- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 11, 2005

Real estate agents must take care how they approach the clients of another real estate professional.

To contact a seller directly when the seller has listed his or her house with another agent could be construed as “going behind the sign,” as it’s called in the industry. That violates the National Association of Realtors Code of Ethics.

On the other hand, it’s not uncommon for buyers and sellers to meet each other and talk real estate, the transaction, moving plans or remodeling. But they should be careful about that last one.

Of all the topics that may cause a hubbub between a buyer and seller, when you start discussing remodeling plans, buyers beware.

When you start discussing remodeling, you’ve instantly told the seller you don’t like what he or she has done to the house and, in fact, you’re going to change it.

Before you think: “What does it matter? It’s going to be my house in a few days,” remember that it’s not your house until settlement has occurred and keys change hands.

Many buyers and sellers have met and it sealed the deal. You never know what can make a seller like one buyer over another when comparing offers. If you have two close offers, it could come down to which buyer was friendlier.

One buyer agent told me her buyers wrote a letter to the sellers about how they had decorated the dining room — just the way the buyers liked it. But to really drive the letter home, the buyers had flowers matching the decor delivered right when the listing agent was arriving to present all the offers to the seller.

Obviously, the seller knew the buyers wanted the house. But the buyers really appreciated the sellers’ efforts to make the house a home for themselves, and these buyers demonstrated they were going to continue the tradition.

The meet and greet isn’t always the best thing, though. A colleague told me about a buyer couple in California who had their offer accepted in a competitive bid. On a weekend before settlement, the buyers were driving by and noticed the sellers in the yard.

After introducing themselves, the sellers were excited to see how they loved the house. “So what are you going to do when you move in?” the sellers asked. The buyers replied without hesitation, “Well, we’re going to redo the landscape and take out all those rosebushes.”

The buyers didn’t know it, but the sellers were champion rose growers — rose growers who then called their agent and called off the deal.

If you don’t like something, keep it to yourself. I’m not condoning lying to the sellers, but a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy could be good advice if you happen to run into your sellers before settlement.

Instead, rave about what you like about the house — location, lot, style, established neighborhood, pet-friendliness, friendly neighbors — something other than the fact that you’re about to rip out the gazebo in the back yard. You know, the gazebo where their three daughters all got married over the past four years? Yeah, that gazebo.

In a competitive market, meeting the sellers could be a good strategic move that puts your contract on the top of the pile, if played right. Otherwise, your remarks could send it straight to the circular file.

M. Anthony Carr has written about real estate since 1989. He is the author of “Real Estate Investing Made Simple.” Post questions or comments at his Web log. (http://commonsenserealestate.blogspot.com)

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