For Savvy Real Estate Advice, Look to The Bard

If, like me, you find that you must sell a beloved home, who better to turn to for advice than the Renaissance real estate mogul William Shakespeare, whose cornering of the 17th-century Stratford-upon-Avon housing market is as impressive to realty buffs as his genius as a wordsmith is to literary types.

At various times, The Bard owned a number of homes and businesses, including New Place (the second biggest house in Stratford-upon-Avon), the family residence his dad willed to him in 1601, and all or parts of Blackfriars Gatehouse and the Globe and Blackfriars theatres. He was also a world-class landlord: His 1605 purchase of real estate leases to a bundle of primo Stratford-adjacent property for just 440 pounds may have been his savviest and most lucrative move.

Shakespeare wrote only one play in which real estate took center stage: Homes of the Kitsch and Ignoramus was a farce in which garish houses in a planned community are hilariously mistaken for one another by the idiots who live there. The full transcript has been lost to history, but scraps of recovered parchment suggest that the owner, a ruthless swine named Portfolio, adds to the mayhem by duping confused tenants into paying their neighbors' rents along with their own.

The Bard sprinkled his most enduring plays with pearls of crib-related wisdom as relevant to the contemporary home seller as the latest postings on Zillow:

"Trust no agent." Some have called this fundamental insight the Shakespeare Principle. Shakespeare isn't suggesting that real estate agents are bad or dishonorable. Just that in the end, they represent many properties and want to close your deal as quickly as possible to get on to the next commission.

"Neither a borrower nor a lender be." In other words, cash is king. Given the credit crunch, a modest all-cash offer in hand can be worth two generous ones in the bush. If your buyer suddenly pleads poverty and asks for help with financing, take a page from Henry IV and say "I banish thee, on pain of death/As I have done the rest of my misleaders."

Lady Macbeth may have been referring to blood when she railed "Out, damn spot," but the subtext is all about the deep-cleaning a seller must do before MLS-ing. If termites have "Eaten (you) out of house and home," don't scrimp on tenting. Now's not the time for a winter of your discount tents or a discount on your winter tents.

Disclosures. When Portia asks hubby Brutus to "Tell me your counsels." she promises, "I will not disclose 'em." As is often the case with Shakespeare, the words he puts in his characters' mouths are object lessons in what not to do. If, say, you fail to disclose that someone was murdered in your home, you could find yourself in a world of legal hurt that even killing all the lawyers won't mitigate.

Forget the Ides of March. Beware of developers who are buying up houses in desirable neighborhoods faster than Birnam Wood moved to Dunsinane. Learn to spot the lean and hungry look of the devious developer; when you meet a smooth talker, remember that "He's mad that trusts in the tameness of a wolf."

Yin wins. Many of The Bard's most memorable lines -- "Men of few words are the best men," "Silence ...persuades where speaking fails," "Wisely and slow; they stumble that run fast" -- suggest that in a seller's market the seller should clam up and wait for the offers to pour in. Ignore lowball bids. As Richard II put it, "Being so great, I have no need to beg."

Don't take things personally. If a clever buyer tries to mess with your mind by saying nasty things about your home, invoke Hamlet: "Do you think I am easier to be played on than a pipe?"

"All the world's a stage." When Hamlet said, "To stage or not to stage, that is the question," he was agonizing over the dilemma faced by home-sellers over whether to hire a professional stager to make their homes look more valuable than they actually are. Next time: a revolutionary way to stage in the digital age...