Lew Sichelman

Loose lips can not only sink ships, they can also scuttle real estate transactions. Or, as one agent told me, “loose lips, opportunity slips.”

“When you have your home for sale, be careful what you say,” said South Carolina agent J.L. Boney. Sure, put the word out that you’re selling, but “steadily complaining about how much your hate your house is not going to win you a lot of brownie points and instill a ton of confidence” in potential buyers.

Boney was talking about discussing your property on social media. But sellers can also foul the deal by running their mouths during showings.

California agent Christine Kankowski once had a seller who kept saying – in front of potential buyers – that they were moving because the house’s rooms were too small. Buyers don’t want to hear that. They can see the rooms and decide for themselves.

“If you point out that [something] is problematic to you,” Kankowski said, “they will probably think it will be problematic for them, as well.”

You shouldn’t run your mouth after you land a buyer, either. North Carolina agent Debe Maxwell recalls hearing about a seller who posted that their “stupid buyer” was paying over list price, and that the house probably wouldn’t appraise for that much.

It sure didn’t, and the buyer, who had seen the comment online, refused to pay anything above the appraised amount. “Those loose lips cost [the seller] at least $10,000,” said Maxwell.

Foot-in-mouth disease can even hurt you at the closing table. Georgia agent Macy Babb had one client who talked so much at settlement that she had to kick him under the table to get him to shut up. “A deal is not closed until you have signed at the attorney’s office,” she warned.

One thing sellers should never disclose is their motivation for moving. Buyers don’t need to know you hate your neighbors, you’re getting divorced, you lost your job or you’ve been transferred. Information like that can be used against you because it indicates you are selling because you have to, not because you want to.

Buyers Beware, Too

But buyers, too, can disclose too much. Sure, you’re excited about finding a house, but be careful what you say online. It could come back to haunt you.

Like the buyer who posted on Facebook how much he wanted a certain house, and how much he was willing to pay. His offer, however, was much less than that – even below the asking price. The seller saw the post and countered at the exact price the buyer mentioned online. True to his word, at least, the buyer agreed to the higher number.

It’s best not to share your joy until after the transaction is closed. The same goes for sellers – maybe especially for sellers. Be careful what you say, because negative comments travel fast and far.

Don’t rant about how much you hate living under the dictatorship-like homeowners association. Don’t divulge that you are under the gun and absolutely, positively have to move out in two short weeks.

It’s not like sellers can legally hide much of anything from would-be buyers, anyway: With today’s disclosure laws, everything about the house must be laid out there for the world to see. If you know the basement leaks, for example, you must reveal that. In many places, you must even inform buyers if someone died in the house, even if you believe it is totally inconsequential.

Make Sure You’re Honest

But you don’t have to divulge anything about yourself or your reasons for selling. Any little tidbit can be used against you.

One time, Maryland agent Melissa Spittel got a great deal on a house because the seller posted that she had found her next home and was desperate to get her current place under contract.

In another instance, someone pulled up in front of a house for sale and engaged the owner in conversation. The stranger complimented the house, but said it was listed “way above what he could afford.” Feeling comfortable with the passerby, the seller revealed his bottom-line number. The next day, an agent showed up with an offer at that exact price from the sly passerby.

In Atlanta, one agent tries to engage sellers in small talk during showings, hoping to elicit an advantage for his buyers.

“Sellers talk way too much,” the agent said. “There’s rarely a time we don’t leave with good information.”

That’s why it’s best for sellers to make themselves scarce during a showing or an open house. That way, there’s no temptation to run your yapper and give away your bargaining points without even realizing it.

A Canadian agent uses a different ploy. He posts this warning in his office, in big, bold letters: “Anything you say to any real estate agent can and will be used against you to get a lower price for your home.”

The sign is a little garish, but it gets the point across.

Lew Sichelman has been covering real estate for more than 50 years. He is a regular contributor to numerous shelter magazines and housing and housing-finance industry publications. Readers can contact him at lsichelman@aol.com.