Buyers’ language is not lost in translation with Tim

Canny agents can interpret the language of would-be buyers
Canny agents can interpret the language of would-be buyers
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Estate agent Tim Blenkin turns the tables on buyers as he translates their language to bring true meaning.

We estate agents are the butt of so many hoary old jokes: “compact” means “small”; “Minster view” means “if you stand on a chair and crane your neck”; and of course “conveniently situated for shops and transport” means “between the main road and railway line next door to Asda”. Well,it may be time we got our own back, particularly against the house-hunters. Here are some favourites to which we are subjected by would-be buyers:

“It may take a while to put funds in place, as my money is off-shore”

Roughly translated, this means, “I am going to make you a tempting offer, probably well over the asking price, to keep you in my pocket while I try to raise the money. It may indeed be off-shore, but you, your client, and his solicitor will never find out. If the money actually exists, I will eventually be advised by my clever accountant that as soon as it hits the UK the Inland Revenue will take an interest, and all the hard work I put in, hiding it in Switzerland/ the Cayman Islands/ Bahamas, will be undone at a stroke. At this point I shall make an excuse and withdraw, probably three months and as many expired deadlines after you were naïve enough to accept my bid”.

“I do not need to sell my house because I can arrange bridging finance”

This is a classic and one we never fall for. It means: “I once had a conversation with the bank, who seemed keen to lend me an absurd amount of money. Whilst it suits me to remember this offer and to repeat it in an edited form to you, I have never taken it further and I certainly have no idea about the cost of an arrangement fee, interest, etc.

Accordingly, if you are fooled by this into accepting my bid, I shall rapidly put my house up for sale (the one I “don’t need to sell”), probably at an inflated price to try to narrow the gap between its true value and the price I am offering your client.

If there is no response after three weeks (or as long as I can spin out your mis-placed trust) I shall get cold feet and withdraw from the purchase, without ever even talking to the bank, and citing any number of excuses, from flooding in the Vale of York to the likelihood of a General Election any time in the next two years”.

“My house will sell very quickly”

Even in the slowest of markets we are confronted almost daily by this.  

A charitable interpretation is, “the eager young estate agent who came to see my house gave me a fancy price and the promise of an instant sale in order to get the job. I believed him – why don’t you?”

“I’ve inherited a lot of money”

If too loudly proclaimed at the outset this should be understood as “I’m going to fool you into believing in my new found wealth so I can snoop around some rather grand properties, collect a few brochures to show my friends, and dream of untold riches”. On one memorable occasion it was declared to a number of well heeled agents by a charming rogue who turned out to be penniless and on the run from the police. They got him eventually and he is now doing time – but only after one agent and his client agreed a sale to him at over £1million.

“I was gazumped”

In fact she made too low an offer and was unwilling or unable to improve it.

The house was sold to a higher bidder, but the disappointed party preferred to blame the agent rather than admit she simply couldn’t afford the house.

Gathering feedback from prospective purchasers who have just viewed a property is always illuminating.

Reasons for a property being “unsuitable” are often given as, “But it only has three bedrooms” (Yes, Sir, indeed, as per the details and floor plan revealed in the brochure that we sent to you), or, “It is too far from York” (Yes, Madam, 24 miles, exactly as stated in our brochure).

It seems that some prospective purchasers either do not absorb the salient facts before taking the trouble to view the property, or are reluctant to admit it isn’t suitable/they cannot afford it anyway.

• ”Not suitable – the kitchen/bathroom needs updating” is also usually code for, “I can’t afford it”.

• “Just looking – it’s early days”. To an agent, this in all likelihood will entail sending a charming couple, probably approaching retirement and who have a tendency to vagueness, on an endless round of unproductive appointments. Paralysed by possibilities, they will never, in the end, make a decision.

• “My husband says our budget is £1.5million”. Yes, Madam, but what he has not told you is that he has no intention of moving and has sent you round the grand agents to keep you out of his hair.

• “My wife will love the house, so no need to get her round just yet – let’s get the offer accepted first”, says the would-be buyer from London. “So”, we venture, “would you be prepared to exchange contracts without your wife having seen it?”. “Mmmmm…, perhaps not”. Then why should we accept your hasty offer and take the house off the market, only to put it back on a month later, possibly at a reduced price, once your wife declares the deal off?

• “I’m ringing to cancel today’s appointment as my daughter has a hospital appointment” means “We drove past the property yesterday after work and think it’s too isolated/too hemmed in/too close to a road/too ugly, etc…”

• The canny buyer trying to renegotiate the price downwards after receiving a largely upbeat surveyor’s report, phones to say, “It says here that the property needs a new roof”. This, more often than not, means that the roof has three slipped tiles and a wonky gutter.

• Be wary of claims that “I’m a cash buyer”. It can be translated as “I have £100 in the bank and need to borrow the rest”.

• The veteran buyer may breezily add a low grade threat to his offer: “I need an answer today as I have a couple of other properties that I’m seriously interested in”. The inference is, “I want to get it cheap, and preferably before anyone else gets a bid in”.

• When, after enquiring why there has been little progress following an agreed sale, we hear the buyer say, “I’m arranging to send my interior designer/architect/Feng Shui consultant out to the property”, our hearts sink. This usually turns out to be a stalling device which means,” I’ll waste two more weeks of your time while I try to raise the loot, and then withdraw our offer”.

• “I’ve heard that the house flooded in 2000” has come to mean, “You’ll never hear from me again, probably because I’ve bought in Cheshire/Devon/Spain”.

• The optimistic statement offered by a buyer trying to strengthen his or her position… “I can exchange within two weeks”, conceals a less palatable truth. “My solicitor has advised me that it is unlikely that we can exchange within two weeks, but because he at no point declared it impossible I am confidently able to declare that it is, in my opinion, a probable outcome”.

• “I missed the appointment you set up for me on Sunday” (yes and our vendor clients stayed in all day for you) “because my mother-in- law had a fall”. I see – you got a late invitation out to lunch and could not bring yourself to ring the owners and cancel – even though we gave you their home number?

Tim Blenkin is founder of Blenkin and Co., York.