Setting Them Straight

When sellers are skeptical of your expert advice, amp up the education.

July 15, 2015

Some sellers think they know it all. They're certain about how much their home should sell. They say staging isn't necessary. They insist on setting up the showing schedule. Such intransigence may quickly raise your defenses. 

What should you do? First of all, keep calm when sellers challenge your suggestions. You're the real estate expert, and your job is to educate them on the market and the process. Sellers usually don't mean to offend:  They want you to explain the route you're taking for the sale so they can feel assured they're in good hands. Approach these common seller objections with patience and understanding, and you'll increase the chances of a productive relationship and a successful transaction.

Pricing It Right

It's not easy to tell sellers their home's market value is lower than they think. But if you can address their misconceptions from the start, you'll avoid price reductions down the road—reductions that could undermine their final price. Janet Robel, a sales associate at Coldwell Banker Tomlinson in Spokane, Wash., advises practitioners to stay focused on comps when explaining to a seller how to price their home.

"Facts are the antidote for emotion," Robel says. "I tell people, 'It's not me telling you this; it's the market. If I could sell a property for $20,000 over market, believe me, I'd do it today.'" She puts sellers in the buyers' shoes and asks whether they would pay more for a home just because the owner wanted extra cash. “You wouldn't," she says. "You'd buy a house that was priced competitively."

If that's not convincing enough, Robel will take sellers on tours of comparable properties. "They can see this other house is in much better condition, and it's priced $20,000 less than theirs," she says. "It's eye-opening."

Some sellers may think overpricing their home will get them closer to the amount they really want when negotiating with buyers. But Djana Morris, a sales associate with Keller Williams Capital Properties in Washington, D.C., has found that isn’t the case. "A lot of times, buyers don't feel comfortable lowballing," she says, adding that instead they'll wait for another home closer to their price range.

Staging for Success

Most sellers have spent years decorating their house to convey their personal taste. But what if their aesthetic is a turnoff for buyers? If a home needs staging to appear more neutral, avoid offending sellers by stroking their ego a bit. "They may consider [their artwork] tasteful; I explain that it might not work for the general market—the largest market," says Cindy Risch, a practitioner with @properties in Chicago. "You want to validate their perspective and then offer a new one,"

That doesn't always work. "I've brought in professional stagers and had a client return practically everything to the way it was," Risch says. She reminds them to stay focused on the goal of selling their house. "One of the things I typically say to a seller is, 'Your house is no longer your home; it's a commodity.'" Once they think of their home objectively, sellers are able to focus on making the house appealing to others.

Accessibility for Showings

Not all sellers have the flexibility in their schedule to make their home available at a moment's notice for showings. Families with young children are particularly likely to object to working around buyers' schedules. Still, if they want to sell their home, they typically need to make some adjustments.

John Hartnett, a practitioner with Baird & Warner in Crystal Lake, Ill., finds it puzzling when he receives messages from sellers declining a request for a showing with no reason stated and no attempt to reschedule. "If I've got an out-of-town client or a limited time frame, it's beneficial to have the listing agent call and work out a compromise," he says. If necessary, "I jump in there and manage what the obstacles are for the client and what they are for the agent."

Hartnett uses this same equanimity when sellers want to dictate how he markets their home. He uses a wide range of marketing techniques, from old-school postcards and flyers to a robust presence on Facebook and Pinterest, where he broadens a property’s reach by "pinning" information about museums, schools, and local happenings alongside listings. Not only does this make the property more attractive, when people search for an area's amenities, they also come across the listing.

Still, sellers might ask him to try something else, like offering incentives to buyers. "These ideas usually come from friends or neighbors and rarely produce," says Hartnett. "I am very upfront about what I know works and what are just gimmicks in the marketplace."

Lynn Olson is a Chicago-based writer and editor.