They're Just Not That Into Your House

Just as in dating, wooing homebuyers unsuccessfully can leave you wondering what went wrong. But don't take it personally!

Deborah Morehead was anxious and excited. Morehead, who lives in Danville, Va., thought she was going to be selling her house. What she didn’t know was that the woman who had agreed to meet her wasn’t coming, after all. Morehead and her Realtor were about to be stood up.

You may not have thought about it, but selling your house is a lot like trying to meet the man or woman you’re going to marry. After all, you’re trying to find someone not to just buy your house, but to live with your house. Just like in dating, your house needs to be presentable, ready to make a great first impression and you want to do more than just dazzle with that first impression -- you want people to fall in love. Often, you’re told by a potential buyer that they are in love with the house.

But then, just like in dating, the buyer doesn't make an offer, even if they said they would.

“Calls were not returned,” says Morehead. “The real estate agent left my house over an hour later, completely baffled. A follow-up call to the Realtor revealed that the woman never got back to her and wasn’t taking her calls. How weird is that?”

Not all that weird, actually, not in the world of real estate. It happens, probably every day, where home sellers are left to their own devices, annoyed, frustrated or even hurt, wondering if it was something they said, or something their Realtor said, since often you’re not meeting the home buyer face-to-face until the closing. But the cold hard truth is, just like the best-selling book and new movie says, sometimes they don’t buy because, cruel as it may sound -- they just aren’t that into your house.

Maybe they’re not that into yard work

Diane Wallace, of Gilbert, Ariz., and her husband wanted to cut their lengthy commutes to their photography studio, 32 miles away in Phoenix, so they put their house on the market. Soon, their Realtor was showing a couple their 2,900-square-foot home situated on an 8,000-square-foot lot. Among other amenities, it had two and a half baths, a spacious entertainment room and a three-car garage. And the house was located next to a greenbelt.

“They love it,” reported their Realtor. “The wife totally wants to make the upstairs game room into her yoga studio, and they love that the master bedroom is on the first floor, and they want to come back to measure the rooms.”

They did come back. In fact, they returned three, or possibly four, times, recalls Wallace.

The Wallaces left for a trip, confident that they would soon sell their house. But when they returned, they had to hunt down the Realtor, who reluctantly informed them that the couple had decided to buy another home. But why, Wallace wanted to know.

“They didn’t want grass,” said the Realtor, sounding puzzled. Wallace was, too. Despite being in a desert state, Wallace says that every house in their community has grass, and besides, it wasn’t as if that was a feature of the house that had remained hidden during those handful of visits, only to be noticed when a home inspector remarked, “Hey, Buddy, did you know this house has a lawn?”

Maybe they’re not that into buying right now

When Chris Loncto and his wife Karen put their three-bedroom, one-bath house on the market in Glen Rock, N.J., they had numerous showings to at least three potential buyers who came back three different times, and two others who came for second looks.

Loncto says that one young couple brought their mother over, and then on the second visit, they brought a friend, and on the third visit, they brought their father and a friend who was a Realtor. “They went up into the attic, the garage, and it sounded like an offer was coming,” says Loncto, “but it never did, and we don’t really know what happened. There was no real communication. The last we heard, they were looking at another house in another town.”

Not that the Lonctos never got a reason for buyers not making an offer. The reasons just weren’t very satisfying. They heard a comment from someone that there wasn’t enough closet space, and from another that the street they lived on was a little busy. But again, they had people coming back again and again and raving about their place. “Everyone seems to agree our house is quite charming,” says Loncto, “and they really dug it, but as they took longer and longer to make their purchase, everyone had reasons for talking themselves out of it.”

It was an exercise of frustrations for the Lonctos, especially for Karen, who had to keep the home in "show-worthy" condition and be ready for a potential buyer at a moment's notice. Not easy when you have a two-year-old and a three-month-old.

"It was an annoyance,” admits Chris. “[Karen] often was just kind of sitting and waiting by the phone for a call from our Realtor.”

Don’t let any of the rejection get to you

Loncto, who is now debating between putting his house back on the market or staying put and adding onto it, was smart to think of the rejection as an annoyance and nothing more.

“The hardest thing for the homeowner is that -- after the blasted people have inconvenienced you three times, running around, turning on all the lights, fluffing the pillows, tucking away errant toys, spraying madly with Febreze -- the rejection feels personal,” says home stager Juliet Johnson. “It isn’t, of course.”

Johnson, who is based in New Jersey, has spent the last six years listening to potential buyers reject a house because they didn’t like the location, the layout or the fact that the kitchen has an electric stove.

Johnson says she has heard people say, “Oh, it’s just not me,” or “The backyard’s not what I always dreamed of.”

In other words, a buyer is judging a house based on those feelings. “Buying a home, like deciding to marry, is a lifetime commitment and a life-changing decision that requires lots of due diligence beforehand,” says Lynne Sandler, who runs a dating site that uses music to predict compatibility. “Just like you wouldn’t propose to your girlfriend to save her from hurt feelings, a buyer isn’t going to slam down a half million dollars or more to spare the owners the embarrassment of not liking their home enough to buy it.”

Furthermore, says Sandler: “When a relationship is the right one, it usually blossoms quickly and effortlessly. There is no convincing or waiting for answers. Both parties know it right away.”

They’re just not that into your house if they aren’t making an offer

Fortunately, you can focus on what you do have control over. “So fix the lawn,” advises Wallace, the seller in Arizona, “clean the garage, paint a room or two -- and when someone says they love the house but just don’t want the master bedroom downstairs, well, I can’t rebuild the house, so I just had to move on. You have to realize in the end, no matter how good a deal your house is or how nice it is, people do not make rational decisions about houses, they make emotional decisions. There’s not a lot of ways to work with that.”

You can improve your home by trying to get honest feedback, rather than the suspicious dodges (“we don’t like grass”), suggests Jane Straus, a relationship expert, author and radio host. “It’s better to know than not to know because some problems can be fixed easily and inexpensively. Other deal-breakers can’t be fixed except to lower the price.”

That said, Straus concludes, “If you’re doing everything you can to sell your home and no one is nibbling, remember that you’re in good company. This is not a seller’s market at the moment. So don’t add more stress to your life by taking this personally. We do not control the universe but we can control our thoughts. Think good thoughts right now. It’s the least you can do for yourself.”

Geoff Williams is a regular contributor to FrontDoor.com, a blogger for AOL’s personal finance web site WalletPop.com and the author of C.C. Pyle’s Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America (Rodale).

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