You've Got them in the Car - Now What?
In today's market, getting a buyer into the car with you to look at property is difficult enough, so you want to ensure that your trip is as productive as possible. I have probably taken 500 or more buyers in my car since I first started in real estate in early 1997, and is now second nature for me, but occasionally I have an awkward moment or two, so perhaps you can learn from my experiences.
First and foremost, it is important to make sure that they are pre-qualified/pre-approved for the financing. If they are planning a cash purchase, you need to verify their funds to the best of your ability. Usually, I will accept a letter from a bank or financial planner stating that the buyer has more than adequate funds to accomplish the purchase that they are intending to make. Jason's rule of thumb: If they refuse to provide a verification of funds, they probably are a waste of your time and effort.
Assuming you are past the first hurdle, my next advice is to BE PREPARED. Yes, it is the Boy Scout motto, and I was never a boy scout (just Cub Scouts for me), but it certainly applies here. I don't consider myself to be super-organized, but I almost always get complimented by my buyers for my skills in this area. The key is that I am prepared when we get together. I have set up all of the showing appointments the day before (or at least several hours in advance), and the day flows smoothly from their perspective. It helps that I have a GPS system, so I rarely have to consult a map and I rarely get lost or turned around.
Part of preparing properly (at least for me) is estimating how long we will spend at each home looking, then calculating drive time, sometimes with traffic thrown in. Also, if we are going to be looking all day, I always make sure to schedule enough time for lunch. This is "down time" and it gives them and me some time to rest and to build more rapport with each other. I generally try to give some thought to where we can eat lunch in a reasonable amount of time based on where we will likely be when lunchtime hits.
I generally coach my buyers to take notes if we are looking at more than a few properties. Otherwise, you will all forget some minor detail, such as the location of the master bedroom, and you will be forced to make another trip. Sometimes, I have shown properties for two or three straight days (all day) to the same clients, because they are under a time crunch to make a quick decision. They appreciate and remember the effort! This brings up another point -
Know your goal when you get in the car. I spend far more time with buyers if I know that they must buy something soon. If they just want to get a feel for the area, I spend less time overall and I may just show 3-5 homes to give them an idea of what their money can buy.
One thing that I have also realized about working with buyers is that you must be a master of small talk. I can usually keep the conversation flowing for hours just by asking questions and listening, then sharing some stories of my own. Usually, I will show off my family pictures and I try to find some common ground with them quickly.
I sometimes like to challenge myself by imagining that I am a talk-show host trying to garner as much information as possible in a short amount of time. Many times, the stories that you have shared will come in handy during negotiations or in helping to get them to commit to a specific property (e.g. "I remember that you said your grandchildren will be visiting a lot. This would be a great yard/playroom for them.").
I did have one awkward outing a few years ago. The buyer didn't say much all day, and I honestly assumed that he wasn't enjoying himself. Later, he bought TWO properties from me, totalling over $1.8 million. He just wasn't very talkative initially. Since then, he has been much more open when I see him, but I thought I had struck out on that first day.
Another time, I had a high-end client who liked to finish my sentences for me. I figured I could put up with almost anything under the circumstances, even if he wanted to repeat everything I said in Swahili or interrupt me every few seconds. It was almost that irritating, but I got the sale by being patient and, honestly, talking a bit slower.
I have heard stories about agents who show up unannounced on the doorstep, asking if it's okay to show the home to their buyers. Also, there are agents who just wing it, collecting a few MLS sheets and heading out to see their clients. I prefer to BE PREPARED when I meet with my clients, because it frankly doesn't matter how shiny your shoes are or how nice your car is if you come across as disorganized or ill-prepared.
One last point about showing properties that I would like to share with you. I learned awhile back to simply be quiet unless something is really important, like if you notice an Indian burial ground in the backyard, or if one of the bedrooms is halfway into a sinkhole. I don't mean that I try to hide anything from the buyer AT ALL, but I also don't get overly negative unless I have a good reason.
That last paragraph wasn't actually my last point. This is my last point, I promise: If you are helping them to decide between two properties, and you will be writing an offer on one of them, it is always best to leave the other property as an option just in case.
In other words, don't go out of your way to trash-talk the alternate property just to get them to make an offer, or you may find yourself in a quandary later. I usually say something like, "In my opinion, you really can't make a bad decision between these two places. Either one would be great for you." That way, if the first one doesn't work out, you aren't forced to start from scratch. Of course, this method only works if it is the truth, so keep that in mind as well.
If you have any questions, please feel free to call or email me. I would love the chance to help. Thanks for reading this long post!