Do you take the time to interview your buyers before you take them out to look at property or do you just load them into your car and hope for the best? If you’re not digging into what matters most to your buyers, you are costing you and your business valuable time and money.

At the most recent National Association of Realtors conference, I attended an educational session where one of the speakers was illustrating a system to help agents deal more effectively with buyers. She asked two different agents in the room to describe a problem their clients were having. Both responded the same way: "They want to find a house."

Do you take the time to interview your buyers before you take them out to look at property or do you just load them into your car and hope for the best? If you’re not digging into what matters most to your buyers, you are costing you and your business valuable time and money.

At the most recent National Association of Realtors conference, I attended an educational session where one of the speakers was illustrating a system to help agents deal more effectively with buyers. She asked two different agents in the room to describe a problem their clients were having. Both responded the same way: "They want to find a house."

Is wanting to find a house really a problem? If you’re in real estate sales, that should be a good thing. What was really disturbing is that these two experienced agents knew so little about their buyers that when the speaker pressed them for more details, they couldn’t supply them.

Asking the right questions

There’s an old adage that says, "Buyers are liars." The truth of the matter is that most buyers aren’t really liars — it’s that the agents fail to ask the right questions. In fact, when most agents begin working with a buyer, they ask about how many bedrooms and baths the buyer wants, the price range, and the location. Instead of probing further, most rely on the buyer to tell them about any other additional features they may want.

Consequently, take time to probe your buyers about not only what they really want, but about their lifestyles as well. This means asking open-ended questions that generate detailed answers as opposed to closed-ended questions that generate single-word answers. The words "who," "when" and "where" generate closed-ended questions that generally yield very little information. In contrast, the words "how" and "what" generate much more detailed answers.

When your buyer says, "I want a formal dining room," it’s important to dig deeper to see what makes this feature important. To discover this, ask, "How is having a formal dining room important to you?" or "What about having a formal dining room is important in terms of your lifestyle?" Avoid using the word "why," since this word puts people on the defensive.

To make finding the right house easier, dig past the surface answers that your buyers give you. For example, when the buyer says to you, "I want a really great kitchen," determine what it is about having a great kitchen that is important. For someone who seldom cooks, the kitchen may be more about presenting a certain image designed to impress their friends. In contrast, someone who is a gourmet cook will carefully evaluate the functionality of the kitchen. Is there enough counter space? Does it have dual sinks and dishwashers? Without digging into their lifestyle, you will often miss the critical factors that can make or break your real estate deal.

There’s no such thing as a 100 percent house

Even if you build a custom home, there are always compromises. Buyers are often guilty of "feature creep." In other words, they tell you they want four bedrooms, 3.5 baths and a family room in a specific school district. Once they start looking, they decide that they also need a home office, a pool and a great view as well. To obtain the house they now want, they would have to spend more than they have been preapproved to purchase.

To avoid "feature creep," ask your buyers to identify the top five features that a house must have in order for them to purchase it. Then tell them, "There’s no such thing as a 100 percent house. If you find a house that has 90 percent or more of the features that you want, you should probably buy it."

In the case above, when the buyer wants you to search for a house that has all five of the first features as well as the home office, the pool and the view, here’s what to say:

"Remember when we first met and you identified the top five features that your house must have in order for you to buy it? So have the view, the pool and the office taken precedence over any of the other five features, and if so, which ones?"

If the buyers say they want all eight features, respond by saying, "To obtain all these features you have two options: The first is to look in a higher price range. If that is not a possibility, you can look for a better house in a lesser area. It’s your choice, what would you like to do?"

By digging deeper into what the buyers want and by keeping them focused on their top five priorities in the house they will purchase, you will greatly decrease your search time while increasing the probability of closing the buyers more easily.

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