If selling is an art, then real estate agents are in many ways like landscape painters -- in other words, they prefer a vista without human characters. It’s not that they don’t like people; it’s because it’s much easier for a prospective buyer to imagine him- or herself in a home when the current occupant isn’t hovering around.
The Cooperator spoke to several New York City brokers and asked them to explain why an apartment is best viewed without the seller at home.
What’s Up with That?
Joanna Mayfield Marks, a Halstead-affiliated broker based in Brooklyn, recounts the time a seller came to the door of a home she was showing, wearing nothing but boxer shorts and a doo-rag. The buyers declined to get out of the car.
Agents routinely tell sellers to make themselves scarce when their apartment is being shown. Some even go as far as to spring for the seller to go to brunch, or visit a spa to get them off-site during an open house. But even with these incentives to clear the heck out, sellers can often be stubborn. So what seems to be the problem?
“Sellers often linger because they’re curious,” says Mayfield Marks. “But buyers are put off when the seller is home. It’s a big problem. You need an arms-length sale, which the agent provides between the seller and buyer.” When the seller is lurking around in the next room, “The buyer shuts down,” Mayfield Marks continues. “They don’t want to invade someone else’s space. They can’t imagine themselves in someone else’s home.”
Dorothy Somekh, a broker based in Manhattan and also affiliated with Halstead, explains why sellers want to stay during showings. “They want an immediate reaction and a good result, but they read into the buyer’s reaction -- or lack thereof. Often, they’re ‘anxious’ and they try to ‘sell,’ which never helps.” That’s the broker’s job, and they’re far better at it than the average homeowner.
Handling a Hanger-on Homeowner
Somekh agrees that “It’s distracting for the buyer to have the seller at home. They follow the buyer around, often ‘explaining’ the space. The buyer feels they can’t comment in front of the seller about the apartment for fear that they will offend the seller. They’re not free to feel out the space and to speak with the broker honestly. You have to make the seller aware that it’s not beneficial for them to be there.”
According to Ariela Heilman, a Halstead broker specializing in co-ops and condos in upper Manhattan and the Bronx, “It’s a question of trust on the seller’s side. They want to know how you’re presenting their space. The truth is that for a successful sale, the seller has to separate from their space. It’s now a commodity, and the broker is the one best suited to market it. That’s what we do. It's like a marriage - if there's no trust, there's no reason to proceed. In that case, I wouldn't take the listing.”
All three brokers also add that it is critical to ‘depersonalize’ a space in order to successfully market and sell it. “The unit must be ‘motel-ready,’” says Mayfield Marks. That means the seller needs to pack things up, remove personal photos and mementos, and de-clutter, to give the buyer the feeling that they could move their life in without disturbing anyone else’s. The appearance of the apartment has to be neat and clean -- not distracting and complicated. In the end, having the seller present is both -- even if the apartment is well staged otherwise.
A Professional View
Dana Greco is a mental health professional with offices in both New York City and Long Island. She says that to a great extent, this kind of seller behavior is about control, more than anything else.
And that checks out. After all, as Mayfield Marks relates, one has to be a bit of a control freak to live in New York to begin with. “Sellers may feel a loss of power,” says Greco. “They may be concerned that strangers are invading their space and may touch things or pry into their lives if they’re not there to control the situation. The best thing for the seller to do is to develop a relationship of trust with the broker. Understand that the broker is there to represent them.” That’s why they hired them to begin with.