Seven Hidden Reasons Buyers Hate Homes

1. Strange neighbor behavior.

I wish I could count the number of times I’ve witnessed buyers be turned all the way off from an otherwise likeable property because of tomfoolery (or worse) on the part of the neighbors. While cars on the lawn is the age-old example, there are many more frequent instances of strange neighbor behavior that arise and disgust buyers on the regular. I’ve shown homes where:

  • the back deck had panoramic views of the San Francisco Bay—and the rear neighbor’s pit bull breeding kennels
  • the next-door neighbor’s tree roots threatened to upend the fence or cause plumbing issues
  • the neighbor’s junky yard or poorly patched roof were the primary view from many of the property’s windows
  • the home shared a foundation, wall or roof with a next door neighbor, the shared element was in need of expensive repair, and the neighbor refused to pitch in.

Scary incidents during property viewings with neighbors’ pets, “customers” (I’ll say no more) or unfriendly neighbors themselves are also common sources of buyer antipathy to properties which listing agents might never even hear about.

2. Rumors.

Rumors around town about coming building, development and zoning changes to an area can make a home less desirable to buyers than you would expect it to be. Schools and commercial growth which might impact neighborhood parking, re-routed freeways and incoming subway and light rail lines are all items which get broadcast to the public years before they happen—and years before the plans are complete, sometimes rendering properties in the proposed path of development or re-zoning less desirable even though they don’t end up impacted by the final plans.

Listing agents can help deactivate rumors impacting a property by including a message or accurate information about the current state of such proposals in the online listing materials or angling the home’s marketing to buyers who will be excited by any new developments being proposed.

Additionally, rumors that a home is haunted or was the site of a crime have a history of putting the kibosh on buyer interest in a place. It’s not at all bizarre in some necks of the woods for an agent to offer a feng shui session, smudging or blessing as part of the closing bonuses for a property with a troubled past—or rumors of one.

I once represented the buyer of a multi-family property in which a tenant committed suicide during escrow. While she was disinclined to be overemotional in the first place, she was delighted to move the deal forward when the seller offered to completely repaint and refloor the unit, in colors of her choice. If a home has a truly checkered past, neutralize buyer concerns by offering them upgrades that seem likely to create a money-saving fresh slate for the next residents.

3. Failure to Optimize.

“That’s a shame.” “What a waste.” “Too bad they did that.” “Why would they tear that down/choose that finish/put that in?!” 

Buyers hate little more than to move into a home and spend their precious remaining dollars ripping out nearly new upgrades—especially when they feel like they paid a premium for the home having been remodeled in the first place.

Well, there’s at least one thing they hate more: a home that they came to see because of its perfect location or mid-century modern/Victorian/Craftsman architecture that’s been built or remodeled in a way that totally eliminates the advantages of the features they came to see it for. A home on an ocean view street with few windows (trust me, they exist) is one case in point. Another is the Craftsman bungalow that has been all modernized inside, built-ins removed and natural wood ripped out.

There’s not a ton you can do to neutralize this issue as a listing broker, except to market the property accurately and price it appropriately. Buyer’s brokers can address the issue by simply showing them lots of homes, systematically collecting their feedback and then previewing properties in advance of future showings to avoid teasing your buyers with homes that promise features they want and fail to deliver.

 4. Childhood beliefs.

Where I grew up, corner lots were generally the premium lots of a subdivision. But in the area where I currently live, apparently there was a time when there a series of serious accidents occured, with cars ending up inside homes in part because the lots were positioned in a particular way vis-a-vis traffic flows and stop signs.

I have had numerous clients over the years mention this, and specify that they are completely uninterested in living on a corner, for this precise reason.

If you’re a buyer’s broker, it’s helpful to flat-out ask buyers if there are any home features that would be a flat-out deal-breaker for them up front. I’ve used that question to surface these sorts of lingering childhood beliefs, figure out whether they might create a conflict with any of the other features the buyer insists they want or need and minimize the time I spend showing them places their inner child simply won’t stand for.

5. Furniture foibles.

Is it irrational to make a decision about buying (or not buying) a particular property around your furniture? Probably so. Do people do it every single day?

Absolutely.

Buyers who have a house full of furnishings of a particular style or scale might recall the time and money they invested obtaining it and decide to hold out for a property that has a harmonious look, feel or scale. As well, many a buyer has hemmed and hawed about a house because their great-aunt’s/Grandma’s/Mom’s inherited dining room table would never fit.

On the listing side, home staging helps buyers visualize that a property might be gorgeously outfitted even if their favorite furnishings have to hit Craiglist because they won’t fit. And buyer’s brokers do well to gently point out alternative spaces in a home that might make a good site for a beloved dining table—and, if all else fails, to point out that buying a home around a table is probably not a sound decision-making practice for an investment this important.

6. Competition fears.

I recently had a buyer text me the address of a home they saw for sale, listed within their price range. A moment later I received another text from the same buyer: a note that they know they’ll never be able to afford it because of all the traffic they saw at the open house and the multiple offers they assumed would result. It’s great for buyers to have a realistic understanding of local market dynamics like whether it’s a buyer’s or a seller’s market, how long homes tend to stay on the market, whether they should expect to compete with other offers and how much above or below asking homes usually sell for.

But in a hot market this can result in buyers disqualifying themselves, mentally, from homes on which they should be making offers. Listing agents can help keep competition fears from running good buyers off by keeping buyer’s brokers who show the place up-to-date on plans for accepting offers and what the competition level truly is (assuming the latter is fine by your sellers and any applicable Association rules). Buyer’s brokers can keep competition fears grounded in reality by checking in with the listing agent about the number of offers expected or received and non-price terms of particular interest to the sellers.

7.The wants and needs of hidden stakeholders.

Have you ever watched House Hunters International? I crack up every single time a family moving from Minnetonka to Dubai decides not to buy a given home because it lacks room for their friends and family when they come to visit. “How often do they think people are going to make that trip after all?! And can’t they grab a hotel room when they do?” I always wonder (often aloud, to the puzzlement of my dogs).

While this particular example is comical (and possibly scripted for TV), the reality is that many real-life buyers consider the wants and needs of people their agents will never meet as they decided whether to love or hate a particular home. For instance, over the years I’ve had multiple buyer clients refuse homes with stairs to enter because of aging parents who might only get to the place once or twice a year. I’ve also seen buyers make decisions about homes they intend to live in for a very long time on the basis of children that don’t yet exist, roommates and tenants they might never have and expected age-related mobility concerns for their future selves, decades down the line.

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