I Made This Mistake When Selling My Home and Have Regretted It Since

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  • Home sellers are responsible for vetting the professionals they work with.
  • Trusting the wrong people can lead to expensive mistakes.
  • Always shop around for a mortgage and do your homework on finding a home inspector.

The most embarrassing experiences in life can lead to some of the best lessons.

Of all the homes my husband and I have sold over the years, my biggest regret involves house No. 6. We worked with the wrong real estate agent. She was gregarious and personable, and entirely too willing to fudge the truth if it meant earning a paycheck. It's been 15 years since we sold that home, and I still kick myself for not choosing an agent more carefully.

No, scratch that. I still kick myself for being naive, not doing my homework, and not vetting any professional we worked with more carefully.

It all began with buying a home

We'd just moved back to the U.S. from Mexico, and I was anxious to buy a home. I realize today that I was caught up in the fog of happiness. We adored living in Central Mexico but were also excited about being back stateside. My husband was busy with his new job, so I was in charge of finding a house.

I called a real estate agent whose face showed up in advertisement after advertisement. She seemed friendly and knowledgeable, which at the time seemed like a good start.

Red flags I chose to ignore

A great real estate agent advocates on their client's behalf. They have a remarkable ability to negotiate without being pushy or rude. She ended up being both pushy and rude. I remember her asking me to look at a house outside our price range once. Since it was just around the corner from other homes we were touring, I agreed to take a peek.

I can't begin to tell you how embarrassed I was when the agent caught the homeowner on the side of his house and tried to coax him into dropping the price. I was standing right there, unsure what to do and wishing the ground would open up and swallow me. I knew it was wrong of her to speak directly to the homeowner. She should have called his real estate agent instead of putting him on the spot. Red flag No. 1 was her insensitivity to that homeowner.

She also talked about how she could bend people to her will. That was red flag No. 2, but I said nothing because I was raised to be polite above all things.

‘Don't worry, I know a guy.’

I must preface this by admitting that everything that follows is entirely my fault. I'm an adult, and I could have, should have, just said no.

When this agent told me that a dear friend of hers was one of the best loan officers in the mortgage business, I chose to believe it. I didn't even compare lenders, rates, or terms. Again, it's entirely on me.

When it was time for an inspection, she steered me to the "most ethical, efficient" inspector she knew, and I hired him.

Fast forward one year

A few months after we purchased the home, the housing bubble burst, and the U.S. was ushered into a deep recession. My husband's company could not afford to keep him, and we needed to move to a state where he'd secured a new job.

We knew that we paid more for the house than it was worth and would have to bring a check to closing to pay the difference between what we owed and the home's new, lower value.

The agent who'd sold us the house heard through the grapevine that we planned to move. I allowed her to present her pitch as to why she should now be the listing agent. She claimed to know the house better than any other agent we spoke with because she'd been involved in selling it.

My mistakes add up

The agent did something I'd never known an agent to do before and I did not recognize it as a dirty trick of the trade. She inflated the house's value, assuring me she could quickly sell it for that price. That was not true. Once I put it on the market, she immediately told me that we'd have to drop the price. By this time, my husband was away starting his job in another state and I was tasked with trying to figure things out.

It was a tough time, made more difficult by the fact that the inspector we hired the year before had never conducted a thorough inspection. The new inspection showed deep, lingering issues that had undoubtedly been present the year before. We made expensive repairs to the chimney, and repaired dry rot and termite damage. Turns out, the ethical and efficient inspector the agent introduced us to 12 months earlier was pretty bad at his job.

Don't get me wrong. Even as I share this story with you, I'm embarrassed about my decisions at the time. Still, the best thing about mistakes is that they represent an opportunity to learn. Here's what I learned from this experience:

  • It's important to be polite, but not if someone is trying to take advantage of you.
  • Shop around for the best mortgage, no matter which mortgage company your agent suggests.
  • Find your own home inspector and check their references.
  • Never pay more for a home than it's worth unless you can afford to lose money.
  • Do not blame someone else for your mistakes.

I still don't blame that agent. She did what was in her character to do. I blame myself for not taking control of the situation.

As I wrote this article, my husband happened to FaceTime me to walk me through the house he bought last week (in yet another state). He's there because the home is being inspected. As he looked for a reputable home inspector, I asked him to disregard the inspectors suggested by the agents he was working with. While they appear to be perfectly trustworthy, I'm not willing to make the same mistake twice.

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