Debbie Swanson is a Boston-area freelance writer who frequently covers real estate, construction, and other topics.
When Sellers Won’t Leave During Showings
Help sellers overcome the physical and emotional obstacles that make it difficult for touring buyers to feel at home.
November 2, 2016
Many sellers understand that they need to make themselves scarce when buyers arrive for a showing, but what about situations in which it’s tricky—if not impossible—for them to leave their home on short notice? Are you prepared to address the range of issues that can make it difficult for home owners to vacate?
Disabled or older home owners with mobility issues may have a tough time physically leaving during a showing. In other cases, able-bodied sellers mistakenly believe that their presence will help with the sale. “It may be coincidence, but I have never had a client choose a property or even ask to come back” when a seller was home, says Aneta Saad, a sales associate with Charles Rutenberg Realty in Naperville, Ill. “It’s just an awkward situation—almost always a quick in-and-out.” Buyers typically have a negative reaction to crossing paths with the current owner, no matter how friendly the seller might be.
You can do a lot to help sellers navigate both the practical considerations and the strong emotions that may be triggered during this time. Sellers need to understand that vacating their house allows buyers to imagine the home as their own. And no, it’s not OK for sellers to watch prospective buyers while sitting in their car across the street.
The approach to take when working with a seller with physical or time restrictions—whether it’s a baby’s nap schedule or someone with limited mobility—may be the most straightforward. Try to plan showings around a weekly schedule so the seller has plenty of notice, and let buyer’s agents know what the available showing times are in advance. To facilitate this arrangement, consider asking work-from-home sellers to set up shop at a local library a couple of days a week or arranging transportation for an elderly client to visit a friend or family member on specific days, some real estate pros suggest. Such advance communication should alleviate stress on both sides.
Build on the Trust You’ve Formed
For sellers whose resistance is more emotionally charged, it’s important to let them discuss their feelings fully. A negative experience with an agent in the past may make it harder for them to entrust you with managing the showing process. Debra Dobbs, GRI, associate broker at @properties in Chicago, made sure to be in communication more frequently with one such client, visiting her at her condo and speaking by phone regularly to calm her anxieties. “I answered [her questions] thoughtfully and with patience, never letting her feel brushed off,” Dobbs says.
Sellers may also be apprehensive about the security of their property during showings. Scan each room of the home and offer specific suggestions, including locking away jewelry, small electronics, prescription medication, financial documents, and anything with sentimental value. “Sometimes sellers will trust agents to show their home unaccompanied until something happens—a door is left unlocked or the lights aren’t turned off,” says Melanie Bowers, a sales associate with Keller Williams Realty in Salt Lake City. Address sellers’ concerns by including specific instructions on the listing sheet or posting polite notes around the home. These might include a request to remove shoes during a visit or not to use the bathroom, Bowers says.
Sellers who think they should personally convey to buyers information about a property accumulated over decades may be your biggest challenge. These home owners may feel certain that they are best suited to talk about the unusual water heater or the hiding spaces that their children loved. Accommodate their need to chat by offering yourself as the person who will relay their insights to buyers. Ask plenty of questions, be attentive to the seller’s responses, and reassure them you’ll pass along anything useful for buyers to know. This may make your client more comfortable about letting go.
Pointing out that people bring their own point of view when looking at a home can help sellers “stop associating the home with themselves,” says Tim Creech, sales associate with Howard Hanna Real Estate Services in Jackson, Mich. This reminder may help clients understand that their presence can look like an infringement on “someone else’s dream.”
If sellers are adamant about having face time with prospective buyers, you could enable a simple, brief meeting. At the start of a showing, “allow the sellers to say hello and then let themselves out so that the buyers can explore uninterrupted,” Bowers says. Just be prepared to usher everyone along if either party lingers.
Sellers have a multitude of reasons for why they may want to stick around during showings, but if you make a sincere effort to address their concerns and enlighten them about the buyer’s point of view, your actions may well get them closer toward the end goal: an offer and a sale.