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(This is Part 3 of a three-part series. Read Part 1, "Top questions to ask sellers at listing appointment"; and Part 2, "Buyers, you’ll be wealthier if you quit renting.")

Are you having a tough time closing your buyers and sellers? If so, then knowing the correct questions to ask is one of the easiest ways to increase your sales.

In our last two columns, we looked at some of the key questions that will help you be more effective with buyers and sellers. Today’s column looks at key negotiation questions that can help you defend less and close more.

1. It’s your choice, what would you like to do?

This may be the most important question in real estate. Agents who try to control the negotiation often lose the transaction. Ultimately, it’s your client’s house and your client’s decision. Instead of trying to be the expert, act as a conduit of information. You’re there to provide your client with the best possible information so that he or she can make the best decision possible. The way to do this is to outline the various options available to the client. Then ask if there are any options that you have missed. If not, turn the decision back to the client. This strategy is extremely effective. The client feels that you are supporting him or her instead of trying to manipulate. Furthermore, when the client is in charge of making the decisions, you greatly reduce the risk of litigation.

2. It was never my intention to make you angry; what can I do to fix it?

When one of your clients becomes angry, don’t argue or try to defend yourself. You will only escalate the situation. Instead, listen carefully to what the person says, take notes, and then ask what you can do to correct or fix the situation. Notice that there is no admission that you have done anything wrong. This is extremely important if the client is making noises about suing.

3. Would you be willing to write a counteroffer to see whether we (the agents) can put this together?

Many buyers today are writing low offers. It’s tempting to call these buyers lowballers, bottom feeders or some other disparaging term. A much better approach is to take all the emotion out of the situation by saying, "I would have liked nothing better than to have brought you a full-price offer. Instead, the buyers have elected to write an offer substantially under the asking price. About half the time, we can put these together. Would you be willing to write a counteroffer to determine whether this is one of that 50 percent that eventually will convert into a closed sale?" If you don’t write a counteroffer, there’s no sale. This question usually motivates the sellers to write a counteroffer, even when they are reluctant to do so.

4. Mr. and Mrs. Seller, you have an important decision to make: Are you going to stay here and wait for the real estate market to improve or are you ready to accept this offer and get on with your life?

When prices are soft or when homeowners have to sell for less than they hoped, it’s often hard for them to accept the reality of the situation. One of the best approaches is to outline their choices. Sometimes sellers think that they or the agents are in charge of determining the selling price. The truth of the matter is that it’s the buyers that determine what prices are. A great analogy to use is: "The real estate market is like the stock market. If you paid $100 for a stock that is selling at $60 today, you have one of two choices. You can wait for the market to improve or you sell at today’s current price." Remember to end this statement with, "It’s your choice; what would you like to do?"

5. How would you like me to negotiate this offer on your behalf?

This is an important question to ask when you’re working with buyers. It’s extremely important when you are representing a buyer in a multiple offer. Avoid making recommendations about how to negotiate. Instead, here’s what to say: "Mr. and Mrs. Buyer, there are three ways to negotiate this transaction. You could write an offer as if there were no competing offers on the property. If you really want this house, you may want to consider writing a full-price offer. If this is the only house that will make you happy and you absolutely have to have it, you may want to consider writing an offer over asking price. How would you like me to negotiate this offer on your behalf?"

There are hundreds of ways to close more effectively by asking more questions. Whenever you feel yourself becoming defensive, pause for a moment and remember to ask, "What question can I ask to move this situation forward?" rather than "What can I say to persuade them that I’m right?"

Bernice Ross, national speaker and CEO of Realestatecoach.com, is the author of "Waging War on Real Estate’s Discounters" and "Who’s the Best Person to Sell My House?" Both are available online. She can be reached at bernice@realestatecoach.com or visit her blog at www.LuxuryClues.com.

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