer’s agents was home owners still lingering around when agents arrived with clients to preview the home. Awkward encounters ranged from buyers finding sellers taking a shower, asleep in the bed, to even the “stalker sellers” who liked to follow buyers and the agent all over the home to see what they thought.
With the exception of the “stalker seller,” many of the home owners who were still at home blamed their listing agent for not giving them enough advance notice about the appointment prior.
2. Pets and their messes
Numerous agents also cited the not-so-friendly dog and kitty encounters as a top offense. Even pets left in a crate can pose a distraction since they might make noise the entire time others are in the house. Plus, if they seem mean, the buyer might not even step in the room.
Vicki Robinson, ABR, CRS, broker with Fonville Morisey Realty in Raleigh, N.C., says she recently was given showing instructions from a listing agent who told her the family’s “friendly dog” would be at home. But when Robinson unlocked the front door with her client for the showing, a pit bull was staring down at them from the top of the staircase, growling. “We closed the door and left!” she says.
3. Bad smells
A displeasing smell can really turn buyers off. Common offenses include cooking smells lingering around the home, such as garlic, fried bacon, or fish. Also, watch for cigarette smoke and animal smells, agents say.
“Sellers get immune to the smell that their pets have embedded on their property,” says Halina Degnan with Gables & Gates, REALTORS®, in Knoxville, Tenn. “Anyone opening the door will smell it immediately — even if there are air fresheners trying to cover up the smell. If you have a pet, there will be an odor. Don’t send your buyers away: Paint and clean the carpeting. Take the odor seriously and do what is needed, even if it means replacing the carpet.”
4. Critters running wild
Wild animals and pests roaming around is a surefire way to send buyers running. Agents described worms crawling on the floor and bats and raccoons lounging in the attic. “I showed a house in Utah once with a baby alligator/crocodile [in a cage] in the dining room,” Kristi Hutchings, ABR, SFR, with the Wendy K Team The Real Estate Group in Utah.
5. Odd home makeovers
Do-it-yourself disasters were also prevalent, like doors opening the wrong way or unprofessional paint jobs. Also, rooms not being used for their intended purposes can confuse buyers, such as an office being used as a bedroom even though it has no closet, says broker Elaine Byrne with Elaine Byrne Realty in Austin, Texas.
6. Dirt and clutter
There were a number of offenses cited when it came to cleanliness: Dirty laundry piles, unflushed toilets, dishes on the counter or in the sink, unmade beds, clothes scattered about, soiled carpets, dirty air conditioner filters, and overflowing trash cans.
“One of the worst things I have seen is piles and piles of clothes in every room,” says Chris Leach, ABR, with Medel & Associates Realty in Riverside, Calif. “It was like an obstacle trying to walk around the mess.”
7. Personal information left in plain sight
Sellers should be careful not to leave in plain sight important documents that may pique buyers’ curiosity. Some agents say they’ve seen personal information like bank and credit card statements—even mortgage payoff notices—left on the kitchen counter.
“Buyers are nosey,” says Christopher Handy, ABR, GREEN, broker-associate with Bosshardt Realty Services LLC in Gainesville, Fla. “I’ve even seen the contract for the sellers’ next purchase sitting on the kitchen countertop or ‘final notice’ bills.”
8. Too dark
Dark or dimly lit houses aren’t showing the home in the best light.
“Particularly [homes lit with] CFL bulbs,” says Yvette Chisholm, ABR, CRS, associate broker with Long & Foster Real Estate in Rockville, Md. “By the time [the bulbs] light up, the buyer is gone.” Energy efficient bulbs need time to warm up before they are at their brightest, so staging professionals usually recommend agents arrive early to a showing to turn on any light fixtures with CFL bulbs at least 10 minutes prior.
9. Keys missing from lockboxes
All too often, agents arrive at a listing appointment with their client only to find there’s no key to get in. “I actually had a [seller’s] agent who wanted me to open the door for my clients by going through the dog run as a large dog barked like crazy,” says Hutchings.
10. Distracting photos
Watch the photos displayed on the walls too, agents warn. Tara Hayes, ABR, e-PRO, with Rector-Hayden, REALTORS®, in Winchester, Ky., recalls showing a family a home that had life-sized, nude photos hanging, which left her clients racing for the door covering their eyes.
Similarly, Angela Gandolfo, ABR, SFR, with Citywide Real Estate & Investment in Phoenix, recalls showing a home to a client, who was staring at a painting in the master bedroom of a woman in lingerie. “Isn’t that the owner?” the client asked. “She was also the real estate agent!” Gandolfo says.