My last column focused on the three keys to successfully managing a buyer. One of those keys included embodying Perry Mason and investigating your buyer’s needs and wants via a questionnaire.
This week, by popular request, I’ll tackle how to create your own successful buyer’s questionnaire — or what I refer to as my buyer’s guide (it sounds less intrusive and superfluous — especially to the guys!).
Your buyer’s guide should be a multiple-choice and fill-in-the-blank worksheet. Each question should have PLENTY of white space around it. It should be printed in 14-point type (at the very least). Why? Well, buckle your seatbelt, here are my sexist and ageist answers:
1. You don’t want to annoy your new friends by requiring them to find their reading glasses.
2. Men will check boxes, but they will not write full sentences. Conversely, women will check lots of boxes and then draw squiggly lines connecting paragraphs they have written in the margins, and referencing additional pages they have stapled to the back of the buyer’s guide.
Begin by gathering as much contact information as possible at the top of the page. While buyers have every right to skip the rest of the questions, contact information is non-negotiable!
Be certain to specify that they are to write down their FULL LEGAL NAME, as in, THE NAME GOING ON THE TITLE.
Also, you might just want to ask now if you are actually talking to the buyer, or if this person is the buyer’s legal representative. Sound ridiculous? Not when you sit down to write the contract and are told that the real buyer is in Afghanistan. In the Army. For six more months (not that this has ever happened to me).
Also make sure to get the buyer’s address, telephone number(s), email(s) AND his or her mortgage broker’s information. All of it.
Wants and needs
Every agent’s buyer’s guide is going to be slightly different. This form should not be filled with boilerplate questions! Otherwise, why would your buyers bother filling it out?
Don’t waste their time. Your questions must reflect your understanding of the city or town in which you work, and a buyer’s deepest needs. So put on your professional counseling hat and think about what questions might be important to your buyer:
1. What kind of a purchase is this? First-time, vacation, rental, primary residence, investment?
2. Who is going to LIVE here? Full-time college kids? Adult couple? Young family?
3. Will school choice be a factor? What about work? Do they work from home?
4. Lifestyle: Do they envision walking downtown for a morning coffee? Or harvesting home-fresh eggs from their own chicken coop?
5. Define "privacy" (or any other overused terms used to describe desirable home characteristics in your area).
The city in which I work and live is as diverse as they come. People move to Eugene for a myriad of reasons, and it’s important to flesh out why these buyers are coming here.
Do they want to be urban farmers? We can make that happen. Do they want to live downtown within walking distance to the university? Done. Or maybe they prefer living on acreage and raising horses? We can do that, too. Tailor your multiple-choice answers around the potential options available.
Now, move on to the house itself. I usually start with the outside (curb appeal!). Here are three sample questions:
My IDEAL home is:
e) Pottery Barn
g) I don’t care.
My IDEAL backyard:
a) Is "zero-scape." I don’t do lawns.
b) Is small and manageable.
c) Is a gardener’s paradise. I grow fruits, vegetables and flowers.
d) Looks like a football field.
e) Fenced for kids and dogs.
Then move inside.
My IDEAL home:
a) Has _____ bedrooms
b) Has _____ bathrooms …
You get the point. But don’t stop at what the MLS searches for — remember, you are Perry Mason! Ask your buyers what they haven’t asked themselves. Do they require a separate dining room? Or a dedicated office? Do they want their master on the main floor? What about air conditioning? RV hookups? C’mon, you know the questions you need to ask. ASK THEM!
Ahhh, a question so often forgotten … but oh so important: When do you want to be in your new home? Use holidays to set benchmarks, i.e., Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, etc.
So far, your buyers are dreaming. They are sharing their ideal home with you — and how much fun is that?! IT’S SO MUCH FUN (especially for the ladies)! Now it’s time to bring them back to earth. Time to talk money.
Taking their prequalification letter in hand isn’t enough. Sometimes buyers qualify for much more than they are comfortable spending. Sometimes they don’t understand the real cost of owning a home! So, these three questions are vital. You can take use these fill-in-the-blank questions verbatim on your own buyer’s guide:
"I am comfortable purchasing a home that costs __________ up to ___________."
"I am comfortable with a monthly payment of __________ up to __________."
"I am preapproved for ____________."
Wrap it up
You get two pages, max, to bombard your new clients with questions. The third page is the exclusive buyer’s agreement. Now, put your pretty new buyer’s guide in a folder with your business card and a flow chart of the buying process and VOILA! You’ve suddenly armed yourself with a potent client tool. Happy house hunting!
Alisha Alway Braatz is a buyer’s broker for Coldwell Banker Advantage One Properties in Eugene, Ore., and a real estate humorist.
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