• Buyer agents get the same question all the time: "Do you know why the sellers are moving?"
  • There are multiple reasons why clients ask. It might be a roundabout way of discovering whether the house or neighborhood has any hidden problems or stigmas attached. Others may be trying to gain leverage by knowing just how motivated the seller is to move.
  • Agents take different approaches to their response, depending on what they perceive the client wants. Keep it vague and move on, or address the buyer's inquiries upfront.

Over time, cynicism replaced “one man’s trash” with “if they’re selling it, what’s wrong with it?”

The dawn of questionable Craigslist mattresses and ubiquitous internet phishing scams have done nothing to build trust among bartering strangers. So during the biggest financial decision of their life, clients expect agents to be on their side, shielding them against dishonest intentions. And bad lots.

That means any question that comes to mind is bound to roll right off the tongue, no filter.

Maddening as it may be, agents hear this one all the time: “Do you know why the sellers are moving?”

While you’re up late pulling comps and keeping track of the critical details, the temptation to respond with “it’s none of your business” is strong for many.

Others say — that’s a perfectly legitimate question and can have a real bearing on a deal.

A discussion thread on the Out of the Box Owl Facebook Group showed that agents who have become masters at handling this question do so with confidence because they are expecting it.

But they don’t always take the same approach. First, they have to unpack — why are the buyers asking “why?”

Leverage, curiosity, superstitions or all of the above

Re/Max broker Teresa King decoded the message: “What they are really asking is, ‘Are there any issues with the home or neighborhood we need to know about?’ or ‘Is there something you know that enables me to get this home for a deal such as income issues or divorce?'”

Certain clients will be looking for leverage in just how motivated the sellers are to move, while some individuals may have superstitious or cultural motivations for asking — perhaps they are feeling out the karmic vibes of a particular environment.

“I absolutely think it’s normal and doesn’t bother me one bit,” said Realtor Sai Vang on the Facebook thread. “A lot of buyers in my culture are spiritual so they just want to know about deaths in the home.”

On a similar note, Keller Williams Realtor Sean McGurk added: “Some cultures want to know because they believe ‘karma’ stays with the home. If they left on bad terms, that is not good.”

Depending on the client, this might only be a problem with “murder houses.” But others may be deterred from any location where even natural death has occurred, Vang said.

Big Block Realty agent Andrew Gavin sees psychology at work and equates it to finding out about a party you weren’t invited to: “It’s a natural human reaction to wonder ‘what do these sellers know that I don’t.’ It’s not that they think the house is jacked up, but they are more interested in where the sellers are going wondering if they should go there, too.”

Another broker suggested that the reason buyers ask at all may be far less calculated: they’re simply making conversation. People love to feel connected to the home they’re buying, and knowing the sellers’ story is part of that.

Whatever the client is digging for, seasoned pros had a response ready to go in their pocket. Here are three very different types answers that agents recommended as pure gold.

The vague one-liner

Keep things simple and nondescript to avoid saying anything negative about the home.

“It was a lifestyle decision.”

Consider adding a dash of humor. “They heard you were wanting to buy their home.”

Jean Richer, a Re/Max real estate sales representative, uses a little circular logic: “If they ask me why they are moving I say because they’re selling. If they ask me why they are selling I say because they are moving, and then we chuckle about it.”

Realtor Tina Felder throws in some economics: “They are taking advantage of historically low interest rates and moving up (or downsizing, if that’s the case!)”

“They’re relocating.” (As Keller Williams broker/agent Melody Glenn points out — this is true every time.)

“Their needs have changed.”

The deal sealer — think like a lawyer

According to real estate sales and investment mentor Bill Crane, the one thing you don’t want to do in this situation is get into an “argumentative dialogue.”

“Step one is always acknowledge their question as if it makes sense even when it is annoying cause we’ve heard it 40,000 times,” he says.

His smooth response received a lot of positive reactions from agents on the discussion thread:

“My answer was, ya know, that is an excellent question, and I am wondering the same thing because that is really an amazing house in a great neighborhood with low taxes.

And if you really want to know I will find out when we submit an offer, and if there is an issue other than they are relocating or their needs have changed we can simply cancel the offer.”

Moreover, real estate associate at The Keyes Company Ann Ryan sometimes uses this intel from the sellers to give her buyers an edge.

“I actually think this is a great question, because it can help me put together a better offer,” Ryan said. “I’ve had offers chosen because we adjusted to the sellers real needs, which I wouldn’t have known if I didn’t ask.”

Indeed, knowing the sellers’ motivation can help you nail down the details, such as whether they will want to keep appliances, or would prefer a faster or slower closing date.

The ultimate reversal

Flip the question around to give clients perspective:

“Well, why are you looking to buy?” or “The sellers wants to know why you’re buying a home?”

Some viewed this as a last-ditch option for when things get heated between agents.

What about the seller’s agent?

As a listing agent, protect the interests of the seller by keeping your response vague or ensuring you know what they want you to say.

Luxury and investment real estate consultant Nicole Arenas addresses the issue upfront: “The best way to handle it is — ‘What would you like me to say to buyers when they ask why you’re moving?’ This also gives the seller the opportunity to permit or decline that conversation.”

Moral of the story — the client is always right, even when the client drives you crazy. So avoid getting nasty and be prepared for the situation.

How would you handle this common buyer question?

Email Caroline Feeney.

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