16 Ways to Get Kids on Your Side

Treat buyers’ and sellers’ children like the precious allies they are.

September 1, 2011

In carefully decorated model homes in Charlotte, N.C., Gina Anderson, sales manager for Adams Homes, sets out coloring books, board games, and Ping-Pong tables along with kid-friendly snacks like Goldfish crackers. The kids’ bedrooms are invitingly decorated with sporting themes for boys, “flowers and flounce” for girls, and musical themes for tweens. The staging goal is clear: to make it as easy as possible for parents and kids to envision themselves living there. “We decorate for real life, not just looks,” she says.

Engaging the children in the home-purchase process is an important part of the company’s sales strategy. “The buying influence of the younger members of the family is definitely not to be underestimated,” says Anderson. “Don’t look at the kids as a spilled drink waiting to happen or a set of sticky fingers.” Get kids on your side, and they’ll help persuade their parents to commit, she says.

“Kids have a voice and a vote in today’s families, and only the foolish miss taking advantage of that opportunity,” she says.

Like Anderson, a growing number of practitioners are realizing that kids can help seal a deal. “It’s really good if the kids like you and trust you,” says Cindy Mort, a sales associate with Prudential California in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif. “So I make them part of the purchasing process.” For example, she asks kids how they would decorate the bedrooms and whether the pool looks fun. And she tells them about other children who live in the neighborhood.

Sure, small kids can pose problems—­playing with toys that aren’t theirs or wiping dirty hands on white linen curtains—or face risks such as wandering too close to unfenced pools. But it’s possible to prevent “Dennis the Menace” moments.

Here are practical and innovative tips for working with the children of buyers and sellers and ensuring they’re an asset during the real estate transaction.

1. Interview the family first.
Find out “who they are and what’s important to them to gain insights about the family dynamics,” says Nancy Heisel, abr, green, an associate with RE/MAX 100 in Springfield, Va. Do they want a big play yard or a nearby playground? What sports and other activities interest the kids? Real estate coach Bob Corcoran advises agents to schedule a meeting with the entire family at the beginning of the process. “Kids are the most overlooked category in the homeselling and homebuying process,” he says. If you feel uncomfortable asking about family details in the beginning, instead inquire initially about how many bedrooms and bathrooms a family needs, says Lisa Burridge, broker-owner at Lisa Burridge & Associates in Casper, Wyo.

2. Point out kid-friendly features.
These may include a “great teen get-away on the third floor, a shallow stream perfect for summer adventures, a Harry Potter cupboard under the stairs, or twin tree ­houses with a bridge between,” says Anne Meczywor, rsps, a practitioner with Roberts & Associates ­Realty in Lenox, Mass. “My teenagers still talk about a house that had a clubhouse accessed by a staircase that wound around and around a huge pine tree.”

3. Limit the number of houses the kids see.
Not all parents will go along with this plan. But agents say it’s best to show children just the final four—or even fewer. “It’s tiring for kids to look at 12 houses in one day,” says Mort. Besides, with small kids along, says Heisel, “parents get distracted.” (For kids under 6, she suggests a babysitter.) “Most parents have better focus when the kids are not along with them,” says Burridge. “They’re able to focus on the actual purchase, rather than chasing the kids around.” Explain to parents that kids may fall in love with something like a pool that parents may see as a negative, says Burridge. Still, “we never say to people, ‘you can’t bring your kids.’ ”

4. Show houses with kid-appeal.
Kids are looking at lifestyle. So, even though they typically don’t get to keep the current owner’s toys and furniture (a fact they may not understand), they find cool décor appealing. Kids raved over a home that had a bed that looked like a bird’s nest up on a stump, recalls Lisa Bell Hutchins, a sales agent for Coldwell Banker in Los Angeles’ Hancock Park area. They shouted, “Mommy, mommy! I like this house!”

5. Be familiar with kid-friendly restaurants.
Kids want to know that pizza, hamburgers, and their favorite restaurant chains are nearby. “I’ve had more children be concerned that their fast-food favorites are there,” says Lorraine Harding, crb, crs, broker-owner at Lorraine Harding Real Estate in Seneca, S.C. She remembers a child who thought the area lacked a Del Taco and told his dad he wouldn’t move as a result. Harding took the dad through the Del Taco drive-through so that he could bring the child the napkin as evidence. Mort typically takes families with kids out to lunch at a burger or pizza joint.

