“Don’t bother showing my house to investors,” the homeowner told the agent who’d just listed his house. “I need to sell, but I’m not letting anybody steal it.”

That’s not smart. Investors and homebuyers use the same money, right? I’d consider offers from Martian’s, if they were using American currency.

Just because someone calls himself an investor doesn’t mean he is one. Without a good buyer’s agent, a self-proclaimed newbie investor might not even know what an investment price is. I’ve heard buyers working without agents brag about negotiating a FSBO (For Sale By Owner) price down $20,000 – not realizing that the house was $25,000 over-priced to begin with.

Buyers often target FSBO’s to save the commission. That’s the same reason the owner is trying to sell it on his own. Hard for both those guys to save the same commission, though.

Aw, Mike’s just pushing the use of Realtors ‘cause he’s in the business, you say. And I am recommending buyers/sellers use an agent, after making sure they’re knowledgeable, have several years experience and have proven themselves successful. I’ve seen the problems unrepresented buyers and sellers create for themselves because they have no idea how much is involved and how little they know about it.

Here’s the rest of the Realtor’s Public Service Announcement: When I started out, a real estate closing could be done with just four simple documents, including the check. Today’s Georgia Association of Realtor’s sales agreement is seven pages long, not counting addendums.

It includes lending, inspection and legal requirements and combined with the usual transaction, loan and closing documents, you could paper your kitchen with them.

Without an agent, buyers and sellers can study this stuff for weeks and still not make informed decisions on anything from basic house values to whether the lender, insurer, inspectors or closing attorney have made mistakes or wrongly charged for something.

It can take three years for a hard-working agent to have done enough transactions to learn these things, but whatever the agent earns is cheap insurance against financial problems for buyers/sellers, if not financial disasters.

But enough of that, how much dollar difference is there really between what an investor will pay and a homebuyer will pay, when it comes down to the seller’s “walking away” money, after the closing?

Consider what’s involved in getting top price for a house. As I’ve said before, there is no exact price for a house, it’s worth different amounts to different people. Some people like pools. I don’t. Some people don’t like pecan trees, but I do.

So a house with a pool and no trees won’t be attractive to me, but another family could fall in love with it and be willing to pay more to live there. Homeowners are led to buy their home partly by the heart, but the experienced investor will leave his heart at home and be guided by his checkbook and what he expects the house to earn.

It’s hard for the home buyer to fall in love with a dirty house, though, one needing paint and with leaking plumbing. One with older carpet and a backyard deck with only a few years left. Maybe fogged windows and overgrown landscaping.

Realtors will tell you that buyers start forming opinions about houses before they get out of the Realtor’s car, starting with the landscaping and outside paint. If those are bad, they will have already assumed the rest of the house won’t be any better. Some don’t even get out of the car.

Ah, but that’s what the knowledgeable investor is looking for, especially if the house is vacant. The investor’s hope is that getting rid of the house is more important than getting top dollar for it and he’s often right.

The seller wanting top dollar will have to work for it while still making payments and that can include paint, deck repair and replacing carpet, fogged windows and leaky faucets. The seller needs to make sure that every ten bucks spent will return fifteen, instead of making decisions that mean spending ten bucks to make five. Not an easy task.

There’s money, work and risk involved in getting top dollar, especially if the seller’s already been transferred to Texas and getting anxious about bills from workmen he doesn’t know and can’t check behind. Unless he’s got an experienced Realtor advising him on what to spend money on and whether he’s getting what he’s paid for, he’s a sitting duck.

So comes a buyer and his family who fall in love with the house. They make a generous offer and it’s accepted, but today’s real estate contracts include financing contingencies, appraisals, lender approval of value, home and termite inspections and often a buyer requested list of repairs revealed by inspections, plus making the purchase contingent on the seller replacing the old backyard deck.

All of this takes time, so the closing is 45 days out. Loan approval can take weeks and if it’s finally not approved, the seller learns he didn’t sell his house, after all.

The investor will make a much lower offer even before painting and repairs – but if he’s already arranged financing, does only a basic inspection, will accept leaky faucets and the deck as-is and close in 15 days, you think that might make the seller happy in Texas?

The seller may figure on spending $15,000 to get top price, with no guarantees of sale and the investor’s offer could be $25,000 less than top price, but one’s a risk and the other is a sure thing. People with two payments appreciate a sure thing, if it kills one of the payments.

The experienced investor will know a reasonable painter, plumber and cleaning crew. He figures carpet cleaning and a few screws will make the carpet and deck serviceable for five more years and knows that tenants aren’t always as picky as those looking to be homeowners, since they’re spending a lot less money.

The investor keeps the repair and improvement money in his pocket until the end of a five-year holding period, then does whatever’s necessary to sell the house at top dollar, boosted by five years of appreciation.

And why did the investor have confidence the house would appreciate? Because his experienced, knowledgeable and hard working Realtor spent a lot of time putting together stacks of paper detailing comparable sales, neighborhood trends, average days on the market, price per square foot comparisons, rental rates and a dozen other things indicating buying that house in that location would be a good investment.

And more than that, it would be a SAFE investment. That seems to have gotten more important lately.

Mike Hill has been in the real estate business in Valdosta since 1976 and doesn’t have any money in the stock market.