Determine Your Clients’ Motivation

Ask the right questions to find out how ready your buyers and sellers are—and close more deals.

January 1, 2005

I recently heard about a salesperson who has been in business for a year. The first seven months, she sold nothing, followed by five closed deals in five months. Her mistake in the first part of the year, she said, was wasting time on unmotivated buyers.

You can’t sell ice to an Eskimo, just like you can’t sell homes to people who just want to look and dream. Even experienced practitioners will occasionally chase an unmotivated buyer or seller too long. The simple fix is determining motivation early in the process. It’s all in the questions you ask. Here’s what to say, whether you specialize in buyers or sellers.

Determine Motivation to Buy

At your first meeting with a prospective buyer, in addition to interviewing them about needs and desires, ask them how motivated they are to buy. Try this dialogue (the buyers’ answers are in parenthesis):

“Ms. Buyer, how do you rate yourself in terms of your readiness to buy a home? Please rank yourself on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being very motivated and ready to buy today.” (7)

“What do you need to do to go from a 7 to a 10?” (Find the right house.)

“If we found the ‘right’ house, would you buy it today?” (Yes.)

Or maybe the buyer says she will be a 10 once she sells her existing home.

“When is that going to happen?” (30 days.)

“Great, so you will be a 10 in a month.” (Yes.)

Concentrate your time on the buyers who have the highest motivation and are ready to buy soon. You can even separate them into categories:

  • A. Clients who are ready to buy in one to three months
  • B. Clients who will be ready in three to six months
  • C. Clients who will be ready in six months to four years

The A buyers get immediate attention, while B and C prospects go into your contact management system for regular e-mails, calls, letters, or whatever you do to stay in touch.

If you are already working with a buyer, try this variation before you show any more homes: “I have made a point of carefully selecting the homes we are going to see today. I’ve seen each one, and I can honestly say that they all offer what you are looking for. I don’t know if we’ll be so lucky as to find your ‘dream home’ today. However, if we found a house that’s in the price range you specified, has the floor plan you want, the big backyard you are looking for, and it feels right, will you buy it today?”

Remember, things change. Even A buyers may stop returning calls or get evasive about the next meeting. Ask them what has changed, and determine what their new buying time frame is.

Determine Motivation to Sell

The person who asks the most questions controls the conversation. Determining sellers’ motivation to list their home with you—and then pricing it to sell—depends on your understanding of their situation. A client who “eventually wants to move up to a nice home” is a far weaker prospect than one who has accepted a new job in another state and wants his family to join him as soon as possible.

That said, move-up clients are common today. Probing questions will help you know who needs your immediate attention, and who are the B or C prospects who go into your contact management system. For example, a move-up prospect who has substantial equity in her current home and plans to move within two months so that the kids can begin the year in their new school is an A prospect. The acquaintance who always seems “too busy” to meet you a second time and sign the listing paper drops to a B or C category, depending on when he says he will be ready to talk again.

Here are some questions to help you probe for motivation and urgency:

  • I really appreciate you having me out to your home today. Before we get going, I’d just like to ask you what you hope we will accomplish today.
  • What is your motivation in moving?
  • Why are you selling?
  • Where are you going? Why is that?
  • When do you have to be there?
  • Will your company buy the house?
  • When did you buy this house, and what did you pay?
  • How much money have you put into this house?
  • Do you want to get moved into your new home before school starts?
  • Will your spouse mind being alone here for a few months waiting for this home to sell? How long is he/she willing to stay here?
  • Are you interviewing other real estate professionals?

Help your customers elaborate on their answers by posing new questions in response to each answer.

Here’s a sample dialogue:

“Why are you thinking of selling your home?” (We want a bigger house.)

“Why is that?” (We love those bigger models in the Pine Ridge subdivision.)

“How important is it to you to move into one of those homes?” (Oh, very important! We just got a little inheritance, and we want to move before Christmas!)

Just remember this: questions are the key to determining motivation in working with buyers and sellers, and their answers are the key to saving you time. Put that time into working with live customers—instead of dreamers—and you will close more deals.