Unquestionably, the United States housing market is experiencing its greatest sales momentum in 15 years, a fact supported by plenty of data. The pandemic has contributed to many relocating to other parts of the country, but other factors—low interest rates, frothy stock markets, and a new generation of prospective homeowners—have played a pivotal role. Activity has picked up most notably with buyers, specifically the increasing pace of their searches. While this is good news for the market, it also presents challenges for brokers whose clients may be spoiled by too many choices. As agents, it behooves us to be aligned with buyers who are often misunderstood largely because the onus on strategy and thought process is often left to them. As professionals, we are not so much along for the ride as we are there to provide guidance, to listen and to empathize with those seeking opportunities in what is a friendlier buyers market.
The expression “buyers are liars” appears to be thrown around more loosely in this red-hot pandemic market. It does not help to malign buyers when typically the root of the problem is a combination of communication, expectation and establishing boundaries. There is also the greater dilemma of living in complicated times when there is too much information about everything and sensory overload with fleeting time to process information. Highly edited images of dream homes jumping off the pages of curated websites, glossy publications and other forms of media have not filled the chasm between aspiration and reality. This leaves buyers increasingly distracted and unfocused at times while agents are scrambling at breakneck speed to arrange showings to educate a customer base that is becoming more reliant on online searches.
Inevitably, there comes a moment when real estate agents become exasperated with endless showings and demands to see new properties discovered online as a waste of time and energy. Then there is also the looming question of whether those buyers who continue to plod along despite having seen over thirty listings are ever going to be serious (I experienced this first hand in the pre-pandemic market when there was plenty of inventory at competitive prices points). But equally, I have had the fortune of working with decisive buyers. Earlier this year, I arranged a showing over Zoom while I was overseas. My customer went to see the property days thereafter and made an offer that was accepted, all this in under a week and while working remotely.
I enjoy representing buyers who have been deliberate, thoughtful and responsive. Although it sometimes takes them weeks or even months, the result was that they were thrilled with their choice of purchase. As the agent in these transactions, nothing is more gratifying than matchmaking the buyer to their home of choice. Yet, there was something to be learned from those wild goose chases. As Auguste Rodin famously noted,” Nothing is a waste of time if you use the experience wisely.”
Here is how:
- Detailed and granular questions
More than inquiring about just location, size, budget and timing, it is also worth asking buyers about their aesthetic. How does the concept of home conform to their lifestyle? How does it enhance their interests and other areas?
- Carefully curate showings
Too many appointments in a single day ultimately hamper efficiency though it may seem counterintuitive. Why? A buyer ragged from looking at multiple properties in a single day is more likely to be prone to confusion and exhaustion by the end of it. Keeping it all straight can be a challenge. Showing fewer properties in a limited time could yield a shorter timeline between starting the search and presenting serious offers. The buyer’s agent not only sets the pace, tracks time spent and curbs the extent of real estate “tourism,” they are also better positioned to build on the feedback from each outing.
- Have detailed follow-up conversations after each showing and carefully note what the buyer liked/disliked while sharing feedback on the overall market as well as trends
This is also an opportunity to help align expectations with reality. These discussions are also considered value added when gauging a buyer’s level of seriousness and timeline. If it appears that a potential buyer is someone with a lot of time on their hands and will demand many valuable hours on a weekly basis, then this is an opportune time to set some basic guidelines and parameters. In this instance, a broker can politely let the client know that they have a very busy schedule and can, for example, arrange one day every other week.
- Part of being the gentle leader in this equation also translates to preparing the buyer
Make sure their documentation, financial statements, and legal representation are readily available to make an offer at short notice. Better this than scrambling to get an offer out the door! Again, the extent of willingness on the buyers’ part to be organized can indicate just how resolute they are about purchasing a home.
While some of these points seem obvious, there is something to be said for reiterating the obvious for reinforcement. Working with buyers can seem like a more drawn-out process with slower returns but criticizing buyers, most of whom are looking in good faith, is not the answer. Agents can have more ‘Eureka!’ moments with the right combination of thoughtfulness, diligence and boundaries. Most crucially, however, this is a relationship business and if managed well, creates more scope for future business from buyer client referrals.