I have something to confess here. I’m cheap. Not frugal, not careful with money. Cheap. I don’t just want a good deal—I want a great deal. I’m a salesperson’s worst nightmare. If you’re a buyer’s agent, you’re probably dealing with difficult homebuyers like me 20 times a day.
As a real estate agent in New York City, I got to see just how frustrating it is to work with difficult people like me. Most homebuyers who showed up to my office came armed with well-intentioned but laughably inaccurate articles that promised them “Million Dollar Listing” apartments on “2 Broke Girls” budgets. I must have spent 30% of my time debunking real estate myths and patiently explaining how the market really works.
That’s why Jodie Cordell and I decided to put together this guide on how to educate your—ahem—“unrealistic” buyers or renters quickly and easily. If you do it right, you just might get an evangelist for life.
1. Come Up With Memorable Talking Points & Repeat Them Often
Let’s face it, dealing with difficult homebuyers can be a grind. One way to manage their unrealistic expectations quickly and easily is to come up with a few short, memorable, and ideally emotion-packed talking points and repeat them as often as you can.
Think about when you first heard a talking point like, “Those who list, last,”—how easily you remembered it and how often you’ve repeated it. The reason a phrase like this has such an immediate and memorable impact on new agents has to do with a concept that neuroscientists call neural plasticity. It’s basically a fancy way of saying there are ideal conditions for learning and retaining a new idea. If you want to educate buyers quickly, then you need to come up with a few talking points that help create ideal conditions for neural plasticity.
Here’s how: According to Stanford neuroscientist Andrew Huberman, urgency and focus are what you need to help someone learn something new. So come up with talking points that create both. That means short, memorable, and emotion-laden talking points, delivered directly and candidly.
After an afternoon with me, my homebuyers probably heard me say this at least 10 times: “Your apartment can be affordable, nice, or in a great neighborhood. Pick two.” Was it cheesy? Yes. Did it help educate my clients quickly? Also yes.
Here’s a significantly less cheesy but equally effective talking point from Alexander Boriskin, an agent in Manhattan and The Hamptons who regularly sells eight-figure listings: “It’s certainly a buyers’ market, but fire sales are very far and few between.”
Here’s another from Manhattan agent Kemdi Anosike: “Compromise is a must. You don’t always get everything on your wish list, and that is OK.”
Here’s one from Jodie: “There is no perfect house. On a scale of one to 10, shoot for an eight.”
Just remember. Urgency + focus = learning. So take an hour or two and see if you can distill your market knowledge into a few short, memorable talking points that will teach difficult homebuyers a lesson quickly.
2. Use Your Lead Magnets to Educate Buyers Before They Call You
Some homebuyers you take on just don’t want to listen. They think because their hairdresser’s friend’s nephew got a two-bedroom in SoHo for under $1 million a month, they can too.
But no matter how off the mark their expectations are, you run the risk of turning them off with your perceived pessimism. And the reality is some buyers will shop around until they find an agent who tells them what they want to hear: “Of course there are 2-bedrooms in SoHo for under $1 million! Let’s meet up on Saturday and we can see some. By the way, how’s your credit?”
Instead of risking these starry-eyed buyers ditching you for someone who promises them rainbows and unicorns, why not generate realistic prospects with lead magnets that also educate them? Putting together a well-written and researched new homebuyer’s guide as a free download on your site will take you all of a weekend. You can even tailor it to specific neighborhoods and price points. Or better yet, target your specific niche to attract your ideal clients.
Then set up a landing page on your website and drive some traffic to it with pay-per-click ads on social media. The prospects you get from lead magnets like this will already have your advice in their heads before they call you.
If you already have a website, check out our guide to landing pages here. If not, you might want to check out Real Geeks. Real Geeks’ property search tool not only gives your leads a smooth search experience but feeds their info directly into your customer relationship manager (CRM) so you can track their interests easily.
3. Show Them, Don’t Tell Them
One of the biggest mistakes new agents make is waiting around the office all day for the “perfect lead” and dumping everyone else into crummy drip campaigns. Is your phone ringing off the hook? Are you so busy that you can’t be bothered to meet someone who might net you six figures or more in commissions over the next few years? Of course not.
