Sellers should leave during showings of their homes – that is the common wisdom in the real estate industry. Most Silicon Valley Realtors will advise their seller clients to go out for a walk, do errands, or otherwise be fully out of sight when buyers and their agents visit the home.  Home owners may object that “it is an inconvenience. And what if the buyers or their Realtors have questions? ”

Recently, some friends told me of an extreme situation in which the home owner was in the driveway, grilling prospective open house visitors to see if they were serious buyers or just having a fun look – and told them that unless they were willing to buy that day, they should turn around and leave. They did. (I felt sorry for both them and for their Realtor, who watched them leave and wondered what happened.)

Once, when my family and I were house-hunting, we had the home owner follow us all through the house, staying all of 3 feet away at any given time. When we walked into the back yard, he followed us, grabbed a lawn chair and sat in it – staring at us.

My children referred to that episode as the one with the creepy man who followed us. Needless to say, we did not buy that house with the overbearing seller and the creepy vibe.

Assuming that a home owner would not do anything so egregious, could they remain at home? We return to the topic to answer this question:

Why should sellers leave during buyer tours?

Sellers should leave during showingsThe main reason why sellers should leave during showings has to do with how the prospective home buyer feels about the place. For cautious home buyers especially, the seller’s presence is off-putting.

Home buyers are more comfortable when several conditions are met:

  • the property needs to be neither too hot nor too cold (or they will leave fast!)
  • it needs to be clean and welcoming and to not smell bad (that doesn’t mean using lots of air fresheners)
  • it should be uncluttered and depersonalized
  • home buyers need to have “space” to hang out and envision living there, and that requires time.

When touring a house that’s absent of the current owners, it’s easier for visitors to mentally move in, to see themselves in that space. They don’t feel rushed. With the owners there, they cannot miss that it’s “your” house and not theirs. They tend to feel like an intruder. They hurry so that they can leave and stop interrupting the residents. And that is the opposite of what a home owner wants, since  the longer a buyer stays, the more likely he or she is to write an offer on the home.

Encouraging buyers to mentally move in is the same reason why real estate professionals encourage their clients to declutter and to depersonalize. Both of those things help to create a clean palate so that buyers can see themselves in the home. It’s harder to do if the house or condo is filled with your family photos, your degrees, your work awards, and your religious items.

Or, as is often said, “the way live in a home is not the same way that we sell a home”.

So, let’s say you are the home seller and take it from there:

If you are the homeowner and you are present, even on your best behavior, both the buyers’ agent and the buyers will feel uneasy about discussing the property while you are in earshot.  Someone may want to say “what do you think, should we open up that wall?” or “the room would look much nicer without the popcorn ceiling and the maroon wallpaper”. Or something like “what is that smell?”   They are not free to speak freely if they are afraid to offend you.They don’t want to be rude and they don’t want to hurt potential negotiations.  If they have children, that will add a new level of stress to their tour.

Home buyers also are not free to speak about pricing and strategy if you might overhear it.   You might think that’s OK, they can go back to the office or even to the car to discuss those things.

What about sitting on the back porch or going somewhere that’s not central?

“But Mary, I’m not obtrusive. I go outside, or I tinker on things in the garage. Surely I cannot be hurting the odds that my home will sell?”  I’m afraid so.  To give your house or condo the best opportunity to sell, you do really need to be fully gone, not just off to a corner. If you are there, the buyers will still feel like they need to hurry on out of there, because you are in the garage or back patio because they are there.

What about questions? Sellers should leave during showings so that they do not answer questions themselves!

Many home sellers believe that they should hang around either to answer questions, or worse, to offer a guided tour. Guided tours may be appropriate if the house has many specialized electronic components or high tech wizardry, but in most cases, guided tours by sellers to buyers are creepy to the buyers.  (“And this, Mister Buyer, is where my wife gave birth to our twins five years ago!”)  No, no, no.

Questions should be addressed by the buyer’s agent to the listing agent and not directly to the seller; this is for many reasons, most of all the protection of the seller.  A written description that can be handed out with the home flier works too.

Sellers should leave during showings for so many reasons.  Most of all, it is so that the potential home buyers will feel comfortable taking their time.  Remember, the longer they stay, the more likely they are to want to make it their home.