Real estate transactions come with their own set of etiquette
Buying or selling a home can be one of the biggest business decisions South Valley residents will ever undergo – and also one of the most stressful. That’s why proper etiquette – the rules of good manners – is absolutely vital when discussing the sensitive topic.
Human curiosity often prompts nosey neighbors and friends to ask how much a person paid for or received financially in a home sale, said Carol Romo, a Morgan Hill resident who owns TheaterFun, a South Valley-based business that teaches etiquette and enrichment skills to youngsters. And people also often want to find out that information to gauge the value of their own homes.
“We live in a need-to-know society. Information is king,” she said. “Some people have no boundaries. They are so used to pushing ahead and getting the information they want.”
Whether it’s OK to ask those sensitive money questions of someone who just bought or sold a home depends on the situation and the relationship, she said.
“It depends on how well you know the person,” Romo said. “You can go on the Internet and find out anything anyway.”
If a person feels upset about someone prying into his or her real estate transaction, it’s appropriate to say, “‘I feel uncomfortable about talking about that right now,'” she said. “They could say, ‘I’m from the old school where I don’t reveal that (information). I don’t buy and tell.'”
It’s also OK to make light of the question with a joke by exclaiming “Way too much!” she said.
Former Morgan Hill resident Roger Siddall said there can be an element of embarrassment in friends or neighbors asking a sensitive money question about a real estate question. The retired Gavilan College instructor recently sold his South Valley townhouse and moved with his wife to the community of Lincoln near the Gold Country.
“It’s tough to talk to neighbors and friends about money because everybody lies to you – people stretch the truth and grandize it,” he said. “I get to the point where I don’t even ask.”
Siddall’s way of finding out a home sale price: he checks out the San Jose Mercury News’s Saturday real estate section where recent sales are listed.
Money is not the only matter of manners involved in real estate deals. There are many other rules of the house – especially when showing a house.
There are quite a few common-sense etiquette dictates for agents presenting a listed property, said Marta Dinsmore, a real estate agent at the Intero Gilroy office and a director on the board of the South County Realtors Association.
“It’s important to call the home that you’re going to be showing to tell the sellers you’re coming,” she said. “If you’re going to be late or not show at all let them know.”
The sellers have their own lives, and it can be very frustrating for them to have a constant parade of strangers walking through their homes without warning, she said.
A respect for the seller’s time is also very good manners, she said. This means being punctual, and letting the seller know if the buyer has changed his or her mind about a walk-through, she said.
“Sometimes buyers will take a look at the house from the outside and say they’re not interested – it doesn’t have curb appeal,” Dinsmore said. “So it’s good to call (the seller) and say you’re not coming. Don’t stand them up.”
Potential buyers entering a property for sale – whether on an agent-led walk-through or a weekend “open house” – creates its own set of common-sense good manners protocols, she said.
“They should be respectful that they’re in someone’s home,” Dinsmore said. “We all know that when we’re looking through someone’s home, it’s for sale. But it’s still a private residence.”
Buyers and agents should respect privacy and not go through personal belongings in drawers and medicine cabinets, she added. And they should be careful about entering any room that might be closed off, she said, because a pet or sleeping baby might be kept in there.
Also, sometimes the sellers work during the night and sleep during the day, so it’s important to know this fact before viewing a home so buyers don’t disturb them, Dinsmore said. That’s the agent’s responsibility.
“Those kinds of informational notes will be in the multiple listing, so it’s important for the agent to read those notes in those regards,” she said.
Neil J. Forrest of the Century 21 Premiere real estate office in Morgan Hill gives similar etiquette advice in regards to viewing homes on the market. Like Dinsmore, he calls ahead and makes sure he leaves his cell phone number in case the buyer needs to reach him before the appointed time for a walk-through.
He also always makes sure he cautions buyers with children to keep an eye on any mischievous behavior from the youngsters – such as playing with toys they might find in the listed home. “Children don’t have the sense of boundaries,” he said. “And some parents don’t have control over their children. I’ve run into that.”
In going into a home, he always announces very loudly “Realtor!” This is in case someone might be taking a bath or shower or getting dressed. “I’ve had those types of situations happen,” he said.
After the walk-through is over, he emphasizes leaving the home as it was found. “Leave the doors that are locked, locked, and the doors that are unlocked, unlocked – especially the door into the garage,” he said.
“There’s been situations where an agent locks a door in the garage and the (buyer) does not have a key to that door so they’re locked outside.”
Open houses also carry their own forms of proper property etiquette. When Forrest sets up open houses for his clients, he makes a point of putting a sign on the door that reads: “Come on in. You’re expected.”
If there’s no such welcome sign, he usually recommends that a potential buyer ring the doorbell instead of just barging right into the home and discovering that the street-side open house signage was inadvertently left up, he said. “It’s best to err on the side of caution,” he said.
The sellers also needs to do their part in showing their homes to potential buyers, he said. Rooms must be kept neat and clean and no offensive odors should be detectable. Valuables and medicines should be stored away in safe locations, he said. “People do go to open houses for prescription medication and other things,” he warns. “It happens.”
As for buyers and sellers by chance meeting during a walk-through and getting into a conversation, Forrest said he tries to deter that sort of thing. “I tell clients not to engage the seller,” he said. “It’s just not good form.”
The buyer and seller might think they’ve developed a friendly relationship, and if problems later arise with the real estate deal, then feelings might be hurt, Forrest said, adding, “It’s better to keep it neutral. The real estate agent should keep it neutral.”
And the buyer and agent should never discuss price issues in front of the seller, he stresses. They should wait until they’re back in the privacy of their car or the office before evaluating an offer.
As for the client-agent relationship, if that might potentially sour, the proper etiquette protocol for both parties is to address the problem directly and politely, said Intero’s Dinsmore. “The best relationship, in my opinion, is open communication and honesty,” she said. “If you have that, and there’s an uncomfortable feeling, and you find you’re not a good match for each other, then it’s best for each of the parties, the agent and the buyer, to work with someone else.”
Usually, the client and agent will know if it’s a solid relationship fit in the first or second meeting together, she added.
Good manners are a necessity for reducing the stress that comes in any business environment. But it’s especially so in a real estate deal. A good knowledge of the basics of equity etiquette will go far in reducing much of the emotional turmoil.
As Dinsmore said, “It’s a sensitive issue because this could be the largest transaction in a person’s life. It important that it be done in a professional way.”