Are people imbued with an innate understanding of how to sell from birth, or does it take years of learning, training and practice to become successful? Although some agents like to think their talents are natural — inherent skills they’ve had all their lives — most others have spent years studying and honing their craft. In today’s shifting residential real estate market, it is more important than ever that your skills as a professional salesperson are sharp, because they are the most crucial element to your potential success.
What follows is the first in a two-part series about how to be the best possible salesperson. In this first installment, we examine in depth the basic steps to selling a home, using first-hand experience from some of Chicagoland’s top real estate professionals, and offer tips on how to improve specific areas of your business.
Eight steps to selling a home
1.Make a positive first impression
2. Determine the client’s needs
3. Prepare the client
4.Know your product
5.Demonstrate the home’s features
6. Narrow the search and overcome objections
7. Close the sale
8. Follow up
1. Make a positive first impression
Make sure the first experience a client has with you is positive. Don’t be late, do exactly what you say you will do, look and sound professional and be more knowledgeable than your client. This is how you build your credibility quickly. Credibility is essential for a successful Realtor and, once lost, is difficult to recover.
Mary Corbett, founder of Success Builders, teaches her sales agents to dress one or two steps above their prospect, but not to overdress, keeping jewelry, makeup and perfume to a minimum. “You don’t want to overwhelm prospects, because if they’re distracted by your appearance, they won’t be able to focus on what you’re saying,” she says.
Linda O’Donnell, broker-owner of RE/MAX Signature in Chicago, concurs. She believes that your appearance is of paramount importance on the first meeting, and largely affects how your clients respond to you. “Image is extremely important and should never be overlooked,” she says. “Your first impression to others dictates how they will respond to you. If you feel good about yourself and your presentation, (your clients) will notice.”
TIP: Once you have made a good first impression, make sure you continue to do so. After both parties agree to work together, the real work of positive impression making begins. You cannot lower your level of preparedness, and be nothing short of amazing at all times. The top producers set their standards high and never waiver (See “60-second guide to making a good impression,” p. 51).
2. Determine your client’s needs
A question and answer session with your client is an old-school sales technique, but is still the best way to determine their wants and needs. You must ask the right questions and listen to every word they say. Ask predetermined qualifying questions to elicit the answers you need. The best information comes from open-ended questions that can not be answered with yes or no. If the buyer gives short answers, ask him to elaborate. With experience, this exchange becomes more of a conversation than an interview. You can get to know your client quickly by asking him about his life. Most people love to talk about themselves and will volunteer plenty of helpful information. Make a mental note when he says he likes or dislikes something.
Here are some examples of qualifying questions:
• How soon would you like to be in a new home?
• What do you like/dislike about your current home?
•Have you already spoken with a lender?
– What does your dream home look like?
• Have you looked at any homes yet?
• Are you looking for something bigger or smaller than what you have now?
•Why are you moving?
•Which features of a home are most important and which are unacceptable?
Eventually, you’ll learn how to weed out people who aren’t serious about buying. “I started out chasing people around more,” says Helen Larsen, an agent with Koenig & Strey GMAC Northbrook who primarily works with suburban resales. “I think I’m now better at spotting people who just want me to take them around.”
Expect some of that to change. “They start out wanting five acres in Barrington, but end up with a condo in the city,” says Larsen. You must learn about the client’s lifestyle, where/if they work and their financial situation. Start by showing a wide variety of styles, and then refine your focus based on your client’s reaction. Clients often edit their interests after they start viewing homes, so the questioning process should continue until they find the home they want.
3. Prepare the client
As a salesperson, you must set accurate expectations for your client. You are the expert, and the person who knows homes and the local market, so tell your clients what to expect. You have to explain the buying process, and present a clear picture about what is realistic. Make sure he understands that it is unrealistic to expect to find the perfect home and to prepare to be flexible.
Give specific information about how long the search should take and to expect to sign a contract in fewer than two weeks. Explain how a condo board works and how assessments are determined. Tell him what a title company does, and give him a list of all the requisite paperwork needed by the lender. It is during this step that you inform the client about everything he needs know in order to make a decision. This preparation will be different with each buyer. Many clients are nervous about the commitment of buying a home, so you need to reassure them about the purchase.
TIP: Many buyers do enough research on the Internet to feel educated, but are usually missing parts of the puzzle. Ask them about the Web sites they visited to better gauge what they know. This will help you guide them at the appropriate level,
as well as continue to build your credibility.
4. Know your product
Because there are thousands of homes to choose from, this is the area where buyers really need your help. They rely on you for information about the neighborhood before you show them the home. Know the area’s tear-down rate and the name of the alderman in the city, or board members in the suburbs.
Many homes in a neighborhood are similar, but that doesn’t mean they’re all the same. Make sure to know specifics about the home you are showing, as well as building procedures, codes and zoning. Buyers want to know when the home was built and what repairs it needs.
Steve and Pat Kovac, co-owners of Century 21 Marketplace Limited in Mundelein, stress that knowing your product, as well as your client, will help you guide them. “Let’s say you’re working with a young couple and have two houses that look almost the same, but one is a few years older,” says Steve. “Because you know they’re just starting out and probably don’t have a lot of money behind them, you’ll want to talk with them about the difference between buying a newer home that is more expensive versus the slightly older one that needs repairs. It’s probably best that they spend the money up front instead of having to pay a few months in for repairs.”
