As agents, we often have to deal with insincere people who are not serious about purchasing or selling properties. Here’s how to spot them and prevent them from wasting your precious time.

Cara Ameer, a top-producing broker associate from Northeast Florida, writes about working with buyers and sellers, sticky situations and real estate marketing in her regular Inman column that publishes every other Wednesday.

In real estate, leads come in all forms, and a good number of them turn out to be false alarms.

Today, a plethora of notifications sound the bell to let us know that we’ve “got a live one” when our artificial intelligence program or other tech detects that someone clicks on something online to find out more information about a particular property. Then we pounce like a cat preying on a mouse. The target of our attention will be inundated with a barrage of calls, texts and emails until they engage in some way.

When that individual walks, runs or drives by a property and is simply wondering what the price is, the “pounce game” ensues again and again.

And that open house that had over 20 people show up? While it’s possible that they were 20 real buyers, the reality is that over half might have been nosy neighbors or spectators doing a recon mission.

So in a sea of umpteen inquiries, how does a real estate agent separate the wheat from the chaffe — the merely curious from the real buyers or sellers?

As with any challenge, recognition is half the battle.

Here are eight signs that indicate you could be dealing with a “looky-loo”:

1. Refusing to share information

No matter how nice and non-pushy the agent’s conversation is, the prospect doesn’t want to share any details about why they inquired on the property or their contact information.

They might call from another number that is not their own (they will tell you that they are calling from a friend’s phone or block their number from being identified when they call).

2. Offering vague and noncommittal answers

This can be particularly true of internet prospects. When an agent tries to engage based on their property inquiry, they tend to respond very generally and only via text.

Responses are delayed, and there is not much to really go on with their answers. Hence, the agent is left in the dark about what the person’s true intentions are. It could be that they have an agent but don’t want you to know that or they’re nosing around to see what they can find out about a house for sale that belongs to someone they know.

3. Saying ‘I hit the “send” button by accident’

How many times have you heard this one? This comes up quite often on ZIP code/territory based lead programs. The prospect says they were simply surfing and hit the “click here” button by accident. Really? Perhaps, but probably not, especially when they inquire about more than one property.

4. Being indecisive

Ask any seasoned agent about the time-consuming client who made a regular routine of looking at properties over a span of months or even years. They would act like they might be that much closer to finding something each time you showed them — or even stumbled upon “the one,” but there was always a reason they would not act.

What’s worse is when they would act and have the agent write offer after offer.  They would never craft an offer that would get accepted — it was almost as if they were setting up to lose from the beginning and invariably, there would always be at least another offer or two coming in.

The prospect could then say they grew frustrated and decided to keep renting.  New agents are ripe for these kinds of people because they are eager to please and have lots of time they are trying to fill with appointments.

The time equals money concept hasn’t quite kicked in yet. Generally speaking, the longer an agent works with a suspect, the less likely that person will ever buy.

There are exceptions of course, such as a buyer who is trying to find a home in a specific area where inventory rarely comes on the market or a tight price range.

5. Showing up regularly on the open house circuit

You know the types. If you regularly conduct open houses in a particular area, they come to every one. Open houses are a spectator sport, and these people love sharing their unsolicited opinions.

In my market, a large upscale gated neighborhood hosts a communitywide open house twice a year and does not allow them at any other time. After hosting open houses on my listings in this community over a few years, the same people tended to come through year after year.

One couple appeared to tackle the event as an “architectural tour” of sorts with their professional-grade, 35mm camera and a notebook and pen to jot down their feedback! They looked like they were dressed for a safari with wide-brimmed hats and bottles of water strapped across their bodies.

6. Using the ‘I didn’t want to bother my agent’ excuse

On the flip side of being vague and noncommittal, the suspect says they have an agent, yet proceeds to ask all sorts of questions about the property.

When you ask them why their agent isn’t getting this information on their behalf, the suspect says they don’t want to bother them. When you try to engage further and ask who they are working with and also to get a sense of their seriousness, timing, etc., they become defensive and abruptly end the conversation.

7. Avoiding agents

You know, the “I don’t deal with agents” people. Then there are those people who will only contact listing agents.

Reasons given are often that they had a bad experience with an agent who was helping them — whether that was two or 24 years ago. It’s a total lie so that agents won’t hound them, or they think they can get a better deal by asking the listing agent to reduce their commission or throw in some of it toward making the deal work.

However, as most seasoned agents know, such inquiries (particularly those online) get routed to agents buying leads for that ZIP code or area and the suspect is talking to anyone but the listing agent.

In the good ole days of floor time and newspaper advertising showcasing office listings with an office phone number, it was common for these types to call and when the agent on duty (often a rookie) tried their best to qualify the lead, it came out that this person just wanted to talk to the listing agent.

The suspect may or may not turn into a real buyer, but as any experienced agent knows, this scenario has likely resulted in just one success or two.

Don’t suggest other options if they don’t like your listing. Remember those 10 other listings with tax records, listing histories, etc., that you printed and neatly organized to bring to the showing appointment in case your property wasn’t for them? Put them in the circular file because the suspect knows all about them and has already seen them or has appointments to look after visiting you listing.

Forget offering to set them up with a portal on your MLS. Ten agents have already created an account for them. Zillow constantly chimes in on their phone with another update.

After all, they’re getting for-sale-by-owner (FSBO) and “Make Me Move” options as well. As for new construction? They’ve already been to the builders and talked to the site agents directly.

So much so that they know all of them very well, what days they work, and they’ve likely worked out some deal to get a discount because they don’t have an agent. That is the only way they would buy something anyway.

8. Using — period

This type of person could be a buyer or seller. Contrary to tight lipped prospects, these people will happily engage in conversation with you, ask you a ton of questions and seem genuinely interested in being helped.

You will be able to build rapport and establish commonality which might lead to another half hour of discussion about mutual interests, places you’ve both lived or people you know who you might have in common.

You will really like this person and get excited about the prospect of trying to incubate them as a potential buyer and/or seller.

When you ask if you can send them further information and start a property search for them, they will happily oblige.

If they are selling a property, they might invite you over to check out their home and give them an idea of value as well as prep for sale recommendations. Next thing you know, you’ve connected them with your handyman, stager, a really good painter, landscaper, etc. They will respond to your communications enthusiastically each time.

As time goes by, you will start to wonder why they aren’t contacting you when the perfect property comes on the market. You know they received (and viewed) the link from the automatic search you created, and you followed up with them about it just in case. They respond that they bought something.

In the case of a potential seller, property values are continuing to go up in the neighborhood where their home is, and you think it might be the ideal time to list. So you follow up only to discover that their home has just listed with another agent, or they sold it themselves. That’s it. No other explanations or information given.

Unfortunately with this type, it can be easy to get reeled in. Every agent they talk to is made to feel like a new best friend: Easy come, easy go.

Detecting a “looky-loo” requires subtle detective work and the ability to engage in a great conversation whereby the person might feel comfortable sharing their true situation once you get into it. In other words, the more at ease the conversation is, the more details you will be able to get.

Although there might be some obvious signs the suspect might not be viable in the short or long term, keep the conversation light and friendly and build rapport.

This is not the time for the typical rapid-fire line of questioning that’s been ingrained in our brains, such as: “Are you working with an agent”? Or “What is your timeframe to buy/sell”? Or “Have you been pre-approved with a lender”?

As you create trust, gently work in the above questions in a conversational way to see what you can glean from the prospect.

Based on their answers, this will help you decide whether to probe further or recognize that they might not be in the market to buy or sell at all or with you.

Cara Ameer is a broker associate and global luxury agent with Coldwell Banker Vanguard Realty in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. You can follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

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