I had an interesting experience this past week with clients from out of town.  It was a reminder of a recurring mistake, a major mistake, that sellers often make in selling a home.  Here’s what happened.  I’m showing these clients homes that fit their general parameters, and we’re having a great time.  I always have a great time with clients as we are looking at homes and talking about their retirement plans and what they hope to find in their ideal Sequim or Port Angeles home.

We narrowed down the list of the best prospects, and that included a nice custom home in an area that appealed to my clients.  This home had been vacant, and it appeared to still be vacant, but when we arrived, we were promptly met by a nervous couple on the front sidewalk.  They were new tenants just moving in and were not interested in showing the home, not without the statutory 24 hour notice.

My clients were not impressed with that less-than-stellar greeting, the fact that we had to drive away without seeing the home, and the fact that the property had clearly not been maintained on the outside.  No mowing had been done.  Weeds were popping up everywhere, and there were unfinished projects.  And the tenants were not very friendly.  In fact, their behavior really turned my clients off, and my clients expressed concerns about dealing with sellers who would be responsible for this.  My clients wanted to leave the property and take it off their list of possible homes.

The Washington Landlord-Tenant Act does provide for a 24 hour notice to tenants before showing a home the landlord has for sale.  That’s not the issue.  The real issue here is that homes that are for sale and have tenants are almost always much harder to sell.  If you haven’t been a buyer from southern California or elsewhere who has come to Sequim or Port Angeles to look at homes for a quick weekend trip, you may not know how inconvenient it is to find out you have to jump over some hurdles to see a home.  The greatest inconvenience is that it may not be possible for a couple to reschedule 24 hours later if they have to get back to SeaTac to fly home.  (It’s not always possible to schedule every home clients want to see before they get here.  There’s much more to how this works in practice, but I don’t want this article to get too long on the main point.)

A home that is rented is harder to sell because of all the coordination that must take place.  The tenants are not always home when the agent calls, so they must play phone tag to get a time.  Meanwhile buyers don’t like waiting to find out if and when they can look at a home, so they typically scratch it off the list entirely.  There are many homes in the inventory in this slow real estate market.  There are plenty of homes to choose from.

So if you want to make the sale of your home much more difficult, rent it out.  And if you must rent it out, make sure your tenants agree in writing to waive the 24 hour notice requirement to show the home.   As a matter of fact, any homeowner who is serious about selling their home ought to agree to show the home (or have his tenant show it) to a prospective buyer ANY TIME the buyer wants to see it.   If an agent calls and asks if he can show your home in 10 minutes, let him!  If an agent and his clients showed up on the front steps with no advance notice and asked to see the home, SHOW IT!  Do not turn away potential buyers in this market!  They normally will walk through the home and be gone in less than 15 minutes.

Buyers are few and far between these days, so a seller can easily lose a buyer by not cooperating to make it convenient for the buyer to see the home.  Of course, a tenant doesn’t have to agree to less than a 24 hour notice.  Again, that only makes my point.  A rental is harder to sell, and turning away a prospective buyer is not wise in this market.  Someone may argue that everyone deserves a 24 hour notice.  After representing many buyers going back 30 years, there are many reasons that doesn’t always work for buyers.  Serious sellers must recognize that they are not in control of this market or the buyers.  This is a buyer’s market, not a seller’s market.  Cooperation with buyers is critical.  Anything less can mean a lost sale.

I have listings myself in which there are tenants, but these tenants are friendly, cooperative, and quick to show the property and its features to prospective buyers.  That makes all the difference in selling a home.  But this isn’t the case for many homes, and I’ve experienced first hand how buyers will turn away from a home they might have made an offer on, if only they could have gotten inside when they were ready, willing, and able.

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