- Ask lots of questions -- the right questions.
- Understand your clients' needs. This is true for all clients, but it's even more critical when clients have special needs.
- Understand what "accessible" means to your client and show only properties and neighborhoods that are truly accessible.
Moving sucks. It sucks a lot. And that’s what you get to do after the long and laborious task of finding a place to live.
As I’ve said before, I’m moving across the country to my hometown into an apartment that I’ll share with my boyfriend as we try to find our first home this next year.
Having lived in the area I’m moving to for most of my life, I thought it’d be pretty easy to find an apartment. I looked around online for two-bedroom, ground floor apartments that allow pets in my price range — which apparently is like finding a needle in a haystack. Because I use a wheelchair, a first-floor apartment is a must.
So Chris (my boyfriend) and I went to check out an apartment complex that I’ve lived in three times before. They aren’t the nicest units, but they’re moderately priced and nice enough to live in for a year or two.
We popped in one day, and the girl made us an appointment to come back and meet with a coworker for an apartment showing.
I went into the office the first visit, so I assumed that the fact that I use a wheelchair would have worked its way on down the grapevine.
A week later we went back, and it was raining. Chris ran in to talk to the person with whom we had our appointment. I’m sure he told her I was waiting in the car because I’m a wheelchair user.
Out they come. Chris gets in our car, and we follow the girl over to the first apartment — which had stairs just to get up to the sidewalk.
Obviously, we then asked to see an apartment that I could maybe get into.
The second option was more doable, but it had a steep uphill sidewalk to get to the door. Inside, both bathroom doors were too small for my chair.
Both visits were a bust — along with weeks of phone calls in my attempt to see a ground floor space that might work for me. (I did find an apartment, but it’s at an entirely different complex across town.)
Many people don’t know how to assist those of us that have special needs — clearly. This makes sense because not all needs are the same.
But there are some things that you can do to ensure success, no matter what your clients’ needs might be. Here are the dos and don’ts of serving clients with disabilities or special needs.
Meeting for the first time
First impressions are everything. These tips will help you leave a good one and create a rapport with your future client.
Do: Have a sit-down
Have the meeting at a place where you and the client can sit and talk — probably at a table situation like Panera or Starbucks, which will have accessible seating and bathrooms. (Make sure the bathroom and tables are accessible.)
Tall tables make for awkward conversation, and you want to be eye level with your potential clients. Double-check that there are no stairs to enter the establishment.
Do: Talk directly to your client
This might seem like a no-brainer, but probably more often than not, this happens to me. I’ll be sitting right there, and some stranger will walk up and tell the person next to me that I’m inspiring, or they’ll ask questions that, I assure you, I could answer.
Be sure to introduce yourself and speak directly to everyone.
Don’t: Talk louder
Usually, people in wheelchairs have fine hearing, unless you know otherwise. It sounds a little silly, but people do this all the time.
Do: Sit down and have a conversation at the first meeting
Get to know your potential client. Building that rapport is crucial to helping this type of client buy a home. Some of the niceties that might seem unnecessary for another client can give you critical insight into your special-needs client.
Don’t: Ask questions about someone’s physicality
People ask my boyfriend all the time how tall he is (hint: he’s an inch taller than Shaquille O’Neal, but it’s still annoying to be asked a million times a day). And they essentially (and sometimes verbatim) ask what’s wrong with me.
It’s awkward — there’s no graceful way to answer that question. It highlights the differences at best, and it’s degrading at worst.
Do: Ask lots of other questions
If you understand the reason why your clients want or need what they say they want or need, then you will be able to make more intelligent suggestions for alternatives if what they want or need is not possible to provide.
Do: Ask your clients exactly what their needs are
Ask about their must-haves. You might see some discrepancy between their must-haves and what you perceive as their needs, so it’s really important to get this right.
For example, I want a home with a basement — it’s a must-have for me even though I’ll rarely be in it and can’t manage the stairs up and down.
Don’t: Question needs or make assumptions
One example I run into a lot is with bathrooms. It’s different for everyone, but all I personally need is a doorway wide enough for my chair to fit through and ideally close the door (privacy and whatnot).
However, when I stay at a hotel, in an accessible room, there is often a shower chair that I’ll never use because they assume I’ll need it. When we go to buy a house, it might seem that a lot of lower cabinets would fit my needs. But Chris is so tall that we’ll also need plenty of high cabinets and high ceilings.
So rather than questioning needs or making assumptions, ask questions about specifics — for example: “Would you prefer a bathtub or shower?” “Do you require a shower chair in the shower?”
Don’t: Ask a question that starts with ‘If you don’t mind me asking’
“If you don’t mind me asking” is the phrase people utter before they ask something personal. The client will likely tell you what he or she wants you to know about his or her situation.
Finding homes to show
So you’ve had your first meeting, and now you want to find that perfect home for your buyers. Here are a few tips to help you find the dream house that fits their needs.
Don’t: Look only at “accommodating” properties
Branch out. You might find some options that you hadn’t thought of before.
Do: Consider the age of the home
Older homes might not be as easy to update for your client.
Don’t: Forget to think about neighborhood layout, depending on your clients’ needs
Some people might need to be closer to therapy or clinics, pharmacies and so on.
Do: Know how accessible the public transportation is
That nearby subway stop isn’t going to help a client in a wheelchair if there’s no way to get to the platform.
Do: Understand the accessibility of each neighborhood you’re suggesting
A “walkable” neighborhood where the sidewalks don’t have curb cuts is basically not at all walkable for anyone not on two solid feet.
Do: Look for nearby amenities that the client might like
This includes amenities such as a park with paved paths or a recreational complex that’s accessible. But find out what the client’s interests are before you spout every possible activity in a five-mile radius.
Your due diligence might be a little different when you have clients with special needs. But try these things out to have a great showing.
Do: Walk through the property, and try to see it through the client’s eyes
Are there stairs to the front door? Could a ramp be built (the proper ratio is 1:12, which means that for every inch it goes up, it must go out 12 inches — is there room for that)?
Is there a sliding door in the basement? Would it be possible to create a sidewalk to the back door? (Hey, I might spend time in the basement if that was possible.)
You might find solutions that could make the home perfect for your clients rather than finding the perfect home.
Do: Understand your clients’ budget
If your client is looking to buy, understand what kind of budget they might have to make any adjustments to the home so they can comfortably live there, and consider what concessions you could ask the seller to make.
Hopefully, these tips will help you work through a successful sale with clients who have needs that are out of the ordinary.
I know that if my agent listened to my needs and put in the time and effort to find my dream home or one that could be molded into my dream home, I would be a client for life and refer my agent — to everyone.