You're just a buyer, standing in front of a seller, asking them to love you.

You might not realize it, but buying a home is a highly-nuanced social procedure just as much as it is a financial transaction. Maybe even more so. There are the sellers, who must be courted, protected from insult, and gently wooed over to your persuasion; there are the agents, who are go-betweens as busy and secretive as Tudor pages, there is the bank – I think the bank is a mercurial dictator in this analogy – and then there is you, the home buyer. Just like every dancer in a court volta had their prescribed choreography, so do you have your place. Also like court life, home buying carries with it a significant burden of etiquette made all the more cryptic by the fact that NOBODY TELLS YOU WHAT IS RIGHT AND WRONG. I would prefer that you not lose your head, dear reader. Instead, take a few tips on how to be a good buyer, so you too can live your happily ever after.

Don’t talk to the listing agent

You have your own agent; let them do the wheeling and dealing. In general, it is a bad idea to talk to the listing agent because a.) nothing good can come of it, and b.) you can actually make things worse for yourself. The buyers’ agent is there to get you a good deal and see you settled in a home you love. The listing agent is there to make the SELLERS as much money as possible, among other things. Do you see the direct conflict there? You may think it’s intuitive to cozy up to the listing agent, who has the ear of the sellers, but you could actually end up giving away information that could hurt you in negotiations.

Know that ugly =/= bad (and, for the love of God, don’t say it!)

Want to know how to royally agitate your agent, who is working hard to find you a great home in your price range? Start getting all uppity about cosmetic repairs that have little or nothing to do with the actual value of the home. Are the walls painted like a surrealist Technicolor nightmare? Beige paint is cheap, yo. Shag carpeting in the bathroom? That’s a weekend project, tops. Is the decor strange, off-putting, or excessive? That will all be gone by the time you move in. You have to see a house for the bones. An ugly house that is in great shape can be a great prospect, especially if the price reflects the cosmetic defects. And, if it doesn’t, you have room for negotiation or contingencies in the contract – if it means that much to you, have the owners paint the house before closing.

And, while we are at it, do NOT talk smack about the house while you are in it, whether at a showing or an open house. You run the risk of not knowing the owner is there and insulting them to the point that they don’t want to work with you. Or they could have cameras in the house. Or, equally possible, a gossipy listing agent. Better to save the snark for the car.

Craft an offer that will suck up to the sellers

Remember how I compared homebuying to a courtship more than a business deal? Creating an offer is taking a forward step in the wooing, one that could make or break the delicate balance altogether. Here’s the deal. The offer is not just about the figure on the dotted line, although that’s still super important. You have to take into account what the seller is looking for, which can be obtained by YOUR AGENT (read: not you) talking to the listing agent. Maybe the home is owned by curmudgeons who just want to turn a good profit and move on. In that case, you are going to want to focus more on the dollar figure. On the other hand, maybe it’s a family home and the sellers want to see it go to people who will love it as much as they did. That calls for a completely different offer. Keep in mind that, even if you make a generous offer, too many contingencies can erode the goodwill of the buyers. You have to, through limited possible means, make yourself likeable to the seller. Your best bets for this are not to nickel-and-dime them on counteroffers, to really think through your contingency requests, and possibly to enclose an offer letter to let the sellers know more about you and your family. No fruit basket necessary.

These, in short, are some of the most important things to remember when trying to buy a home. Keep in mind the “old fashioned courtship” metaphor, and tread lightly.

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