Working With the Noncommittal Homebuyer

Know how to respond to buyers who admit you’re not the only one.

November 1, 2004

If you’re ever faced with a “commitment-phobic” buyer who is determined to work with multiple practitioners to find a home, you need to know how to handle the situation the right way so you don’t end up wasting your time.

Such buyers fancy themselves as players and try to maintain as much control over the homebuying process as possible. But behind it all is one of two motivations, and neither of them is good for you.

One scenario is that they’re terrified—of being committed, of making a mistake, or even of being made a fool. In this case, they’re going to be a lot more trouble than the average buyer to bring to the closing table. And their unrealistic expectations could possibly cost you more lucrative deals along the way as you desperately try to meet their goals.

The other scenario is even worse: They have no intention of being loyal to you and don’t even feel guilty about it because they warned you from the beginning.

Spending time and money to recoup an imagined investment is a poor strategy, especially when you’re dealing with these “players.” Even if you were able to find the right home for these people, how likely is it that they would act fairly toward you and the seller? These are exactly the kind of people who lowball sellers, make unreasonable demands, and might well try to cut you out of the deal when you do find them a home.

But if you want to take on this type of buyer as a customer—just for the sake of exercising your wits—and you know in advance that there’s little chance for success, here's the way to do it. Who knows? You might even sell this buyer a home and get paid.

The goal is to separate “commitment-phobes” from their fears and develop better negotiating skills than they have—along with showing confidence, attitude, and fortitude. But most of all, it takes the ability to walk away, because the following techniques will cause these types of buyers to either lighten up or tighten up. If they lighten up, they'll start to listen to you and open up with the real information you need to make a deal happen, and then you have a chance of getting the deal done. If they tighten up, however, you don't have a prayer of closing the deal.

Here are some of the techniques you can use:

  • Establish new rules of engagement. All contests have rules. It's not unfair of you to ask what they are and to establish some of your own. Ask your buyers how many salespeople they’re working with and how they might overlap. How have they chosen these practitioners—by areas of the city? It makes a difference if all the practitioners are searching for homes in the same one-mile radius or all over the city.
  • Explain how the business works. Tell buyers that most practitioners have the same resources for finding you a home—checking the MLS, looking for FSBOs, and using word-of-mouth networking to hear about homes coming on the market. Maybe your customer isn’t aware of the way the real estate process works.
  • Limit your risk. Let buyers know they present you with a challenge, and you need to limit your risk; that's how you make money. Tell them you will only search for homes that fit their criteria, but you need to know exactly what the criteria are. Otherwise you're trying to hit a target blindfolded. If they give you only vague parameters, ask questions to narrow it down.
  • Make sure they’re prequalified. Explain that you don't make any money unless you make a winning offer. And even then there are a lot of issues that have to be solved before the closing—inspections, disclosures, and repairs, just to name a few. But the factor that kills more deals than any is buyers not being able to qualify financially for the homes they want. To avoid that problem and improve chances of a successful deal, tell buyers it’s crucial to be prequalified by a lender. Ask for a preapproval letter from the lender or at least an agreement they will get prequalified.
  • Require a buyer's representation agreement. When they balk, and they surely will, it's time to rattle their confidence. Ask, "If I understand you correctly, you want me to do the same job I would normally do for you, but with more competition from other practitioners? That's like telling you I'll do as well with my hands tied behind my back. Is that what you really want?" If they look more confused, go in for the kill. "If you hired me exclusively to work for you, do you have any reason to believe that I wouldn't give you 100 percent?" When the buyers sheepishly answer with a “no,” respond like this: "Why would you think I would work harder for you if you're making it harder for me to get the sale?" You have their attention now, so don't lose confidence. Keep going: "You want a house and I want to make a sale, so we both want something out of this relationship. But I believe that business relationships don't work unless they also are partnerships. We both win and neither of us loses. I want you to trust me and I want to trust you.”
  • Make it or break it. At this point, ask what you can do that would make them feel better about working with you exclusively? What can you do to earn their trust? If you don't get the answer you want, get out of there. If you do, you might just have a chance to get to a closing.

(c) Copyright 2004 Realty Times. Reprinted with permission.

Blanche Evans is a writer/editor and CEO of evansEmedia. Formerly, she was a senior editor with Realty Times, where she was named by REALTOR® Magazine as one of the most influential people in the real estate industry.

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