"Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law." -- Miranda warning given by police to criminal suspects
Sellers talk too much. And when they do, they often talk themselves out of a lot of money. So, sellers: Keep your mouth shut and allow your agent to serve as your mouthpiece.
It's not that you are trying to hide something from would-be buyers. With today's disclosure laws, everything materially wrong with a home is going to be revealed to the other side, anyway. If it's not, you're asking for trouble.
At the same time, though, if you ramble on with a prospect or even his agent, chances are you will give up some information that the other side can use to gain a negotiating advantage.
Say you are about to close on your new house and need the money from the old one. Or your daughter is about to have a baby and you want to be out before the blessed event. Or maybe you are flexible on your price.
Make any of those things known in what you think of as passing conversation, and you've just reduced your chances that a buyer will come in with a strong offer.
"It's amazing how much of a disadvantage sellers can put themselves in," said Christine Donovan of the Donovan Group in Costa Mesa, Calif., on the real estate website ActiveRain.
The topic comes up often in the ActiveRain chat rooms, and the gist is usually that agents MUST read their sellers their real estate Miranda rights, sometimes prior to every showing.
Most agents working with buyers love it when sellers strike up a conversation with their clients. Pretty soon, they establish a bond -- maybe they went to the same college, or they have the same number of children. And then, before you know it, the seller wants the "nice young couple" to have the house.
That's when the classified information dam breaks. The seller will disclose the lowest price they're willing to take, or that they are getting a divorce and have to move right away. Often, everything and anything a buyer can use to his advantage in determining what he wants to offer can come spilling out.
Some sellers don't stop there. They also might divulge that they hate the neighborhood or the schools, or that the local kids are annoying. If that's the case, what makes anyone think someone else would want to live there?
The message should be clear: Take a vow of silence, even with other real estate agents. After all, speaking with them is just like speaking to the buyer. "Being silent is the best negotiation skill one can have," Mike Yeo of 3:16 Team Realty in Frisco, Texas, advised in one ActiveRain discussion. "Just shut up!"
Some buyers' agents are slick. They try to engage the seller in innocent conversation. It might seem like idle chatter, but the good ones have ways to get information out of sellers -- information that only the seller's agent should have.
This is why agents recommend that sellers leave the home when it is being shown. That way, there's no chance of something slipping out that shouldn't. If you can't leave, gather the family in front of the TV and don't move. Acknowledge the visitors' presence, but otherwise be quiet.
Besides the possibility of showing your hand, Jennifer Fivelsdal of JFIVE Realty in Rhinebeck, N.Y., commented recently, any interaction makes it hard for the buyer to focus on the home's features -- making you less likely to get an offer.
Buyers frequently run at the mouth, too, and the information they spill -- like how high they can go -- is just as damaging to their cause. "A $10 muzzle would have saved them $15,000," commented Doug Rogers of Century 21 Millennium in Pineville, La., of past clients.
"I have to admit: As a listing agent, I've been on the receiving end of buyers talking too much," said Mel Peterson of the Real Estate Cafe in Grants Pass, Ore. "It was quite helpful when we went into a counter situation and I was able to share with my sellers how badly the buyers wanted their home."
So buyers, too, should take a vow of silence. "Buyers are meant to be seen, not heard, especially when viewing a house," said Gary Waters of Century 21 Baytree Realty in Rockledge, Fla. "They need to share between themselves and their agent, not the seller's agent."
If buyers and sellers must speak to one another, they should try not to show any emotion. And keep your comments -- good or bad -- to yourself. Only when buyers leave the property should the discussions begin about what they liked and disliked about the place.
"I always say to keep your cards as close to your chest as possible," said Yvonne Burdette of Rhoads Real Estate in Springfield, Mo. "Every word is a commodity you should not give, sell or trade."