Richard Courtney, author of Buyers Are Liars & Sellers Are Too! (Fireside Books/Simon & Schuster, 2006), responds to your questions about the half-truths and common misperceptions among buyers and sellers.
Your book title uses the word “liars,” which is pretty harsh. Do you really think buyers and sellers are liars?
COURTNEY: The title Buyers Are Liars & Sellers Are Too! is tongue in cheek and a catchy title. However, the reason I wrote the book was after observing buyers and sellers alike bringing unnecessary anxiety into real estate transactions by over strategizing. They each thought the other to be dishonest. At that point I explained the languages of buyerese and sellerese — which is not to be mistaken for lying.
Here’s a scenario: I listen to my buyers’ needs, make a list of their must-haves, and then they turn around and buy (from someone else) a home that is so totally different. Any theories on what I’m doing wrong, and how I could have kept their business?
COURTNEY: Hence the theory that “buyers are liars”. Buyers always think they know what they want, but seldom actually know what they want. You have to learn to translate buyerese, the language of buyers.
What do you think is the biggest lie that buyers most often tell their real estate agents?
COURTNEY: Again, I do not think buyers lie, I think they are not equipped with enough knowledge to make decisions — although they’re quite certain they are. They will learn that they must compromise and prioritize. A buyer that is seeking a tricked out kitchen, an over-the-top master bedroom, a huge lot, and a three car garage may end up purchasing a home with only a two car garage or decent kitchen, but a great bedroom.
What about sellers? What is the biggest lie they tell?
COURTNEY: Sellers are the people time forgot, and they forget time. “How old is the HVAC?” I ask. They respond, “Why it’s brand new.” “Oh really,” I inquire. “And how old is brand new?” They think a minute and tell me that they bought it the same year their daughter needed new braces and it was quite a financial burden. That begs the question: “How old is your daughter?” They respond that she just graduated from medical school. So, the “brand new” HVAC is 14 years old.
How do you deal with consumers who are concerned about the housing market right now? How do you convince them that what they’re hearing in the media may not be a reality in their local market?
COURTNEY: I refer them to David Lereah’s book All Real Estate is Local. For the first time in the nation’s history, there are markets with 180 degrees difference. Rates are low, job growth is rising, the stock market is sound, yet some markets are down and others very stable. I rely on statistics provided through the local associations for data to help guide buyers through their concerns.
Was it hard to write a book from four different perspectives: buyer, seller, and the buyer’s and seller’s agents? How did you make sure you told each story correctly?
COURTNEY: By the time the current version of the book was written, I had been personally involved in more than 1,000 transactions personally and managed hundreds of agents through thousands of their transactions. While each deal is different, the same issues seem to rear their ugly heads over and over. I tried to highlight the recurring issues, not the unique situations.
How do you deal with FSBOs who think they don’t need an agent to sell their house?
COURTNEY: FSBOs — or For Sale By Ogre — drive me crazy. As the old adage goes, anyone that represents themselves in a lawsuit has a bad attorney — so it goes for FSBOs. The first step I take is to neutralize the seller. There is usually an underlying scorn for real estate professionals in the mix, so I attempt to calm them early and let them know I anticipate this being a smooth, equitable, professional transaction.
How can you persuade sellers to take a good offer when they get it, even if it comes in under the asking price — especially, as you point out in your book, considering that sellers usually assume that the first offer is just the start of negotiations?
COURTNEY: On taking the first offer, I generally refer to the notes I take during the listing appointment when we discussed the pricing of the house and then I advise on any shifts in the market since that meeting.
If the offer is too low, I do not advise them to take it, but I try to clear the offer of extraneous, unnecessary conditions and get it to the point where both sides are dealing with money. My secret weapon is that I give buyers and sellers a copy of the book before the journey so that they are equipped to meet the challenges that will befall them.