Originally published in The Sunday Business Post and discussed on The Morning Show with Decan Meehan on East Coast FM
Last week, a story about an estate agent in the UK getting fired after stealing chocolate from a tenant’s flat went viral. The agent in question was caught red-handed grabbing the chocolate and stuffing it into his pocket on a ‘nanny cam’ while showing the property to potential new tenants. The video was shown to his employer, to local police and then to the world via YouTube. The video was treated as a joke, with many people showing surprise that the agent lost his job over the incident. The reality is that this is no joking matter. The agent was dishonest. He acted dishonestly and his behaviour was captured on camera. He was in a position of trust when dealing with other peoples’ homes. How many other houses has he taken liberties in when there was no camera to record him? How many sellers would engage him now that this behaviour has come to light? I am willing to bet that not many would. Trust is not a word that is bandied around much within the skeptical world of real estate; however, without trust on a basic level it would impossible for people to rent or sell their properties. Usually, the burden of trust and good behaviour is placed squarely on the shoulders of the sellers’ agents but it should not be exclusively so; buyers also must adhere to certain standards, respecting the privacy of the sellers or current tenants throughout viewings.
So what constitutes buyer etiquette? This is not a vague notion; after almost a decade of helping buyers in three different countries, I can confirm that there are quite a few established Do’s and Don’ts for house-hunters. The first rule for buyers is an obvious one; do not knowingly waste the sellers or their agents’ time. During the quiet years after the Irish market crashed, estate agents were so happy to catch a whiff of potential buyers that they accommodated everyone. But as the market recovered, offices became busy again and house-hunters now have to prove themselves as serious buyers. Earlier this summer one gentleman complained that for years he could get viewings at short notice or after work hours but now the only viewings he can attend are scheduled open viewings. I asked him whether or not he had purchased during all those years of viewings; unsurprisingly, he had not. In fact, at this point, what is surprising is that he is still invited to attend the open viewings. Time wasting will simply not be tolerated in today’s busy market so buyers are advised to have finance in place and view only those properties that are genuinely suitable. And there is a good reason for this; homeowners are allowing strangers to walk through their home. This is a huge infringement of their privacy and that of their family. The least that they can expect from potential buyers is basic etiquette. This goes beyond simply having good manners in terms of punctuality and feet wiping. Buyer etiquette, to my mind, is a certain code of behaviour that is expected when viewing inside the property including, but not limited to, the following:
1. Do not block the driveway. Ever. Even if it is raining.
2. If you are asked to leave your shoes at the door for religious or house-keeping reasons, please do so without grumbling.
3. Remember that you are walking through someone’s home. The décor may not be to your taste but someone chose it and as a buyer, you must be respectful with your comments. In my experience, it is best to save the witty repartee about the 70’s themed lounge or risqué artworks until you go home. The estate agent may smile indulgently at you, but you will have shown yourself to be rude. In house-hunting, as in life, your opinion is really only important to you.
4. Be respect of private spaces; you are there to look but not touch. It is possible to conduct a thorough viewing without opening presses and drawers. Obviously, rifling through any personal belongings is a big ‘no no’.
5. Following on from the point above, it is never okay to cause damage. In derelict houses, engineers often pull up a floor board or knock a small hole in the ceiling to check for damp, insulation and other issues but this is not okay. I am aware of one particular agent who had to stop a house-hunter from taking a swatch of curtain cloth – she had even brought nail scissors in her handbag. When I heard this, I did wonder if she had successfully taken swatches from any other properties viewed.
6. If it proves necessary to bring children to the viewing, it is important to explain to the children that the house belongs to someone else and that nothing should be touched. Unfortunately, this included toys that might be left around.
7. It is perfectly acceptable to have an engineer accompany you to the viewings, or maybe a parent or wise uncle but please limit the numbers. One infamous viewing party of seven trawled the Stillorgan Saturday morning viewings every week for a period of months. They were a couple, their wildly rambunctious son and both sets of parents. Happily for them – and the local estate agents – they found a property last year after about two years of hunting.
8. Ladies, please avoid spiked stilettos that cause damage to hardwood, vinyl and painted flooring.
9. If the owner is present, which is not really usual in Ireland, do request permission before taking photographs or videos.
10. Do not throw yourself onto the sofa and turn on the television, regardless of how exhausted from viewings that you might be. That rule also applies to beds, bathtubs (that one happens much more frequently than you might expect) and any other furnishings.
11. Similarly, if it can be avoided at all, do not use the bathroom.
12. Finally, thank the agent showing you around and the sellers, if they are present. It might sound obvious but many people forget this.