One of the most important parts of our job is understanding the psychology of the seller

Jonathan Harington’s ‘stiff-legged terrier’ syndrome

My first boss said, ‘we are not agents we are nannies’ and forty years on I can safely say he was not far wrong. Understanding the psychology of both the seller and buyer is vital to make a deal happen and helps prevent what I have always called, the ‘stiff-legged terrier syndrome’, where intransigence sets in based on high emotion and all reason goes out of the window.

Every personality is different and understanding how to communicate with them is hugely important. It is essential to see both sides of the argument and accept the vendor and purchaser are looking from different ends of the telescope.

Time the offer with the vendors’ mood

Is the vendor in a mood to sell now or is their intent to leave the property on the market for a couple of weeks or months? If we determine the vendor is ready to sell now, any offer for the property has to be at a level which is not going to irritate them – and this is a vital judgement at the outset.

If the offer is too low the reaction will be, ‘they’re time wasters’ and this may affect the negotiations and relationship later. If the price guide is too high (and if our advice is that the property is worth considerably less), it is better not to make an offer and ‘keep the powder dry’: wait for the vendors and agent to realise they have got it wrong.

As my London partner says, “let them have twenty people through the door, walking dirt into their carpet,” in other words, let the market speak. It is also very important when deciding on tactics to find out if the price has been dictated by the owner or whether it is the agent’s advice.

Overcoming the odds

In a typical purchase situation, we have agreed the price and probably included carpets curtains, white goods garden furniture and machinery too – the fact we have included all of this in the offer has probably come as a surprise to the vendor. It is very likely we have agreed a price at much less than the guide and included these items, so there is a bruised vendor who thinks he is being ripped off. It is also likely the buyer is still thinking he is paying too much.

Then comes the survey, there are often genuine problems with houses, particularly old ones, but the vendors will probably think it absolutely fine and ‘how dare someone suggest I have not kept my house in good shape’. On top of that, it may be a listed house which they have carried out work to in the past without consent. ‘Don’t be ridiculous,’ the owner thinks, ‘I never needed consent’.

So trying to renegotiate on a survey can be psychologically tough for a vendor to accept – they may take it personally, after all, they think the property is being sold cheap and ‘these people are saying I have not looked after it and want to knock more money off’. Meanwhile the buyers are thinking ‘I am not paying that price unless I get a big reduction’.

This is why having an experienced Buying agent is essential; it can be very stressful.

Solicitors – a whole new area of communication

Then the solicitors come on board and a new channel of communication is opened often without knowing what has been previously said.

For example, we had agreed a 10% deposit but the solicitor decided to ask for 5% without consulting either us or the purchaser. No problem you would think, the vendor just says I am sticking to what was agreed. But we are back to psychology again: instead he picks up the telephone to his agent and says ‘these people are behaving disgracefully’ – poor ‘these people’ had no idea what was being asked in their name. Another example is where the vendor’s solicitor produced the list of fixtures and fittings on the day of exchange – disaster; it should have been with the draft contract at the outset. It’s all about communication and incidentally, having the right solicitor is absolutely vital.

It’s not just solicitors. We recently bought a house for a client where it was agreed that certain items in the house would be included, but the selling agent failed to tell his clients (or it may have been the vendor forgot to tell his wife!). This caused a major problem for us to iron out.

Losing a multi-million pound house over a washing machine

Nobody would believe how much we have to do to keep deals on a straight course. There have been many multi-million pound deals that have crashed and burned because of a fall-out over the curtains or a washing machine. In fact over the years we have – on more than one occasion – paid for such things as white goods and garden seats (and once even a sit-on mower), directly ourselves just to help get the deal across the line!

I believe that understanding the psychology of the vendor is hugely important in every property purchase. Are they an elderly couple scaling down after 30 years or is it a thrusting young banker trading up who is not used to being told ‘no’? Why are they selling, when do they want to move and what is important to them? Are they taking advice from their agent and if not, why not and what can my clients do to make themselves the most popular buyer?

Everyone needs to remain calm in a property transaction without shouting from the rooftops ‘they are behaving badly’ (although sometimes they do). Goal posts can be moved by vendors and it can be immensely irritating, so if some of the light fittings are going at the last minute, however annoying, we calmly try to remind our clients that the house is going to be a home for twenty years so don’t miss out for minutia and regret it later – it is the only house like that in the world and there may not be a second chance!

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