Whenever you get a new lead, the first words out of your mouth should be something along the lines of, “What time on Sunday can we go see the listing?” This will not only help you build relationships with top-of-the-funnel leads, but will give you the perfect opportunity to educate them as well.
Come up with three to five listings that roughly fit the homebuyer’s criteria and budget, and one that’s exactly what they want but far out of their budget. Take them on a tour of the places in their budget, which they’re going to hate, then take them to the expensive place but don’t tell them the price until they get excited.
Remember: Urgency and focus are what you need to teach someone something new. It is much, much easier to create these conditions standing in a home and looking at the kitchen than it is in a marketing email.
4. Research Your Market & the Economy, Constantly
Of course, if you’re not spending enough time studying the market and the economy and how they work together, all the snappy talking points in the world won’t help you. Even unrealistic buyers can sniff out agents who are not well-informed. The minute they talk to someone who actually knows what they’re talking about, your buyers will ghost you. And for good reason. Why would anyone want to work with a professional who doesn’t know their trade?
Instead of trying to fake it till you make it, educate yourself. Constantly. There’s simply no excuse for not knowing your market and the local economy inside out. And if you want to work in a luxury market, chances are many of your leads will work in finance and know way more about the market and economy than you do. Why should they even bother talking to you? You’re not bringing anything to the table.
To stay up to date with your market, subscribe to local news sources that cover real estate—ideally sources that only cover real estate. Inman can be a great source of information for the market in general, and if you’re in a big city like New York or Chicago, The Real Deal and Crain’s should be in your inbox every morning. RISMedia is another great real estate news source.
Also, make sure you’re getting the latest data from your real estate association. Our very own Kate Evans breaks down the National Association of Realtors’ housing data every month and offers free infographics and talking points for both homebuyers and sellers.
Learning about the economy and how it affects your market is just as important. If you didn’t study economics or finance in college, don’t sweat it. MIT Open Courseware offers Ivy League-level lectures on economics online for free.
5. Use a Wish List to Prioritize Needs vs Wants
It’s just good practice to have your buyers create a wish list. Then, sit down with them and discuss the importance of each item on the list. Make your buyers sort these items into what is a want and what is a need. Having this conversation will help when you start looking at homes that are out of their price range. And you can refer back to this list over and over, redirecting them from their idealistic, starry-eyed dreams to the reality of their budget.
Obviously, what happens is that gourmet kitchen they said was a need will eventually become a want. The list will change over time to be more reflective of their current reality. And in these moments, you can remind them that if the house they settle on doesn’t have everything they want, they can save money, build equity, and trade up in a few years. And you’ll be more than happy to help them with that when the time comes.
6. Practice Patience
Honestly, I don’t know why we expect clients to understand what we spend every single day studying and practicing. It’s not their job to know the market or to understand how real estate works. That’s our job. So, first, practice patience with difficult homebuyers. Use all your active listening skills here. And never condescend. That’s the fastest way to lose a buyer.
Jodie typically likes to use visual aids when she talks to homebuyers. She uses a lot of infographics, especially in her buyer’s presentation. For example, she uses the one above to demonstrate the relationship between location, features, and price. Use visuals to get the point across and teach your buyers about the process of buying a home from beginning to post-closing.
7. Cover Finances First
Many buyers will come to you after looking at their dream homes online. Which means they haven’t talked to a mortgage broker yet. They’re coming to you with stars in their eyes and a dream in their hearts, but the loan originator can quickly pull them back to reality with a pre-approval letter. Encourage your buyers to get their finances straight first before you start showing them houses.
You can explain to them the last thing they want is to fall in love with a house they can’t afford. So, once they get that budget set, they’ll be forced to stay within it. You can also direct their attention to not only their approval amount, but how much they will pay per month on their mortgage. Just because they’re approved for a $500,000 mortgage does not mean they want to (or can) make that payment each month. Most often, buyers don’t take into account the other items (property tax, insurance, HOA fees, etc.) that will come along with that monthly payment.
