When you find a home you’re dying to own, you might assume that honesty is the best policy when dealing with the seller (or the listing agent). And it is … to a point. But keep in mind, buying a home is a high-stakes poker game—er, negotiation—where revealing exactly what’s going on in your head, heart, and bank account could cost you big-time.
Of course, you should never outright lie when you’re trying to buy a house. We’re on the record on that point, right? Good! But all that said, you might need to tiptoe around the truth sometimes.
So before you say something you’ll regret, here’s what info to gently spin so the ball stays in your court.
White lie No. 1: ‘I’d ideally like to move in by X date’
What you really mean: “I have to be out of my current place by X date! Help!”
Recently Bob Gordon, a Realtor® with Berkshire Hathaway in Boulder, CO, walked through an open house with a client who fell in love with the charming home—and excitedly approached the listing agent, announcing she was going to make an offer. Oh, and she had to be out of her current home in 30 days.
“That’s when I jumped in and took my client outside,” Gordon notes. The lesson he drove home to his client (and wants to pass on to others) is that if you absolutely have to move by a certain date, sellers will smell your desperation and play hardball. So it’s better to soft-pedal this info and pray they’re eager to move out quickly, too (as many sellers are).
White lie No. 2: ‘We’ve made every effort to get our finances in order’
What you really mean: “God, we hope we can afford this.”
You don’t want a seller to worry that your contract will fall through, so keep all money concerns (like fears about loan denials) to yourself.
“Most of these issues can be covered by generic financing contingencies,” assures Kyle Alfriend, managing partner for Alfriend Real Estate Group Re/Max Achievers in Dublin, OH. If not, you should probably wait to make an offer until your issues are resolved.
White lie No. 3: ‘We’re really excited about this house’
What you really mean: “We must have this house! Seriously, we’ll do anything.”
Of course, homeowners will be flattered to know you love their home, but for your wallet’s sake, you need to play it cool, says Paul Silverman, a broker associate for Martha Turner Sotheby’s International Realty Circle of Excellence in Houston. “If sellers know that you’re absolutely in love with the home, they might not be as willing to negotiate.”
White lie No. 4: ‘We’re not sure yet what our top offer will be’
What you really mean: “The most we can possibly pay is ___.”
“You shouldn’t let the seller or seller’s agent know what you’re willing to pay, no matter how much you want the house,” advises Laura Usher, president of Cape Cod & Islands Association of Realtors and a Realtor for Kinlin Grover Real Estate in Brewster, MA. “Negotiation is part of the strategy in the home-buying process. It’s important not to show your hand.”
White lie No. 5: ‘We’re guessing there are other houses that also offer what we want’
What you really mean: “This is the only house that has the price point/pool/school district we want. Period.”
“Sellers must price their homes against the competition, and this is the greatest tool the buyer has,” says Alfriend. Because of that, try not to gush like a schoolgirl with a crush about any features that make the home unique.
Even “if this is the only home in your price point with a pool, walking distance to a school, three-car garage, or five bedrooms,” Alfriend says, “don’t let the sellers know that these are critical to your purchase decision.” If you do, they’ll know they have the upper hand.
White lie No. 6: ‘We have a few more questions’
What you really mean: “We’re getting cold feet.”
Freaking out a little about your decision? Please don’t express your jitters to the home sellers. Feeling nervous is entirely normal—or a sign that you should ask more questions to clear up any concerns.
For instance, if you’re wary of whether the pool and yard will require too much upkeep, go ahead and ask the sellers how many hours they spend on maintenance (or what they pay someone to do it for them). Or if you’re leery about neighborhood safety or wonder if there’s good access to public transit, there are plenty of ways to research the area online and get more info. Or, if you’ve truly got a case of cold feet, you may just need a reality check from a trusted friend or your real estate agent about how, say, you’ve looked at plenty of homes to make the right decision. But this sounding board should not be the home seller—unless you want some major drama on your hands.