What Buyers Need: What Sellers Should Want to Supply

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(This is a companion article to What Sellers Need: What Buyers Should Want to Supply)

Quite often, I hear people talking about the real estate market as if it's all some amorphous blob, and buyers and sellers are no more different than they are in the stock or bond market, or for that matter, people using the bank to make deposits or withdrawals.

I cannot agree with this concept. Real Estate is not liquid, and real estate is not commoditized, and in the absence of some future world government building precisely one identical housing unit with precisely the same environment for everybody, I daresay it never will be. Since the chance of the rulers of that government limiting themselves and their cronies to the same housing everyone else has are nil, you can take it from there.

What do buyers need? They have the cash the seller (that would be you) wants, or the ability to get it via a loan, which comes to the sellers as cash - providing they can actually qualify, hence the preceding paragraph. What they need in exchange for that cash is the the assurance they will be getting a clear title, unencumbered by outside interests who may come after them later. They also need an assurance that the building - which is what 99.99% of all buyers are really interested in - is going to continue standing in good, inhabitable condition for the forseeable future. If there is a loan involved, the lender will want reasonable assurance that they can recover their investment if something goes wrong with the loan. Just as seller's issues become buyer's issues, so do buyer's issues become seller's issues.

This makes delivering clean title imperative. If there's a possibility buyers are going to put every penny they saved for three years into purchasing a property, together with putting themselves into debt for thirty years, and end up not owning that piece of property after all, it shouldn't be difficult to figure out that the property is worth much less to that buyer - or any other prospective buyer. There is a profitable niche in clearing title on real estate, but you've got to really know what you're doing, and you've got to be prepared to lose everything invested in a given property. There's a reason the standard California purchase contract requires the seller to purchase the buyer a specific very broad policy of title insurance, and why it allows and requires negotiation as to which title insurance company issues that policy. I want a good solid company that only insures good risks, because I want them to be around and able to pay the claim if one happens forty years down the line, as opposed to Fly Tonight Title that disappears as soon as it has the premium payment. If a good reputable company won't insure title, there is a reason, and title insurance that isn't there and solvent years later is useless. Actually, it's worse than useless because without that title policy that turned out to be useless, nobody in their right mind would have paid that anywhere near that price for that property. So yes, a good policy of title insurance costs money. However, without that title policy the property is worth a fraction of what you might get for it with that title policy - and this fraction is well under 50%. Paying for a title policy is part of the cost of getting as much cash as possible for the property. Examined in terms of return on investment, there's nothing that even vaguely approaches it.

As far as the building's structural integrity, inspections cost money: hundreds of dollars. It's not cost-effective for buyers to perform inspections on every property they want to make an offer on, and the owners - or their tenants - might have a little something to say about an inspector invading their personal spaces for three hours or so. But it is necessary that the inspector have legal responsibility to the buyer, and that's the reason why sellers are wasting their time getting an inspection. Yeah, it can help you fix problems before you put the property on the market. But no competently advised prospective buyer is going to accept such an inspection, because if there's something wrong or something missing, that buyer has no recourse to sue an inspector that was, after all, working for the seller. But if their inspection reveals problems, the buyer is going to want the ability to negotiate repairs, compensation, or to get out of the contract entirely, hence, the inspection contingency. This is one reason why sellers misrepresenting the condition of their property are not only fooling themselves, but costing themselves money as well. Furthermore, the general inspector can recommend further inspections if there is something beyond their competence. Until somebody pays you the necessary cash to purchase the property, the problems that may exist aren't buyer problems - they're seller problems. Buyers can always (at least until the inspection contingency expires) choose to instead walk away and make an offer on the identical floor plan down the street without these issues. It's up to the seller and their agent to motivate them not to do that. Consider that if this prospective buyer's inspector found the problem, it's likely that the next prospective buyer's inspector will, as well. Actually, a good
buyer's agent will probably spot things before it gets to the point of an offer. Until you have that escrow check in your hand for the equity, these problems are the seller's problems. Remember, that prospective buyer can simply decide they don't want the property. Until the property is successfully exchanged for cash, all of those problems are part of owning that property, and you need to find a buyer who's willing to deal with these issues in order to sell. Delivering what buyers need, a solid property without objectionable issues, is a seller concern. Good agents will help, but bottom line, it's the seller's profit or loss.

