I recently browsed the pages of an estate agency that does not offer accompanied viewings, and was drawn to the section where they give tips to vendors on “how to show someone around your house”.
Immediately I realised that whoever wrote the advice (presumably the person who owns the company) must be too young to remember the tragic case of estate agent Suzy Lamplugh: she disappeared in 1986, having gone to show someone claiming to be called “Mr Kipper” around a property. Her fate and her whereabouts remain a mystery to this day.
Thereafter, estate agents across the land were issued with fresh guidelines on how to keep safe while on viewings. Guidelines which, sadly, do not seem to be being passed on by this particular agency to their vendor-clients. In fact, their advice should carry a Government health warning; or preferably be taken off their website altogether.
Fancy telling someone, who has just let a complete stranger into their home, to keep all the doors closed, and lead the way into each room! If you are unlucky enough to have Mr Kipper behind you, you are merrily leading him straight into a number of cul-de-sacs with no chance of escape!
There are always going to be vendors who prefer to “do it themselves” or save money by employing an online agent to advertise the property for them but conduct the viewings themselves. And that’s fine. But if you are in that category, here’s a little advice:
Firstly, BE CAREFUL! And think through what you’re letting yourself in for. It is not the hardest thing in the world for a ne’er-do-well to gain access to your home, via making an appointment to view. And know what? Even in this world where everyone is honest and tells the truth (I wish), they may even use a false identity to do so.
Yet you will be expected to meet and greet them; complete strangers, about whom you will know very little. If anything at all.
Try to have someone else present for the viewings. Safety in numbers and all that. Also, in the event that Mr Ne’er-Do-Well brings his friend, Mr Distraction-Burglar, for a second opinion, you have an extra pair of eyes to keep a look out.
Don’t feel you have to make them tea and coffee. They’re there to view your property, not for a social call, and while the very English thing to do is make them feel at home, (a) you will be distracted from the job at hand, selling your property, while you fuss around in the kitchen and (b) they will be distracted from the job at hand, buying your property, while they worry about where they can put their hot mug down.
Going to the lengths of recording what’s said during the viewing on a mobile phone, or some other device, might be a little OTT, but definitely listen out for clues that the would-be buyer may not be interested in purchasing your home as much as they are keen on obtaining what’s inside it (“do you mind if I look inside this locked cabinet?”, “does your property have a safe?”, “are there door and window sensors for the alarm, or does it just rely on the motion ones?”, … that sort of thing).
Sometimes, you may feel you want to end the viewing quickly. That’s okay. Do so. It’s far less important to lose a potential sale than it is to lose some of your most sentimentally valuable jewellery. Or worse.
Don’t give out any more personal information than is absolutely necessary. For example, don’t tell him your child attends the local primary school; tell him there is a local primary school nearby and you’ve heard great things about it. Or quote their most recent Ofsted report. If the viewer asks where your kids go to school, remember that if they are seriously interested in the local school, they will do their own research. Frankly, it’s none of their business where your children are.
And similarly, telling someone that it’s a quiet place to live because the people next door are away for the next three months, isn’t really being very neighbourly.
Having said that, you MUST be totally honest if there is any aspect of where you live that you think might have a negative impact on their interest in your property. Do you have noisy neighbours? Has there ever been a murder or suicide in your house? Is there a mobile phone mast nearby? Can you hear the trains, motorway, planes…? Can you smell the pig farm when the wind blows in the right (wrong) direction? Are there any issues surrounding access to your garage via the rear lane?
As a vendor you are every bit as responsible for revealing this information to a potential buyer as an estate agent is. Consumer Protection legislation (known as CPR’s in the industry) means that you MUST disclose any negative features of the property or its environs that could have a “material” effect on the buyer’s decision on whether to purchase or not.
The difficulty is: you’ll have no way of knowing what’s “material” and what’s not. But failure to comply could result in an unfavourable brush with the law.
Estate agents sometimes have the advantage over you in getting to know the prospective buyers enough beforehand to be able to gauge what might be relevant. You will have only just met the viewers, so may feel you have to list absolutely everything you can think of. Honest, yes. But hardly the ideal sales pitch.
Finally, DON’T DON’T DON’T (!) keep all the doors closed. DON’T DON’T DON’T (!!) lead them into each room. ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS (!!!) provide yourself with an escape route.
I know that what I’ve written all sounds very alarmist. But as a vendor accepting strangers into your home, you do need to be careful.
Then again, you could simply employ an estate agent who is able to supply an experienced member of staff to conduct the viewings for you.
Now there’s a thought.