Have you ever dealt with a client that acts like they know more about real estate than you? If so, don't write these clients off. If you deal with their underlying worries with patience and empathy, you could turn them into happy clients for life.
You’re walking your clients through a spacious, well-lit living room. It’s the centerpiece of a gorgeous one-story home nestled in a quiet neighborhood’s cul de sac.
It’s a nice and quaint town. There’s a convenience store within walking distance, and it’s home to neighbors that bring you a lovely fruit cake every time December rolls around.
Yes, this is it. This is the home for your soft-spoken downsizing elderly couple that have been with you for about 6 months now.
They look happy. They sound excited. This is a home run, you just know it. In fact, the neighbors are already sharpening their knives (you know, for the fruit cake).
But as you pull out the documents to make an official offer, the lovely elderly couple drops a bombshell: “Let me just call our son. He knows a lot about this real estate stuff. Did you know that he helped his uncle sell their apartment this one time? He would have made such a great agent if I.T. didn’t work out for him.”
Before you can open your mouth and say anything, you’re handed the phone. Next thing you know, a voice on the other end suddenly comes alive, assaulting you with a barrage of unrelated questions, anecdotes and a thinly-veiled insult somewhere.
Your ethics are called into question. And why in the world aren’t you allowed to tell them if there’s a church in the area? “Some service there, buddy. I knew my parents should have just hired a lawyer for the paperwork. We could have done your job just fine without giving you a free lunch.
Sounds familiar? Did I just hear a collective “Only in real estate” *sigh*? Well, prepare to inhale that sucker back into your lungs.
Our industry isn’t the only one notorious for backseat drivers. In fact, let me tell you a little about the Business to Business (B2B) furniture industry and the similar challenges they face every time they sit down with a prospect.
And before you ran away in terror, don’t worry, we won’t just focus on their grievances. We’ll also see how you can wield their insights to smoothly turn a frustrating situation into a satisfied customer.
“I already know what I need. Just do your job and give it to me.”
Business to business (B2B) furniture companies are typically in charge of both manufacturing and design. They have to carefully consider the costs of raw materials, manufacturing efficiency, marketing, research and development (R&D).
Their designers’ job is to find inspiration in global trends, tweak them to fit the local market and execute their designs in the most cost-effective way possible. All of this while trying to keep their clients happy.
This last one though is typically the most frustrating part.
All too often, designers sit across procurement officers or busy CEOs that walk in with their minds already made up. Because they’re used to comparing generic, mass-produced office furniture (the kind you see in big-box office supply stores) their decision making ultimately comes down to price. “Who can make me spend the least amount of money?”
It’s a bidding war where the strongest undercut wins. How then, can designers present that innovative, ergonomic furniture desing in their cards, but without undervaluing their product?
“Before anything else, you listen to their needs. Don’t just hear what they say—listen to what their words imply. Most of the time, these guys [CEOs] are thinking budget and longevity. They’re okay with mediocre quality since it’s cheap and easy to replace when expansion comes around.
Then you can gently remind them that happy, back pain-free employees positively affect ROI, and if you can present a solution that evolves alongside expansion like lego blocks then you’ve out-innovated your competition. They realize they’ll save more in the long run and can cultivate employee loyalty at the same time.” - Lorenzo, Tryone, Outboxed Solutions Inc.
As the old adage goes: sell them what they want, give them what they need.
How can you apply this to real estate?
Let’s do this in a nice step-by-step format.
1. Practice active listening
Take a minute (or 60) to sit down with your client. This may feel like a long time, but it definitely beats driving your clients from property to property for days without a good idea of what they’re actually looking for.
Talk about their motivation behind their move, the kind of lifestyle they wish to have in their new home, and why. This talk shouldn’t feel like an interrogation. Make it into an honest to goodness conversation, and soon you’ll have a clearer understanding of the needs of your client.
There’s probably an emotional major life event that’s prompting their decision, so show some empathy. Think about how you would feel if you were in their situation, and try to see things from their point of view.
Not only will you be doing your part in fulfilling their emotional need to be heard and cared for, but you’ll also have a better idea of the kind of home they need, and you’ll come across as a real person, not just someone trying to earn a commission.
2. Show empathy
The general public is distrustful of salesmen, lawyers, and real estate agents. And unfortunately, there are enough horror stories of shady real estate agents that warrant that level of suspicion.
That means that one of the first barriers you need to overcome is that level of suspicion that buyers will inevitably have for you at first. It will be your job to prove that you’re a trustworthy person who has their best interests in mind.
At the same time, the majority of buyers start their property search online. And you know what else is online? Countless articles about home buyers who managed to get the home of their dreams without an agent, thanks to this one weird trick they don’t want you to know about.
Understand that the internet can make anyone feel like an “expert.” Even if (especially if) those articles are written with the specific intent of confirming their readers’ biases.
Homebuyers who consume this content don’t want to be seen as suckers that are less savvy than their peers.
Successful DIY home buying begets admiration and imitation. And the lizard part of our brain (the dopamine-driven part of our subconscious mind that we all have) loves to tell us “Don’t listen to that so-called expert. You know better. Didn’t that top ten list at DIYhomebuyer.biz basically confirm everything you already knew about real estate?? Ohhhh, you’re going to look so intelligent when you show that fancy realtor you don’t need him/her!”
Don’t take these kind comments as personal attacks. These comments come from a place of bias, misinformation, and even fear.
You know better than anyone that buying a home is a milestone, a major life event. You also know that it’s probably one of the, if not the most, emotion-fuelled decision your client will make in their lifetime.
Gently remind them that you have a fiduciary (and legal) relationship to act in their best interest at all times during business. And if you took the time to listen to their story and are able to provide options that resonate, you’ll be leveraging your valuable knowledge (which is what they pay you for) without outright bragging about it.
3. Show, not tell
Sometimes, the only way to spar with the emotional brain is to appeal to logic. Cold, hard facts.
If the buyer is adamant about knowing who lives in the area, which places of worship are nearby, and other demographic information that could attract the Fair Housing Act’s hammer of moral judgment, make sure you tell your clients. But if they insist on finding out that information, tell them they easily find it online.
If they want to see who lives in the neighborhood, ask them to visit it at different times of the day.
This helps them feel like they took an active part in the process and it becomes a source of validation.
If they feel that their grandson - who’s a total wiz with computers - can do a better job than you, show them case studies of how you’ve helped other clients get amazing deals.
In other words, “Show, not tell.”
Here’s an anecdote for this from the B2B furniture space:
The designer was trying to convince a company’s CEO to invest in their staff chairs since he didn’t believe that they should have the same comfort as an executive chair.
“I told him to sit in the staff chair and accomplish the same responsibilities as his employees staff did on a typical day: sit for hours on end, reach for files in surrounding cabinets, roll himself over to the landline as quickly as possible, etc. He found that the whole ordeal was very inefficient, not to mention uncomfortable.” - Lorenzo, Tryone. Outboxed Solutions Inc.
In the end, the equation is as simple as:
Listen pro-actively +know where they’re coming from + provide evidence = a satisfied client
But to get to this point, you genuinely have to understand what’s driving your clients to buy. What pain point are they trying to fix?
Then leverage your hard-earned expertise and use that knowledge to paint the picture of their happy life without picking up the brush yourself.
At the end, prepare an offer that resonates with them personally and present them with semi self-procured evidence. They will argue up and down with you but they won’t argue with themselves.
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