As the country attempts to navigate through the new norms of COVID-19, record-low inventory and now, the West Coast fires, we are finding that today’s sellers are more skittish than ever before. Whether it’s the fear of having people in their homes, concerns about where they’re moving or how to handle a potential barrage of multiple bids, it’s understandable that their stress meter is running high.

I’ve spoken at length with our agents about how to manage today’s listing process, and each time, our discussion comes back to communication. Not only do we need to overcommunicate, we also need to listen

As real estate professionals, we are used to the potential hiccups that can crop up during a transaction. But what about our sellers? We need to understand that not only are they filled with mixed emotions, they likely haven’t sold a home in recent years — if ever.

We want to develop great rapport that allows for open dialogue, in which sellers feel completely free to ask questions, and share their concerns and emotions. This requires work on our end. Here are some suggestions we’ve shared with our agents to help keep sellers calm — from the onset of the engagement straight through to the finish line

1. Develop, articulate and rearticulate your plan

Today, more than ever before, sellers will need to be routinely comforted throughout the process. You’ll want to prepare a plan for them that outlines every step of the process — from listing to handling multiple bids and every step all the way through to closing.

As an agent, it’s also essential that you have a strong understanding of what their “pain points” might be. That way, you’ll know to address them. 

2. Prepare a plan

Clients are coming to us with all sorts of different attitudes in response to the pandemic. Regardless of the different views, it’s important that you follow state mandated guidelines for COVID-19 safety and make sure everyone involved feels as comfortable as possible.

Here in Temecula, California, we have sellers who are unconcerned with showing their home. However, they need to be counseled that some buyers may not have those same beliefs. Everyone’s comfort level is different. 

We also have those who are overly cautious regarding COVID-19 safety precautions, and our agents are working hard to prepare a plan that meets their needs. Being prepared for every possible scenario is critical during this time.

3. Have confidence that the listing is yours

We’ve found that, besides COVID-19 concerns, another anxiety-causing issue for sellers is where they will move and how long they will need to get into their new home. Knowing this, we can talk to them in advance about options and keep them calm. 

But agents need to understand that even if the seller pulls the listing because of this fear, they shouldn’t panic. There’s a strong likelihood you’ll get the listing again — and possibly even referrals — based on if you’ve handled the situation professionally and empathetically. 

4. Solving for time

We’re comforting sellers by explaining how we can help them negotiate the time they need to get into their next home. We’re also explaining that rent-back agreements are more viable today than ever before.

This option is ideal for sellers who are building their new home and might need some extra time to stay in their house until the construction is done. By explaining this potential option, you can showcase your skills as an agent and help reduce stress.

5. Reach out the local property management companies

If your seller needs a longer temporary living situation than what’s available through a rent-back, the agent should connect with local property management companies or apartment communities that offer month-to-month contracts.

Many of these companies have fully furnished rentals that provide short-term options, which many sellers would find extremely helpful as they continue their search for a new home. Our brokerage has its own property management division in order to manage such rentals. And don’t forget those firms that specialize in long- or short-term corporate housing as they may have space.

6. Remember, the seller is in control

If the seller is not comfortable with these options, you can use a “seller’s purchase of replacement property” contingency. The contingency allows sellers to place their home under contract with a buyer and gives them time to find a replacement home.

If they don’t find a home within the agreed-upon time frame, the seller is allowed to cancel the transaction with the buyer. If the contingency fails and you want to continue to commit the buyer to the property, the sellers can buy themselves the extra time and offer to take money off of the sale price.

7. Make sure you present a fallout plan

The absence of a plan will lead to increased stress and fear in your sellers. We want to constantly remind them that they’re in charge and explain what happens if they decide to “pull the plug” on selling. We’re finding that while only a few have pulled their listing, sellers are generally comforted by the fact that they have “an out” if things don’t go right.

I’ll close with where I started. Communication is key. And while all of the steps I mentioned may ensure a smooth transaction, we should begin our engagement with sellers knowing they may be skittish. Having and sharing a plan, along with having constant discussions, will help your sellers feel like they’re in control as you work to reduce stress and confusion every step of the way. 

Grattan Donahoe is a broker-owner at ERA Donahoe Realty.

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