6 Signs the Buyer or Seller You're Working With Is a Flake

Learn how to spot the clues that a homebuyer or seller is about to pull out at the last minute.

U.S. News & World Report

6 Signs a Homebuyer or Seller Is a Flake

Young couple consulting with financial adviser at home.

One of the biggest signs a home sale is going to fall apart is if there's a noticeable change in communication from the cooperating real estate agent.(Getty Images)

News flash: A home may be the largest asset you'll ever buy or sell. And with emotions running high, having a deal fall through can be demoralizing and disappointing. Fortunately, there are telltale signs that indicate you may be dealing with somebody who may be indecisive, deceitful or flake out on you before you lock in an agreement.

If you're worried you may be selling to or buying a house from someone who may turn out to be undependable or indecisive, look for these signals.

The buyer or seller seems to have financial problems. While the prospective buyer or seller you're working with may not be untrustworthy or have a major character flaw, if there are indications of financial issues, it only increases the odds that they will flake out during the home selling or buying process.

Ayesha Kleinjan, a real estate specialist and co-owner of San Diego Real Estate Properties, says that "a buyer must show proof of funds for a down payment in order to make an offer on a potential purchase or get prequalified for a home loan. A seller's agent generally won't entertain an offer on a property that is submitted without proof of funds."

So, if the buyer claims to have the funds but can't provide proof of those funds upfront, it can be a red flag that the person doesn't have enough money for a down payment and is stalling, according to Kleinjan. "This happens often," she says. "Get proof of funds for the down payment upfront, always."

The buyer or seller is slow to act. Richard Damrel, a realtor with HomeSmart Evergreen Realty in Irvine, California, says that he once had a seller who dragged his feet in providing homeowners association information to a client he had who was interested in buying.

"It turned out the seller had modified his property and was in the process of a suit and countersuit requiring the removal of most of the amenities my clients liked," Damrel says, adding that the seller's real estate agent had no idea of the lawsuit.

A lack of transparency. If a buyer or seller seems to be less forthcoming, it doesn't mean the deal will fall through, but it isn't a good sign. "If there's any attempt at anything less than full transparency, there's generally a reason. I see this a lot in home inspections," Damrel says.

Kleinjan echoes similar sentiments. "If a client is evasive or hesitant to provide all the information I've asked for, it's a huge red flag." A buyer or seller could be concealing information for a variety of reasons, but it's safe to assume that he or she doesn't have the information or is buying time until they can get it.

The seller, buyer or agent is taking a long time to get back to you. Kelli Howison, a realtor with Windermere Real Estate in Kirkland, Washington, says that one of the biggest signs a home sale is going to fall apart is if there's a noticeable change in communication from the cooperating real estate agent. "If I have a listing where the cooperating agent typically responds within 20 minutes during the offer negotiation phase, and then is uncommunicative after the home inspection is done, I'll start prepping the sellers for bad news."

Still, don't assume that the seller or buyer is no longer interested, says Priscilla Wood-Balikian, a luxury realtor in San Diego. "Oftentimes, a message can be crossed or misinterpreted via text or email, therefore picking up the phone and calling the other party is imperative."

One potential buyer is more excited than his or her partner. "The No. 1 sign that a house purchase is going to fall apart is one person loves the house, but their spouse is more hesitant," says Jennifer Beeston, vice president of mortgage lending at Guaranteed Rate Mortgage. Beeston says that she works with both spouses to make sure they're both on the same page. But, alas, not all sellers do that.

Dolly Hertz, a licensed associate real estate broker with Engel and Volkers New York City, says that this has happened to her quite a bit. "I recently worked with a couple where the woman had me showing her rather expensive properties and when we circled back and brought the man along to see her favorites, he revealed that he 'couldn't afford to pay those prices.'"

Low enthusiasm with the buyer or seller overall. If you tend to sense that the other party isn't all that excited to be selling his or her house or jazzed to be buying yours, it's a negative sign, and you'll definitely want to keep your emotions in check. There's a fair chance that this isn't going to happen, according to Damrel. "Sometimes clients themselves don't know what they want and in the current frenzy to buy before rates go up they put in offers without enthusiasm," he says.

This could also be a signal that the prospective buyer has found a different property that he or she is excited about. "There are so many layers involved with mortgage lending and real estate," Kleinjan says. "The simplest things can make a deal go sideways in the blink of an eye."

But often, flakes do more than wave a red flag – with their indecision and lack of preparation, they practically send up a red flare. "I recently worked with a couple of different sets of buyers who told me each time we went out on showings, 'I really don't want to waste your time.' In both instances, that is precisely what occurred," Hertz says.

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