Sticks & Stones Won't Hurt Worst

Beware of sellers who complain about their own neighborhoods. Their words may be the biggest threat to a deal.

July 15, 2015

We live in a world where it has become too easy to share our opinions publicly. Social media has given us platforms to vent our frustrations about anything, anytime, anywhere to a wide audience, and now we think we should say out loud everything that runs through our minds. Without a doubt, there are benefits to a society that is more expressive and open to the exchange of thoughts and ideas. But we also invite complications, sometimes unknowingly, by failing to acknowledge those times when it’s prudent to bite our tongues.

Discretion Counts

In real estate, there's one prominent instance—and certainly many others—where it pays in actual dollars for people to keep their thoughts to themselves: when sellers are anxious to get out of a neighborhood they don't like anymore but need a buyer who will fall in love with it. If sellers gripe freely about where they live, particularly online, it could get back to potential buyers and convince them not to buy in the neighborhood or to make a lower offer on the sellers' home.

Home owners outgrow their homes all the time, sometimes for contentious reasons. Some may say their neighborhood has gone downhill, the schools are poor quality, the commute is too long, or property taxes are too high, and they can't wait to get out of Dodge. But instead of discussing it at the dinner table, they air their frustrations on social media and in online forums such as neighborhood Facebook pages and groups or town-focused websites. These platforms are sources of information for buyers, so loose-lipped sellers are basically telling every prospective buyer what little value they feel their neighborhood has. And that could hurt the sales price they seek.

Even offline neighborhood gripes can affect the sale of a home. I once worked with a seller who couldn't wait to move. One day, I ran into someone he knew who told me very loudly in a public place that the seller had been complaining about how he hated the town, thought no property there could sell for a good price, and considered the schools to be garbage. A woman overheard our conversation and asked, "What God-awful town are you talking about?"

I don't know whether this woman was in the market to buy, but if so, I'm sure she wouldn’t have considered my seller's town after learning his feelings about it. And who knows how many times she repeated the story—and how many other potential buyers she might have turned off?

Deputized Agents

Sellers should think of themselves as deputized real estate agents of sorts, responsible for representing their homes as positively as we would. An agent would never undermine a sale by bad-mouthing the neighborhood; sellers shouldn't, either. Every time someone gives an opinion, someone else is making an evaluation based on what that person says. What sellers say about their home and neighborhood gives buyers a perception of the home’s value—and perceived value means everything.

The theory of six degrees of separation—which posits that any two people on Earth are linked by way of six or fewer acquaintances—reminds us that we never know who the person we're talking to knows. What we say can have a domino effect on future dealings. Once, my husband and business partner, Bob, and I worked with a buyer who was complaining about a seller to her colleagues. Later, she texted Bob, embarrassed, saying the coworker she complained to not only lived in the same town as the seller but also was a friend of the seller. (Whoops!)

Advise your clients not to take a bite out of their own deals and wallets by talking too much about their own precarious situations. We've all been bitten by something we said or posted that we wish we could take back. Follow the old adage: If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all.

Beverly R. Meaux is a business coach and assistant team leader with Keller Williams Metropolitan in Morristown, N.J.