Recently, I had a conversation with a first-time buyer, who was trying to think through precisely how to articulate her house-hunt wish list to her agent in a way that was clear on her wants vs. needs. During the course of our talk, I found myself briefing her on an agent’s wants and needs.

"Sure, every agent wants and needs to close your sale and earn a commission," I told her. "But what they really want even more is, when possible, to be your hero.

"Every reputable agent wants you to be thrilled with your place. They want you to love them and to rave about what they did for you to their friends, for years in the future. So, if they can find someplace that scores on all your requirements and as many as possible of your preferences, chances are good that they will."

The process of getting to that outcome, the outcome of being highly happy with your agent’s work, requires a number of things, but one that comes to mind is the way buyers interact with agents in terms of being demanding vs. nondemanding, and responsive vs. nonresponsive. These are the same factors psychologists look to when trying to understand which styles of parenting are likely to be successful, in terms of producing children that are competent to achieve their own goals in the world.

And so, I thought, why not take a look at the buyer-broker relationship through that same lens of parenting styles? I suspect there might be some insights there that can help some buyers achieve their own house-hunting goals:

1. Authoritarian. Authoritarian parents are also called "totalitarian," which should give you a clue as to how they operate. Like these parents, authoritarian house hunters rank high on demanding and low on responsiveness.

These are the house hunters who have bizarrely high expectations vis-à-vis their budgets, who are overly critical about non-deal-breaking items like paint colors and the sellers’ furniture, and who rant wildly about homes they don’t like but respond with a simple "meh" about homes that hit all the items on their wish list out of the ballpark.

Being an authoritarian house hunter is different from just holding high standards or hoping to get a lot of house for your money. By being harshly punitive any time you’re not delighted and never expressing your approval, authoritarian house hunting holds the potential to demoralize and demotivate your agent, teaching her quickly that there’s nothing she can or will ever do to make you happy.

Also, authoritarian-type house hunters can be overly restrictive and excessive in listing out their musts and deal-breakers; this deprives them of the benefit of having an experienced agent, who might be able to offer them creative options they would never have asked for, given the opportunity.

2. Neglectful. The neglect style is characterized by being low on both responsiveness and demand; unclear about what they want and aloof about what they like, these are the buyers who say things like: "I don’t know what I want, but I’ll know it when I see it." To an agent, this is the same as saying, "Why don’t you just spend your time and gas money showing me houses until kingdom come, and I might decide to buy something someday. Might."

Good agents, as I said before, are in the business of trying to make buyers happy. Delighted, even. If you are neglectful, aloof, undemanding and unresponsive, the chances that they can achieve this without an extraordinary investment of time and energy into your house hunt (far beyond what even you are willing to invest) are slim. And agents know this. You can’t reasonably expect someone to care more about your house hunt and your home than you do.

3. Indulgent. This type of house hunter is rarer than an indulgent parent, but I’ve seen it happen, primarily in buyers whose interpersonal styles are highly averse to confrontation or who really crave to be liked and approved by everyone.

Indulgent house hunters are those who go with the flow and express that they like or approve of a home when they really don’t. This particularly comes up when there are two homebuyers, one of whom is domineering or authoritarian, and the other who simply doesn’t want to pick battles with the co-buyer or is embarrassed at the co-buyer’s style of interacting with the agent and so unconsciously compensates by being overly sweet, overly easy-to-please, and insufficiently honest and forthcoming with her own concerns or critiques about a property.

Agents don’t really want house hunters to just say yes to any old thing and then buy it and hate it, nor do they want them to switch agents because they find the prospect of giving honest feedback so excruciating.

4. Authoritative. The authoritarian style should not be confused with "authoritative," which is, according to many parenting theorists, the ideal style inasmuch as it ranks high on both responsiveness and demand.

Authoritative house hunters are those who set clear standards for their agents around what they are looking for, are warm and responsive when their agent shows them homes that get close to what they are looking for, and are clear (but not harsh) when a house doesn’t work.

These are also the house hunters who choose a pattern of working proactively and cooperatively with their agents to problem-solve and achieve the always-necessary compromises in their wants and needs based on their budget, but ultimately understand that they hold the final decision-making power and responsibility in matters mortgage and otherwise. You can see why these buyers often have the experience that their agents:

  • quickly get up to speed on what will and won’t work for them;
  • stay excited about the prospect of finding a home that will delight them; and
  • also stay on the lookout for creative solutions that could achieve an optimal result for these fun- (if not always easy-) to-work-with buyers.
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