Selling a home can be a long, time-consuming process, especially if the seller and potential buyers butt heads. Sometimes, the issues behind a deal-making deadlock are legitimately big. Other times, they simply aren’t. Here, we talk to agents about some of the most petty issues that can sabotage a home sale.
Missing cover plates
When you’ve lived in a house for a long time, sometimes little things go missing that are easy to forget about, especially when those little things are in rooms that aren’t used a ton. For people seeing a house with fresh, about-to-plunk-down-a-bunch-of-money eyes, however, these little things can seem significant.
“One of the funniest—and most annoying—requests I get is for sellers to replace missing cover plates on light switches and outlets,” Amy Berglund, a real estate agent with Re/Max Professionals City Properties in Denver, CO, says. “Usually they’re missing in places such as laundry rooms and basements—think places that aren’t used that much. It is an incredibly affordable fix.”
While this fix is cheap and easy for sellers, Berglund also cautions buyers not to let such matters stand in the way of a purchase.
“Despite what your overzealous inspector tells you, you are not going to die from electrocution because of a missing cover plate!” she says.
Jen Horner, a real estate agent with Re/Max Masters in Salt Lake City, says that one all too common issue she’s encountered involves what she calls “the case of the missing blinds.” The caper goes like this: A buyer sees a house and falls in love. Between the offer and the final walk-through, however, the sellers finish moving out and, to them, that includes the blinds, rods, and/or drapes. In Horner’s experience, this can spell trouble. Big trouble!
“When looking at a property, buyers incorporate window dressings into their overall impression of the house. It’s part of the all-important connection,” she says. “And if they are not clearly excluded in the contract, window dressings belong to the home. Most of the time, the seller will agree to replace or reimburse the missing items. But if a seller refuses, we’ve seen it become a contentious issue that threatens the entire deal—even though you’ve made it to the walk-through.”
Dead lightbulbs and batteries
Berglund says another common request sellers should be prepared for is to replace light bulbs and smoke detector batteries. These might seem inconsequential, but they help make a home feel move-in ready in a really basic way. Refusing to replace them can be a petty (and unnecessary) way to kill a sale.
Weird odors, jiggly handles, and other small details
Horner stresses that tiny, seemingly inconsequential issues can often be the difference between a sale and a missed opportunity. Since sellers have often lived in a house for years, it’s easy for these small details to fade from their awareness.
“Sellers should also understand the keys to making a good first impression with potential buyers,” she says. “To start with, most sellers have lived in their home for many years and no longer have a first impression. While the seller may have grown accustomed to the litter box odor, the jiggling handle on the back-sliding door, or the mismatched paint in parts of the house, prospective buyers do not want to encounter these things. In aggregate they will kill further interest from buyers.”
Due diligence is vital when buying a home, but Berglund says that especially when it comes to older homes, it’s important to be realistic. She cites floors in vintage homes that are not level as a prime example of this kind of misguided quest for perfection among some prospective buyers.”I would be creaky and un-level if I was 110 years old as well!” she says.
She notes that not all of these concerns stem from prospective buyers themselves and that sometimes, home inspectors can contribute to the potential for pettiness, especially states that don’t require licensing for inspectors.
“The bottom line is that inspection is intended for major health and safety concerns only—roof, sewer line, foundation problems,” Berglund says. “If you love the house, particularly if it’s a vintage home, talk with your agent about what constitutes a reasonable inspection objection, and don’t create problems where there aren’t any. Also, find a great home inspector! So many of these problems are created by subpar inspectors. In Colorado, home inspectors don’t need a license, so there are a lot of charlatans running around here! Be savvy, rely on your agent, and do your own homework on inspectors.”
Sometimes potential buyers might have their heart set on something that’s not really a part of the house that’s being sold. Horner recalls one memorable incident in which a $100 foosball table was the cherry on top that closed a deal—and threatened to kill it.
“During a 2017 sale of a $1.2M home in Utah, and after months of negotiations, the deal literally came down to a last-minute ask for a foosball table worth about one hundred bucks,” she explains. “Through some professional real estate therapy on both sides, we were able to avoid this final barrier and close on the property. Most importantly, both the buyer and seller were pleased with the outcome.”
While the foosball table might seem like a bizarre example, Horner says these small issues come up time and again and come down to the psychology of the sales process.
“Oftentimes, completing an agreement between a buyer and seller will come down to a seemingly very small term in the contract or ask,” she says.
“These types of issues, which might seem petty on the surface, are oftentimes rooted in buyers or sellers psychologically wanting to feel like they got a final win before the deal closes. Successfully navigating these last-minute complications is what good real estate agents do. Good real estate agents are also therapists and need to consistently aim for mutual assent between the parties.
Kayleigh Roberts is a writer and editor whose work has appeared in The Atlantic, Marie Claire, and Elle, among other publications.