6. Know your audience.
“Teenagers just want their own bedroom and bath—especially if it’s far away from their parents’ rooms!” says Hutchins. Young kids, on the other hand, will likely value proximity to parents. Apart from home, showcase neighborhood features that might draw the kids' interest. Depending on their age, that might mean toy stores, shopping malls, boutiques, movie theaters, or ice cream parlors. (Avoid closed storefronts.) Harding likes to show off waterfront activities, such as jet skiing and boating, “that they maybe don’t have wherever they’re coming from.” She also likes to show kids the marina and streets with lots of basketball hoops in the driveways and playground equipment in backyards. Burridge takes kids to local recreation centers. “We want them to feel good about the move,” she says. It’s also important to be aware of your body language. Introduce yourself to the kids, not just the adults. And bend down to shake hands since it’s “nonthreatening,” says Anderson. Harding stresses “eye contact with children.” ‘Once I sense that the children are part of the decision-making process, I direct as much to them as to the parents,” she says.

7. Beware of teen attitudes.
“In many cases, they’re hoping the move isn’t going to happen. They see you as the enemy,” says Harding. “They’re going to be negative about everything.” Meczywor suggests that parents leave their teens out of the search process until a second showing. “Otherwise their negative attitude could cloud the buyers’ initial perception of a great property,” she says.

8. Watch for overactive fingers.
Kids don’t mean harm, but items such as pens with fuzzy ends are very appealing, notes Hutchins. Heisel suggests politely telling kids not to open drawers, play with toys, or pick up fragile objects. “I don’t want to be liable for something that gets broken,” says Heisel.

9. Remind parents to bring car seats.
If you own an SUV or a larger vehicle, offer to drive the family to showings. It’s better for the buyers not to drive since it’s tricky to both give directions and talk about the neighborhood, says Harding.

10. Stock your car.
Snacks are great, but ask parents for permission in case they don’t agree with your food choice or the kids have allergies. Hutchins prefers Whole Foods’ fare since so many parents like organic food options. While some practitioners give kids lollipops or other candy, Hutchins says many parents don’t appreciate those snacks. Meczywor puts a “kid kit” in her car with activities such as an Etch-a-Sketch, puppets, and books. “A $5 iTunes card is great for teens!” she says. For younger families, she even includes a few spare diapers.

11. Babysit for a few minutes.
If the parents want to walk around the house, offer to go outside with the kids. “It gives you a good opportunity to say, ‘It’s such a big yard!’ ” says Hutchins.

12. Get sellers' kids on board.
Once a listing is secured, Corcoran says you should meet with the family to help kids understand how important it is to keep the house clean and tidy to make a good impression on buyers. It will help keep family stress levels down if kids can do their part to limit their messes.

13. Be wary of chocolate.
Hutchins remembers a nice seller who knew the smell of homemade chocolate chip cookies would help create a good atmosphere at her open house. She set out the baked goods for the event. The problem: She also had white silk curtains. Hutchins stood on guard. Even so, a 4-year-old—with chocolate chip cookies on her hands—grabbed the fabric anyway. “It was one of those slow-motion accidents,” says Hutchins. The moral: “You can bake some cookies, but take them out of the house and just leave the smell!” She prefers to keep all food out of houses since kids just “dribble crumbs,” she says.

14. Remove potential hazards.
One obvious booby trap: decorative glass candies. “Every time I see that, I put it away,” says Hutchins. “Why would you have glass candy when a kid grabs it and bites it?” Even the best agents may not catch everything. When Hutchins’ own daughter was 4, she walked through an open house and found an Advil that to her resembled an M&M.

15. Beware of permanent hazards.
Be extra careful if you know a house has a steep staircase or sharp marble features, says Hutchins. And watch for unfenced swimming pools—a salesperson’s nightmare. “I follow the kids like a shadow whenever there’s an unfenced pool,” says Hutchins. Mort never leaves a child unattended. “I let the parents out of my sight—but never the kids,” she says.

16. Think about the pet factor.
You may not want a pet roaming around the house or yard while the house is being shown. Some kids are allergic or fearful. On the other hand, the site of a cuddly kitty could help clinch a deal. If the sellers own a pet that appeals to kids, Hutchins always asks parents, “Is it OK if they play with the cat?” (“Kids may respond, ‘I love it here. I want a cat,’ ” says Hutchins. “It creates a lifestyle for the kid.”) 

Karen Springen

Karen Springen is a Chicago-area freelance writer and faculty member at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.