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How Soon Is Too Soon? Handling Inquiries From "Early Bird Buyers"

I have been handling internet real estate leads since 1997 or 1998 (not sure which), so I have seen and heard almost every conceivable request from buyers looking to relocate to the Austin area.

One thing that still surprises me is how early some people start their research on the homebuying process. 

Here's a typical conversation:

POTENTIAL BUYER: Hi, Jason, I was looking at your site and I thought I should give you a call.  My wife and I are looking to relocate to that area, and we were hoping to get some information from you.

ME: Great!  Tell me a little about what you're looking for. 

P.B.: Well, we want (insert home needs/wants here) and we want to spend (price). 

ME: That shouldn't be too hard to find.  Have you already spoken with someone about getting the financing lined up?

P.B.: Not yet.  Should we go ahead and do that?  I will be retiring in 2016 and we would be selling our house here at that time and then trying to find a place down there.

ME: {stunned silence}

This is an extreme example, but I actually have had buyers contact me who are considering moving in over four years' time. 

Here's my question:

Is it just me, or is this ridiculously early to begin any real estate research? 

I don't mind giving them some basic information, but I don't feel compelled to put very much effort into it if the timeframe is over a year away.  Without fail, these buyers seem to be among the more needy and high maintenance individuals.  Perhaps that explains the extreme caution and careful weighing of facts so early?  So many things could/will change in that amount of time. 

I was thinking earlier about other businesses, and trying to imagine myself "just browsing" for groceries or even for a car.  Maybe it's the size of the purchase that makes some people want to do their homework to avoid big problems.  I guess it's a tough call since I am being given an opportunity to capture them before they get very far into the process, but the plans typically sound so nebulous that the odds seems low that my efforts will ever result in an actual payday.  I'm not greedy, but I do try to be a good steward of my time, since I am not guaranteed any commissions.

I don't think I had a big lesson here - just wanted to vent a bit.  Thanks for reading!

 Photo courtesy of atomicshark via

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