With the exception of all cash sales, a very small proportion of real estate sales, there is going to be a lender involved, and when there's a lender, the issues that buyers have with lenders become seller issues as well. It may be precisely the opposite of the inspection situation: It's always the seller's choice as to whether to work with a given prospective buyer, and buyer issues in this regard are subject to finding a seller willing to deal with them. Nonetheless, the vast majority of all buyers don't have the cash to buy your property without a loan, and if you want to restrict yourself to prospective buyers willing and able to offer all cash for your property, that's your prerogative. Doing that, however, restricts your pool of potential buyers far more than anything else. Drastically lessened number of buyers who could choose to offer all cash drastically reduces the sales price. Even those buyers who have the ability to pay all cash often do not want to, for various reasons, and this unwillingness on your part means that they will be willing to offer less for your property.

Every loan does have the real possibility of being turned down. I can do everything from verify all the buyer's information to checking the prospective loan against lender guidelines for issues, but if that underwriter turns down the loan, or (more commonly) puts conditions on an approval that the prospective borrower can't meet, that's pretty much the end of the loan. There is one vote that counts, and it belongs to that underwriter. The loan officer can reason, wheedle, and appeal, but the bottom line is that if the underwriter can't be swayed, the loan is dead. They don't reject loans very often when a loan officer has done the work beforehand, but it does happen, and is the reason that nobody except a loan underwriter for the lender you're submitting it to can guarantee the loan will be approved. Since no loan gets to the underwriter without a fully negotiated purchase contract and no borrower ever communicates with an underwriter directly, there is always a very real possibility that the loan the borrower is counting on will be turned down. For most loans, there's other places that will do the loan, albeit upon slightly different terms. Occasionally, though, there are loans where it's this lender or nobody, as nobody else has loan guidelines that will allow that loan to be funded. These two terms add up to the necessity for a loan contingency. If the buyer can't find someone to loan them money on terms that satisfy this purchase contract, they don't want to lose their deposit, and definitely don't want to be obligated to purchase the property. If you, as a seller, do not want to allow a loan contingency, that is certainly something you can choose to do - but it's going to cost you in terms of the proffered sales price, probably a lot more than the amount of any deposit. If a seller doesn't have good evidence prospective buyers can qualify for the necessary loan, I don't know any reason why they would agree to work with those buyers at all. If they do have such evidence, I don't know of any reason why they would want to focus on the deposit instead of the purchase price. The deposit is iffy at best and takes paying legal costs to get, not to mention it's usually not going to pay for the costs of the escrow period. The purchase price, once you get it, makes those costs stop, and it's a lot more probable than getting that deposit.

What the lender is looking for (absent evidence of impending fraud) is two things: Evidence of borrower ability to repay the loan, and evidence that they'll get their investment back if the borrower defaults. It is to this end that lenders require an appraisal from a licensed appraiser who has some demonstrated ability to (insurance or a bond) to repay them if the property does not, in fact, possess that value. Now, here's the kicker: If the appraisal is too low, you can pretty much bet that any lender on earth will reject that loan. There really isn't a need for a separate appraisal contingency, and if I and my buyer clients don't see the value in the property, we're not making an offer in the first place. Even in those rare instances of "all cash" purchases, that appraisal should be nothing more than a confirmation for the lender of something I and my buyer client already know. I'm willing to counsel my buyer client to offer that much because I believe that property is worth that much for their purposes. If they're intending to "flip" the property, we should both have looked at that situation and decided we're comfortable with it before making an offer. If my client intends to hold the property some number of years, that appraisal has absolutely zero bearing on what it will be worth at some indefinite date in the future. And even if they are that rare "all cash" buyer, if the value isn't there in front of your own eyes to justify that price, why did they and their agent make that offer? Therefore, there really isn't a good reason for a buyer or a competent agent who knows what they're doing to object to dropping the appraisal contingency. When I'm listing a property, I'm very cognizant of the fact that insisting upon an appraisal contingency is a sign of an uncommitted buyer, overly cautious or overly opportunistic, who's insisting on having everything exactly their way and is likely to chip and chisel at every opportunity. Such a buyer is also likely to bolt at the first chance of a better deal. It's also usually a sign of an agent who doesn't understand the process covering themselves in CYA to a pointless degree, because they should explain it to their client when the issue comes up if not before. This kind of agent is analogous to someone who calls themselves a paratrooper because they wear a parachute - even though they've never actually used it and have no intention of making a jump. Both such a buyer and such an agent are signs of a deal that's likely to not get consummated.

