The alien in the basement, and other buyer turnoffs

Some houses are heart-stopping perfect. But John Boyd’s ticker skipped a beat a few years ago for another reason when he was previewing a house on behalf of a client.

It was a “pretty expensive house,” said Boyd of Home Buyer’s Agent in Ann Arbor, Mich. “It was mostly vacant. There was some furniture, but it was clear no one was living there anymore. And I was alone.”

When he reached the basement, it was pitch black, so he had to fumble around for a light switch. Finally, he found one around a corner. When he flicked it on, he came face to face with a model of the monster from the “Alien” movies. And it wasn’t even Halloween.

“My heart just stopped,” Boyd said. “It started beating again when I figured out what the stupid thing was. I never saw the movie. Maybe if I had seen the thing every day for two years, it wouldn’t have been as frightening.”

The buyer’s agent figures the seller just didn’t care anymore. But he still wonders, “Whose idea was it to leave the thing hanging there while the house was on the market?”

Exactly. What are sellers thinking when they leave monsters hanging around, the litter box unattended or unwashed dishes in the sink?

These and numerous other annoyances usually leave a lasting impression on would-be buyers. And they happen more often than most people think.

Boyd, for example, once came upon an open coffin in a basement with a dummy vampire inside. It wasn’t as terrifying as the alien, but it did give him and his clients a start. So did the life-size skeleton that Thomas Wemett of the Buyers Representative in Albany, N.Y., and his clients found hanging in a closet that was painted black.

“It was the only thing hanging in the closet,” Wemett said. “It was the way we referred back to the house -- we called it the ‘skeleton house’ -- but they didn’t buy it.”

People probably aren’t going to buy your place, either, if it smells like a zoo or if Fido scares the life out of them.

“I can’t tell you the number of times I have gone to show a house, and opened the door to find some huge dog waiting for me,” said Kris Coutant of Keller Williams Distinctive Properties in Malta, N.Y., who also has walked into a bedroom with a huge terrarium “with the largest snake I have ever seen outside a zoo.”

Saul Klein, a former San Diego agent who now runs InternetCrusade, an online community for the real estate industry, once ran into a 20-pound iguana hanging on a tree branch in the hall of a house he was showing. A ferret followed Dave Schmoe of Tomlinson Valley in Spokane, Wash., around on a showing. And Catherine Myers of Alain Pinel Realtors in Walnut Creek, Calif., once came upon a bedroom full of turtles “loose in the room.”

Myers and her client passed on going inside. “I was deathly afraid of stepping on one,” she said.

There also isn’t any reason not to keep the place clean. Agent after agent complains that they visit too many houses with food left on the counter, empty beer cans lying about, even dirty laundry on the floor.

“Potential buyers are looking at everything in the house,” Coutant says. “And if the first things they notice are dirt and such, they immediately are ready to move on.”

Some agents also warn against asking visitors to remove their shoes. Ruth Gabbard of Gabbard Hawaii Properties in Honolulu says it’s standard practice and considered a sign of respect in the Aloha State. But others maintain that it’s a turnoff, especially when the place isn’t clean.

But according to many realty professionals, sellers who stay home and hover over potential buyers are probably the worst horror of all. Buyers just don’t like it. In fact, it makes many of them feel so uncomfortable that they won’t take the time to really look around.

“Nothing intimidates a buyer more when the seller is watching them look at their house,” agent Mary Huber said. “They usually speed-walk through.”

Distributed by United Feature Syndicate Inc.