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.
Time to get creative
When it comes to marketing your home, real estate agents have started taking it up a notch. In an age when the grocery store home listing book is just about dead and social media marketing is the new norm, listing agents are coming up with increasingly different and out-of-the-box ways to intrigue buyers without having to resort to the dreaded tactic of price reduction. "If you go to the doctor and something hurts, you don't cut off somebody's leg – you take a look and see if something else may be causing the pain," says Mickey Conlon, a licensed associate real estate broker at Douglas Elliman in New York. Here are unorthodox ways real estate agents are marketing properties today.Skipping the MLS for now
Skipping the MLS for now
A real estate agent's first move in listing a home is often to put it in the multiple listing service, a database of properties on the market in the area. It may seem counterintuitive, but keeping your home off the MLS for a few weeks gives your agent the chance to entice buyers with what seems like an early peek at the property, explains Greg Hague, CEO of Real Estate Mavericks, a real estate coaching firm based in Scottsdale, Arizona. "It gives the seller – you – a chance to test the price. Then if you decide to put it in the MLS, you can put it in at the right price, not the wrong price," Hague says. Reducing the asking price on a property already on the MLS can make an agent or buyer wonder what's wrong the property.Marketing for another type of use or property owner
Marketing for another type of use or property owner
For a property that's proving tricky to drum up interest in, your real estate agent may look beyond the standard homeowner when attracting potential buyers. Conlon and his business partner, Tom Postilio, also a licensed associate real estate broker with Douglas Elliman, are listing a townhouse on East 64th Street on the Upper East Side of New York that they market not just as a home for a new buyer but as an embassy or consulate, as well. "We've put all of those efforts out at once, and we're waiting to see what sticks, and what's very interesting is we're getting responses from parties that have never shown interest before," Postilio says.Making a video that does more
Making a video that does more
Property videos are quickly becoming a must for homes on the market nowadays, but it requires more than just a compilation of photos strung together – it needs to entice buyers to come tour the property. For the New York townhouse, Postilio and Conlon cut down a longer film the seller had previously made and added a personal touch. "We coupled that with a piece of music that the homeowner wrote, because he's a song writer," Conlon says. Videos should be short to keep viewers from zoning out halfway through – a minute-long clip featuring the best rooms and views would suffice.Hosting an above-and-beyond open house
Hosting an above-and-beyond open house
An open house is considered an old standard of the real estate marketing world to pull in people who are driving by or buyers who may not have an agent yet, but they're getting a revamp to bring more people through the door, particularly in the higher end of the market. Incorporating a theme to fit the home, entertainment or other activities will attract more people that may have been on the fence about viewing the home. "You find that a broker's open on a luxury home could easily become a $15,000 to $20,000 event," says John Aaroe, owner of Los Angeles-based real estate firm John Aaroe Group.Packing Saturdays with showing appointments
Packing Saturdays with showing appointments
An open house to kick off a property's emergence on the market can be a good way to bring in interest, but Hague recommends setting up appointments ahead of time instead and filling every Saturday with scheduled showings. By scheduling the showings in half-hour increments, Hague says the buyers see one another going in and leaving, which generates a sense of urgency because of the interest in the home. "It creates social proof … people can see other people coming and going," he says.Inviting the neighbors over
Inviting the neighbors over
Neighbors showing up to an open house just to take a look around can be the bane of a real estate agent's day, but there's another way to let the neighbors take a peek with the potential for some interest as well. Hague coaches agents to host a neighborhood event – not just for the neighbors down the street but throughout the area. "Sometimes people see the home and they like it better than the one they're in, and you're not even trying to sell it to them," Hague says, adding that he's seen a lot of deals come about from neighbors who decide to put in an offer or pass the word on to a friend or relative.Staging on the next level
Staging on the next level
Staging a home with either existing furniture or pieces brought in to give a more appealing and less lived-in look to a space is a widely accepted practice for homes on the market nowadays, but that doesn't always mean it can be done well. Postilio and Conlon recall a home they listed for actress Joan Collins a few years back. She didn't like the idea of staging at first. But they brought in designers and high-end furniture dealers who lent pieces, including ornate rugs and a Steinway piano, and what would have been a $1 million home makeover came free of charge. The staging paid off, and interested buyers got into a bidding war over the home. "That's another case where simply changing the perception can renew the life of an older listing," Postilio says.Using drones and other gadgets
Using drones and other gadgets
Technology is constantly reshaping marketing strategies, and real estate sales are no different. Filming or photographing a home from the air with a drone, for example, has gained a fair amount of attention from real estate agents and photographers alike. Hague says it doesn't hurt to use a drone in this way, but it's not necessarily going to be a selling point: "Would it make a difference in terms of a person paying a nickel more for a home? No, no chance, no way. Now, might it make a difference in a person seeing that and wanting to see the home as opposed to not see the home? Maybe."Using your motivation to your advantage
Using your motivation to your advantage
Traditionally, sellers try to keep any urgency for a quick sale quiet to avoid low-ball offers because then buyers feel they have the upper hand in negotiations. But Hague says that motivation can be used to the seller's advantage by pairing it with a higher price at the top of the home's value range, explaining how it would be a great deal for the buyer because the property could easily fetch a higher price with more time. "We build that and work that story to make it a huge, big deal, and we use that to justify why you've got such an amazing price on the home," Hague says.Finding a buyer that may not be looking
Finding a buyer that may not be looking
Especially for a luxury or more unique home, it's possible the right buyer isn't necessarily looking yet. But that doesn't mean your real estate agent will just sit on the listing. Aaroe says his firm puts in special effort to think proactively about who may be moving to the Los Angeles area but hasn't necessarily started looking for a home, like rising tech industry leaders, for instance. "It's about reaching out to the firms that are being relocated to LA; it's not waiting for them to reach out to you," he says.Read More
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Williams got his start working in entertainment reporting in 1993, as an associate editor at "BOP," a teen entertainment magazine, and freelancing for publications, including Entertainment Weekly. He later moved to Ohio and worked for several years as a part-time features reporter at The Cincinnati Post and continued freelancing. His articles have been featured in outlets such as Life magazine, Ladies’ Home Journal, Cincinnati Magazine and Ohio Magazine.
For the past 15 years, Williams has specialized in personal finance and small business issues. His articles on personal finance and business have appeared in CNNMoney.com, The Washington Post, Entrepreneur Magazine, Forbes.com and American Express OPEN Forum. Williams is also the author of several books, including "Washed Away: How the Great Flood of 1913, America's Most Widespread Natural Disaster, Terrorized a Nation and Changed It Forever" and "C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America"
Born in Columbus, Ohio, Williams lives in Loveland, Ohio, with his two teenage daughters and is a graduate of Indiana University. To learn more about Geoff Williams, you can connect with him on LinkedIn or follow his Twitter page.