When it was announced that House Hunters host Suzanne Whang had passed away after a long bout with breast cancer, I was reminded that the reason I stopped watching was that she left. After her departure in 2007, the show just didn’t have the same spark.
In reading the encomiums that followed her death, I found out that Whang wasn’t a real estate agent or interior designer, like so many of the home improvement show hosts. She was an actress and comedian — the source, no doubt, of so many of her dry observations, delivered with a twinkle in the eye and tongue firmly planted in cheek.
Although House Hunters has often been criticized for its smoke-and-mirrors approach to home searches and the unrealistic standards it set for potential homebuyers, there was a reason it was such a cultural milestone.
The idea of rooting for buyers to choose a particular house as if house hunting was a competitive sport — which rings true in some tight markets — was a new one, and it was Whang who kept things light and moving.
What can you take from the show and its delivery to make your next round of showings more effective and more exciting for your buyer clients?
1. Give them a way to keep track of comparisons
One of the things that makes House Hunters so compelling is the side-by-side analysis of the homes that are featured in each episode. However, in real life most homeowners are forced to try to keep track of their thoughts and impressions by scribbling them on a printout of the MLS description or making some haphazard notes in their phones.
While your buyers are looking around and discussing the space, take the opportunity to photograph elements that were particularly good or bad, adding notes and reminders as needed. You can text these to yourself or keep them in a Dropbox app on your phone.
At the end of the day, send a quick email with a link to each home and your photos and notes as a follow-up. This will help your clients keep track of what they saw and their impressions. That side-by-side comparison of first impressions can be a big help, especially if they are viewing homes on multiple days spread out over weeks or months.
2. Help them prioritize their wishlist
One of the comical things about watching House Hunters is the tendency for buyers to spout a mile-long wishlist without the budget to back it up. Of course, it is great to keep all of a buyer’s preferences in mind, but it is often difficult to help them understand which items they will need to forego.
When talking with buyers about their options, help them think through which elements are really important and which ones are negotiable. You might put together an online wishlist on a webpage or interactive form with a drop-down menu next to each item they enter. Here they can categorize their preferences with designations like “must-have,” “nice-to-have,” “no big deal,” etc.
You can also use the wishlist to help your buyers think about value-added upgrades after their purchase. If you have a reliable contractor, price out some of the wishlist items so that you can help your buyers keep perspective if an affordable must-have is not already installed in an otherwise perfect home.
3. Keep it fun!
The most important part of working with buyers is keeping their energy up, even when things aren’t working in their favor.
Here are some ideas:
- Bring along a kid-friendly busy box for homebuyers searching with children in tow. Include coloring books, crayons, and other age-appropriate toys or activities.
- Check for your client’s coffee order, and meet them at the first house with their favorite latte or cold brew.
- If you’re scheduling a meal break during their search, don’t opt for a chain restaurant. Take them to a neighborhood diner that only the locals know about to show off your market savvy.
- Need to discuss their options? Think outside the office. Take a stroll around their favored neighborhood while you talk about pros and cons.
Although we talk a lot about professionalism, there’s nothing wrong with adding a little show biz to your client services. Take a cue from Suzanne Whang — think of yourself as a host, and make your next showing a little more special, a little more exciting, and a little more fun for everyone.