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Buyers Need to Know What Extras Come With the Home


Agreeing to adopt a white kitten saved Linda Mullinix $5,000 on a home she bought several years ago in San Jose.

The kitten was deaf, and though the pet could easily navigate in the house she knew so well, were she to go outside, the home's owners feared, the kitten might be struck by a car or attacked by a dog.

So the family selling the home was willing to take the below-market offer made by Mullinix--on the condition that Mullinix would keep and care for the kitten.

The irony was that Mullinix, who enjoys pets, would have gladly adopted the cat and paid the full market value for the home had the sellers sought that outcome through a counteroffer.

Nine years ago, Mullinix moved to Laguna Hills, where she became a real estate agent. And she always remember the lesson the white cat taught her: that emotion, not reason, often prevails when it comes to home sales.

On the matter of what stays and what goes when a home is sold, feelings reign supreme, real estate professionals say.

Mullinix, an agent in the Laguna Hills office of the Coldwell Banker chain, said it's crucial that a home seller avoid misunderstandings about what is included with the home.

That way there will be no misunderstandings that can jeopardize closure of a deal or hurt the interests of the seller, she said.

When disputes occur, they usually happen because the buyer is surprised to discover that certain furnishings or appliances he covets don't actually go with the home after all.

Sometimes arguments are also sparked by items left behind by a thoughtless seller, such as dilapidated furniture or boxes of castaway items that should have gone to charity before the home changed hands.

Any seasoned real estate agent can tell stories of torrid arguments that developed after the buyer was disappointed to learn he wasn't getting what he thought he'd bargained for.

A buyer might become enraged, for example, to learn that he wouldn't become the owner of an antique brass fireplace screen with a peacock decor that he thought came with the deal. Or maybe he was expecting to get the custom floor-to-ceiling blinds in the family room.

Fancy window treatments and antiques can be valuable. But, as any veteran agent will tell you, heated disputes can develop over relatively inexpensive pieces as well.

For instance, Sindy Verdugo, an agent for Re/Max College Park Realty in Long Beach, recalls a major controversy that developed over a lamp that hung over a seller's grand piano.

The buyer falsely assumed that the sellers intended to leave the piano light, worth about $200, when they moved. But when the buyers' moving van pulled up and they noticed that the piano lamp was gone, they were furious and took the matter to Small Claims Court.

Are you a home seller who wants to be sure false expectations don't come back to hurt you? Then these five points could prove of value:

No. 1: Communicate, communicate, communicate.

There are plenty of ways to tell would-be buyers that items that hold special value to you won't be part of a transaction. For one thing, you can convey that information in the home's original listing or in a marketing brochure.

Another way to communicate what doesn't go with the deal is to leave a card noting that fact next to the item. Suppose, for instance, that you have no intention of letting go of a brand-new washing machine. Then leave a card on top of the machine indicating that fact.

Verbal remarks (especially those made by your agent) can also reinforce the messages you put in writing, Mullinix noted.

For example, if the agent for the colonial house Mullinix bought had simply asked her if she would mind keeping the kitten, the owners might have realized a higher price for their property.

Suppose you have a mammoth black piano in your family room, but no one in your household plays the Steinway any longer. It could be expensive to move the piano and, anyway, you may not have time to go through the hassle of trying to sell the instrument or donate it to charity before you take your corporate transfer.

Why not have your agent ask would-be buyers whether they would like to keep the piano? Perhaps they have a household member who needs a piano and would value your home more highly if it were part of the deal.

No. 2: Remove the items you prize before your house is shown to prospects.

Is the crystal chandelier in your dining room an heirloom that is worth several thousand dollars? Was the costly designer mirror over your fireplace an anniversary gift that holds special value to you? Then why not replace such items with inexpensive equivalents purchased from a local home center?

"If an item is never seen, the buyers don't get their hopes set on it," said Barbara Burner, a broker-associate with Century 21 Rolling Oaks in Thousand Oaks.

No. 3: Stress the sentimental value of hard-to-store items you want to keep.

Did you receive a pair of fine rose bushes as a wedding present from your godmother when you married a few years back?

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