Just like sellers and everyone else involved, buyers would really like a nice smooth transaction that moves from fully negotiated purchase contract to complete consummation as quickly as possible without bumps, burps, or deal killers. There will be bumps in most transactions that can't really be avoided, but most bumps are caused by problem personalities on one side or the other of a transaction. Unfortunately for sellers, there's a lot more information on their attitudes (and those of the listing agent!) in a typical listing than there is information on the buyers and their agent in a typical offer. Don't raise the barriers to a successful transaction any higher than you need to - and don't let your listing agent do so, either. Quite a lot of them will insist upon useless pre-qualifications and pre-approvals from their favorite loan officer. Not only is this steering, and therefore illegal under RESPA, but it doesn't do you any good on determining whether or not they actually will qualify for the loan, and this notation can warn potential buyers with competent agents off your property until that property has been on the market so long that you're desperate. Listing agents will often insist for no good reason "seller to select all services." What's going on is that they want to select all services so that certain specific title and escrow companies are happy with them. You didn't tell them you wanted to select the services, did you? Even if you did, the law is quite clear that it is subject to negotiation, not that this stops that sort of agent. Wander into their office at random intervals, demand a listing agent copy of your property listing (You are entitled to such on your own property) and if it has any of these notations, fire that agent and their brokerage immediately. You've got all the justification you need in the fact that they're not only violating the law, but your best interests as well.

Now that we've gone over what sellers need, let's look at what seller's want. As any good salesperson knows, wants are far more important to making a sale than needs. People are funny that way, and one of the harder parts of a good buyer's agent's job is keeping the actual needs front and center with the wants. Most people would not believe how many buyers will ignore faults that will cause them to hate this property in about two months in favor of really neat, but unnecessary amenities.

What buyers want is the perception of a bargain. Notice I didn't say they want the bargain - but they do want to believe that the property is the best bargain they could have bought for the price they could afford. Quite often, the appearance is more important than the actuality, and I've certainly experienced more than a few people who thought they got a deal and couldn't wait to brag to me - but here's the kicker: They never want to hear the evidence against the brag they're trying to make - and there's always evidence against as well as evidence for. Every last negotiating coup I've pulled off had evidence on the other side - that's what a good negotiator uses to convince the other side to deal. If they don't want to hear the evidence against, that's a pretty good indication it's stronger than the evidence for, and that they didn't get a very good bargain.

One of the ways in which this manifests is buyer behavior. If your property is more expensive than another one that's essentially similar, those buyers are not going to want your property. You have to convince those buyers that there is a rational reason why they should want to pay more for your property than for the competing properties. If you cannot do this, your property will sit unsold. This is the reason every competent agent in the known universe counsels against overpricing a property. It's not like all the sellers in your local MLS receive offers in turn, strictly in accordance with order of listing the property for sale. Quite predictably, buyers make offers upon the properties that are most attractive to them at a given price. If you cannot convince your own agent that the property is more valuable than the competing properties, that agent is doing you a favor by telling you to reduce the price. I guarantee that not only that your agent will be kinder than any prospective buyers will be, but that they're trying to save you money as well. It's always a balancing act between too expensive to interest anyone, and not expensive enough so that you lose money you could have gotten. But remember that it's the appearance of a deal than most buyers want, far more than the actuality. Most have no clue what stuff costs and how easy or difficult it is to accomplish a given upgrade. They only know that they didn't have to deal with accomplishing it, and for that, they're willing to pay quite a lot under the right circumstances. A good agent will help you with all of this.

Caveat Emptor

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Dan Melson published on August 12, 2008 7:00 AM.

Links and Minifeatures 2008 08 11 Monday was the previous entry in this blog.

Why Lenders Don't and Won't Tell Borrowers Their Loan Was Turned Down (Games Lenders Play, Part 9) is the next entry in this blog.

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