I can't begin to count the number of times this has come up, or even how often I've mentioned it, but today's buyers are incredibly picky.

The attitude is, of course, a refreshing change from the boom years of the last decade, when everyone thought he or she should own a house and would write a check at the front door, without seeing the rest of the place. Or so it seemed.

Still, I'm left to wonder: Is the choosiness of today's buyers motivated by obvious concerns about spending more money for houses that are not guaranteed to increase in value? Or is it something else?

How does this pickiness manifest itself? I polled several real estate agents, and here's what came back:

Martin Millner, Coldwell Banker Hearthside, Yardley, said: "This may be two issues, but from the buyers I work with, the complaint I hear most often is that the house is dark and needs work."

Said Patricia Settar, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Fox & Roach, Mullica Hill: "Sellers need to do a major decluttering and clean! Baseboards, ceiling fans, carpeting - bring in the professional cleaner, it's worth it."

Settar offered actual comments from buyers, including: "Wow, this seller can't be serious about selling when this home shows like this."

"Are they kidding! Who can see past this crap?"

And: "They need to call HGTV."

On the Main Line, John Duffy, of Duffy Real Estate in Narberth and St. Davids, said his agents replied, almost in unison: "The house needs too much updating." With the corollary: "The asking price is too high for the work that it needs."

In Collegeville, John B. Badalamenti of BHHS Fox & Roach said, "Too small."

"Either one of the rooms is too small, the home overall appears to be too small, and/or the yard is too small - they want to put in a pool, in most cases," he said.

"We seem to getting back to the 'Big is not big enough' mentality," Badalamenti said.

David Marcantuno, of Century 21 Alliance in Burlington Township, said that "needs too much work" is what he hears most often.

"This usually means the kitchen and baths, but it's almost always summed up as needing too much work," Marcantuno said. "It seems everyone has their expectations set a little higher than they can actually afford."

In Philadelphia, said Ruth Feldman, an agent with Weichert Realtors McCarthy Associates in Mount Airy, buyers tell her a house is priced too high, "it needs too much updating, the rooms are too small," and, "the street is too busy."

In Center City and the adjacent neighborhoods, Mickey Pascarella of Keller Williams said, "We hear, 'What is that smell?' or 'It looked so much better in the pictures online.' "

Size, as others noted, is key, Pascarella said: " 'This room is too small for my furniture.' " For rehabs and new construction, he hears, " 'Why did they cheap out on these cabinets?' "

At the Shore, Paul Leiser of Long & Foster said his buyers ask, "How do we make it happen?" rather than give a "litany of complaints" about the houses they want.

Today's buyers, said Kit Anstey of Berkshire Hathaway Fox & Roach in West Chester, have a different mindset from the baby-boomers who dominated previously. The Internet offers them the information they need, so the first priority is asking price.

"With inventory low and demand greater, we see more houses overpriced than we would like."

Second is condition: "Today's buyers want to do the least amount of updating possible," which is why staging is so important now, Anstey said.

215-854-2472 @alheavens