8. Choose Your Allies Carefully
I’m sure we’ve all heard the advice from our elders, “Never pay the asking price for a house!” I don’t know where (or when) this little tidbit came from, but I still hear it from clients, usually right before they try to get me to write up a lowball offer on their dream home, thinking we’ll just negotiate the price. But honestly, even if it was true once upon a time, this is terrible advice for today. Your buyers need to know that they’re working from old data.
Now I’m not suggesting that you insult them by telling them they don’t know what they’re talking about. They may have gotten that information from their dad or a trusted friend. You have to be tactful when you explain that today’s market is far different from the market in which [insert family member who bought their house in 1984] purchased their home.
Your buyers have probably been inundated with “advice” from friends, family, coworkers, and colleagues on the “best practices” for buying real estate. But the truth is, practically everything outside of “find a good agent” is outdated, untrue, or misleading.
Take their comments in stride and let them know, in a loving way, that their friends and family don’t do this for a living and their advice is not accurate in today’s market. Encourage them to lean on one family member or friend they trust to seek counsel outside of yours, but tune out the rest of the advice noise.
9. Prepare Them for the Emotional Roller Coaster
One thing your buyers probably haven’t been told is how emotional buying a house is. With all the advice coming in, you might think someone would have mentioned the emotional roller coaster of buying a home, especially for first-time homebuyers.
The best way to address this is to first give your homebuyers a heads-up. Let them know that buying a home is emotional. Explain to them that their judgment will be clouded by their feelings.
Next, after you’ve told your buyers they will be tempted to buy based solely on their emotions, lay out your strategy to combat making irrational decisions. Go back to their wish list with their wants and needs lined out.
Sure, everyone wants to buy that gorgeous house with a pool in the backyard, but was a pool even on your list? It’s definitely not a priority. So, do you really feel comfortable tacking an extra $500 per month on your mortgage payment?
As the real estate agent, part of your job is to continue to ground your buyers and make sure they’re not sinking themselves. Bring them back to reality whenever you need to. They’re counting on you to do that for them. It’s your responsibility to remind them of the end goal, to help them cross the finish line. Don’t let them get into a situation where they will end up having to sell in two years because their payments are more than they can handle.
You may feel like the wet blanket, but it’s important for homebuyers to have someone looking out for their best interests. Dreaming is fun. But getting tied to a house you can’t afford is a nightmare.
10. Build a Solid Foundation
Shattering your clients’ homebuying dreams is a tough part of our jobs as agents. One way to make this challenge easier is to start with a solid foundation. When you build a trusting, compassionate relationship with your clients, you’ll have an easier time telling them those truths they may not want to hear.
Don’t start off dashing their hopes right away. Start by being that comforting, empathetic ear. Listen to their dreams and feel their excitement. Don’t make promises you can’t keep, but let them dream first. Then, gently bring them to a reality that will let them have a piece of that dream. Show them a path that will help them get as much of what they want as possible. Be a knowledgeable, creative problem-solver, sharing their enthusiasm for finding them the right home.
11. Learn How to Get to Carnegie Hall
If you’re a newer agent, then before you start effectively educating anyone, you’re going to have to learn the meaning behind that old joke about how to get to Carnegie Hall. If you don’t already know, it’s actually very easy: Practice.
The first few times you try to deal with difficult homebuyers, you’re either going to sound a bit unsure, you’re not going to have the right talking points, or you’re not going to be very well educated on your market or the economy.
Don’t sweat it, though. Even the best agents in the world started out right where you are right now. The big secret is that many of these agents aren’t even very talented or smart. In real estate, hard work and practice will beat out talent any day of the week.
You can start practicing dealing with difficult homebuyers right now by running scenarios with your fellow agents and practicing what to say in different situations. Study your market every day and know your stuff so you’re prepared for any questions thrown at you.
If you want to build the kind of strong relationships that lead to years of referral business, then never stop learning, come up with some talking points that create urgency and focus, and practice, practice, practice.
Over to You
Have a great talking point you use to educate difficult homebuyers? Add it to the comments below or post it in our Facebook Mastermind Group.