Psych 101 Meets Property Sales

Want to know the secret to satisfying buyers and sellers? It’s no secret: It’s something you probably learned about in your high school psych class.

January 1, 2004

I’m talking about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Abraham Maslow was an early 20th century psychologist who helped broaden the study of psychology beyond mental illness to encompass all human behavior.

Maslow’s hierarchy shows how human behavior is shaped by various needs. At the base are survival needs (air, water, food). Next are safety and security needs, followed by the need for love and belonging and the need for esteem. At the top of the hierarchy—a level few people reach in Maslow’s estimation—is the need for self-actualization.

In theory, people must satisfy needs at the lower levels of the hierarchy before they begin striving for the upper-level needs. Understanding these levels can help you better tune into buyers and sellers, reduce their frustrations, and improve the quality of your service. Here’s how.

Safety and security needs

Some customers are under tremendous pressure to move. Those who are facing foreclosure, divorce, or other conditions that require a quick sale are more likely to be thinking about their security than about the size of the kitchen in their next home. Your role is to empathize and have patience. Make them feel safe. Help them understand their options, and caution them not to make critical decisions in haste.

If you’re working with buyers who say a safe neighborhood is a high priority, find an area with a strong neighborhood association and neighborhood watch, or provide crime statistics that show the neighborhood has a low crime rate.

Relocating buyers with high security needs aren’t ready to be thrust into a home search. They’re already facing a changing work environment and a change in schools for their children. Ease them into the search by pointing out the strengths and highlights of your town. If possible, research the area they’re moving from, using a product such as eNeighborhoods ( or by contacting a practitioner in their area. If you can show that your community is similar to their old one, and they felt happy and safe there, chances are their security concerns will be satisfied.

If financial security is an issue, Internet tools such as’s cost-of-living calculator can help you compare and contrast neighborhoods. Showing buyers that they’re not getting in over their heads financially will help them feel secure.

Psychological needs


Beyond physiological needs, Maslow said, is the human need to escape feelings of loneliness and alienation. It’s easy to see how the search for love, belonging, and a sense of community can impact a home sale or home search.

Sellers may feel an acute sense of anxiety at the thought of leaving behind the neighborhood where they raised their children and participated in block parties. Buyers may wonder whether they’ll ever make friends as good as those in their old neighborhood—or they may experience conflict about exactly what they’re looking for.

Say you’re working with buyers who dream of a country setting, isolated from the hustle and bustle of the city. But you’ve noticed in your dealings with them that they also have a strong desire to be close to friends. By getting them to clarify which is more important—their country dreams or their proximity to friends—you demonstrate your concern for what’s important to them. And you may save them tremendous heartache.

Related to the need for belonging is the esteem need—that is, the need for achievement, gaining competence, and winning approval and recognition. People operating at this level, especially first-time buyers, may express excitement and anticipation at the prospect of closing on their home. Sellers may feel pride about moving up or selling a house whose mortgage they’ve paid off. Without being insincere, you can boost buyers’ and sellers’ sense of esteem by simply recognizing the leap they’re making—compliment sellers on having bought when prices were much lower or give first-time buyers financing tips that will make them feel like old pros. To the extent that you help clients or customers close on a home by a certain date, find a home that makes all their family members happy, or achieve a certain selling price, you’ll also help them meet their esteem needs.

At the highest level, humans have a need to fulfill their potential, to be the best they can be. That’s what Maslow called self-actualization. To many Americans, homeownership is one of the most potent measures of achieving potential today. By helping people realize the purchase and “making” of a home, you can help bring about the feeling of euphoria associated with self-actualization.

More than a paycheck

As you advise people through the large investment that a home represents, your job can feel like part sales and part psychology. That’s why closing a transaction means more than collecting a paycheck—it means you’ve helped yet another family complete a complicated and often confusing experience. By satisfying people’s hierarchy of needs, you’ll satisfy yours as well. That is, you’ll reap the benefits that go along with a job well done—word-of-mouth advertising and repeat business.

Terry Wettig, GRI,is broker-owner of Hidden Hills Realty in Prattville, Ala. You can contact him at 334/799-2513 or

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