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Old IntercomDiscretion is not a trait that we Americans are well known for, but with real estate transactions, whether buying or selling (or more obviously, working in the business), it is keenly important.

Home buyers want to exercise caution about expressing much when viewing homes in the presence anyone other than their own party or their own Realtor.  Many intuitively know to say very little in front of the seller, the listing agent, or other buyers or other agents at an open house except for their own.  Since many of our Silicon Valley residents originally hail from another country, the temptation can be to switch modes and converse in their native language.  But that, too, may not always give the confidentiality you’d hope for, as many people here speak two or more languages, and you might be surprised to find out who speaks which one(s).

My blonde haired, blue eyed younger sister is fluent in Spanish after studying at the language institute at Cochabamba, Bolivia and later living in Venezuela for several years.  She tells a very funny story about later studying and living in New York and hearing, loud and clear, some young men say rude things in Spanish, mistakenly assuming that she didn’t understand a word of it.  Apparently, her Irish got the better of her, and she told them off using Spanish that would make a sailor blush.  I bet they didn’t make that assumption about language capabilities after that!

Home sellers will want to be discreet also.   They are usually best served when they are absent during showings – it heads off all kinds of problems at the pass.  Their listing agent should be present during conversations with potential buyers or buyers’ agents to keep that seller from saying something that might be harmful to his or her negotiating position later. (And in fact the buyers’ agent is not supposed to ask the seller any questions unless the listing agent is also there – that’s part of our Realtor code of ethics.)  

On a practical level, though, the seller may want to be there to “screen” the buyers, get a feel for who may be making the offer etc.  Tempting as it might be, it’s normally better to let one’s Realtor do the screening and to have the arm’s length that helps with keeping neutral (or at least trying to stay neutral) when offers are reviewed.

Realtors more than anyone else involved in real estate sales need to practice discretion constantly.  Sometimes, on the broker tour (when it’s expected that only real estate professionals are present), agents may be tempted to comment on something unsightly or weird about a property.  Best not to say anything about that strange whatever-it-is, as sometimes the seller is in the next room or perhaps the listing agent is not himself or herself neutral on the property.  There are many other places for keeping it quiet, whether it’s information on our clients, their circumstances, challenges with various people in the transaction, etc.

For everyone involved: when it doubt, keep it to yourself until you are alone with your own real estate professional or client.   Then you can go over everything.

Takeaways:  For buyers, jotting notes about the homes seen to later jog the memory and provide material for discussion can be a very helpful thing and is much safer for your position than having the seller overhear how much you dislike some element of the house. For sellers, steering clear is ideal.  If you must be home, tell the buyers and their agent anything unique or not obvious that you feel they must know when they arrive, and then either take a walk, sit out in the back yard or otherwise just “give them space”.