By Robert Irwin
Buying a home directly from a seller is different in many ways from buying a home with the aid of an agent. Some of those ways are obvious. Most deal with the paperwork - writing up a purchase agreement, handling disclosures, signing escrow instructions and so on. "By owner" sellers are well aware of these challenges and usually have taken pains to see that they are covered. Typically this means having a "fee-for-service" or discount broker on call, or having an attorney ready to do the job.
One surprising area, however where "by owner" sellers sometimes need help from buyers is in promoting the sale of their own home. Often these sellers are their own worst enemies when it comes to salesmanship. I suspect it's simply a case of being too close to the subject.
Let's take an example: Angela was interested in finding a nice home in a particular neighborhood that's in the school district she's picked for her children. On one trip with an agent to see property, she noticed a "For Sale By Owner" sign. Her agent told the seller was asking too much and didn't want to stop by.
Angela wasn't so sure, so the next day she drove by on her own, got the web address and checked out the home's price and vitals. Satisfied, she called the seller and was given a tour of the home.
The seller pointed out where he had taken out a wall from a bedroom to make the family room bigger, all done with a permit. He explained why he had chosen the light green color for the interior - his wife liked avocado. When she asked about the small size of the home, only 1,600 square feet, the seller got defensive and went on a tirade about how people today think they need far too much room. He had raised a family of three children in this house and if it was big enough for him, it was big enough for anyone!
Angela quickly left. She was a bit put out by the seller, and felt negative about her experience. She didn't make an offer on the property.
If an agent had been with Angela instead of the seller, the agent might have pointed out that the removed wall could easily be replaced returning the home to four bedrooms. The color could be changed for a thousand dollars or so, or the new owner could paint it herself. And the small size was justified by the reduced price in an otherwise high-priced area.
In short, the seller hadn't properly promoted the property.
While that's a loss for the seller, it was also a loss for Angela, who basically liked the house and might have bought it. All of which leads us to the moral of this story which is, if you're a buyer dealing directly with a seller, go out of your way to look for the positives, since the seller might not.
Don't expect the seller to cleverly put everything in a good light. As noted, the seller may simply be too close to the house to see it from a buyer's perspective.
Whenever you see a negative in a property, try to restate it for yourself as a positive.
Of course, if you can't, then perhaps it's so much of a negative that it will be a good reason to pass on the house. But, if you can, you may find that you've just found an excellent reason for you to make an offer.
Robert Irwin is the most prolific real estate writer in America having produced over 100 published books in the field. His TIPS & TRAPS McGraw-Hill series has sold well over a million copies and his FOR SALE BY OWNER KIT and FIND IT, BUY IT, FIX IT and other books have been strong sellers for Dearborn. In addition Irwin writes a regular real estate column for The Wall Street Journal online and is introducing a new weekly column forOwners.com.
Irwin has sold his own property "by owner" and during over 30 years in the business has been a broker and consultant to lenders, agents, buyers and sellers.