You need to be able to speak intelligently about HVAC, roofing, insulation and design trends. Many good agents can look at the style of architecture and know the floor plan without stepping inside, or can look at the bathroom floor and know when it was installed. Knowing about different mortgage options, insurance needs and closing funds is also important. You are the expert and the client expects you to have the answers. Keep studying the industry, because the more you know and can convey when a topic arises, the more respect you’ll gain and the more comfortable your clients will feel about accepting you as an authority. If you act as an educator, your clients will feel good about the informed decision they have made.
Corbett trains sales agents specifically in new-construction sales and instructs them to know the language and prepare clients to go out to a site. “My agents take clients out to piles of dirt,” she says. “So, I tell them that they should have a four-door car (that they keep clean), an umbrella, goloshes, a tape measure and floor plans.”
TIP: If you want to sell pre-construction homes, you should learn to read blueprints. It’s not difficult to do, and using an architectural ruler in front of you client gives you instant credibility. Teach your clients basic blueprint reading and you will have fewer problems during construction. Homebuyers are usually interested in the details of the home that are easily understandable after a short lesson. Explain that unless the new home is custom built, they will not be able to keep a set of blueprints, but they can look at the window schedule to find out the location of the vents and outlets.
5. Demonstrate the home’s features
Demonstrating how to use the home is a way to foster a level of intimacy between the buyer and the home. Every feature in the home can be demonstrated using the feature-benfit system. Here is how it works: Name a feature and describe its benefit to the buyer. It is that simple. Tailor the benefit to what you already know about the buyer, and make sure to point out things that will elicit a positive response.
Example No. 1
“ There are 24 cabinets and four drawers in this kitchen, so you can have plenty of space to keep those extra holiday dishes.”
“ The are 24 cabinets and four drawers in this kitchen so you can get rid of all those extra holiday dishes!”
Example No. 2
“ There is a window in kitchen, so you can watch the kids in the yard while you’re cooking.”
“ There is a window in the kitchen, so you’ll have lots of ventilation when you cook.”
Finding the appropriate features and benefits to suit your client will be easy if you have learned his traits and interests and have an open line of communication. Find at least one feature in each room (and more in kitchens and bathrooms) that you can demonstrate to generate a positive response. This seems simple, yet there are still many untrained agents who walk through homes and simply point out the obvious: “This is the kitchen. Here is the bathroom.” Using the feature-benefit system separates those who sell homes from those who show homes.
TIP: The best salespeople sell on QVC or other home shopping networks. Watch them, and you’ll see the feature-benefit system in action. These salespeople have to be able to speak for 30 minutes or more about a single item, and they have determined a benefit for even the most unimportant features of the product. Because a home has so many features to consider, you must mention the benefit to every feature you discuss.
6. Narrow the search and overcome objections
After your client sees several homes, ask him the following questions: Which is house your favorite? Which one is in the lead? Which home can you see yourself living in? Eliminate the other homes and proceed as though the top choice is the one to beat. Use a trial close: “Are you ready to put in an offer?” Sometimes clients say yes long before you expect them to, so don’t hesitate to ask.
“It all comes down to narrowing the choices down to a one-of-a-kind home,” Corbett says. “If you don’t have one of a kind, you can’t really close.”
Overcoming objections is the part of this step in the strategy that is most misunderstood. Don’t be discouraged when your buyer has an objection; it gives you the opportunity to see what the buyer is really thinking. And because you have been listening and making note of your clients likes and dislikes, it will be easy for you to respond to an objection.
You must enquire about your client’s feelings to determine how to proceed. The No. 1 error in sales is guessing, but you won’t have to guess if you recognize two types of objections: real and not real. A real objection is a deal breaker that you cannot explain away or negotiate around.
Example No. 1
“ I have three kids and a home office. Two bedrooms will not be enough.”
This is a real objection, so respect what the client says and move on to another home.
Example No 2
“ I was hoping for a larger master bedroom.”
This is not a real objection. The client might be thinking out loud, so don’t respond. If they repeat the objection, ask them to mentally arrange their furniture in the room to see if it will fit. Offer additional options if possible.
Most client’s objections are not real. Often, a buyer is rationalizing or negotiating with himself when he presents his objection. Your buyer is getting used to the idea that he won’t get exactly what he wished for.
7. Close the sale
To close a sale, you must receive a signed contract from your client. Assuming you’ve succeeded with the previous steps, the close should be immanent. Ask questions such as: Do you have any final questions before we go back to the office to write this up? What other information do you need before we put in an offer?
If you have done your job, your client should be ready to sign and commit. Make sure he has an attorney, lender and inspector ready to act immediately.
“Your client will look to you for recommendations in these areas because he knows you have been helpful to other homebuyers,” says Pat Kovac.
8. Follow up
Pleased with your services, your client should be happy to refer you to his friends. Send a move-in gift, and contact your client after he moves in to the home to ask for feedback. Let the client know that you would appreciate referrals if he’s pleased with his experience with you. People are always willing to share a good Realtor with their family and friends.
“The majority of our business is based on referrals,” says O’Donnell.
Whether you’re a top producer, or a rookie agent still learning the ropes, familiarizing yourself with these eight steps can mean the difference between failure and success when selling a home. Although most Realtors recognize the importance of a first impression, making sure you are prepared to accommodate all of a clients needs—from explaining how to use the thermostat to getting an inspector—is just as crucial. Internalizing and incorporating these steps into your repertoire will prove that you don’t have to be born with divine sales skills to be a successful Realtor.
Copyright© 2006 Agent Publishing LLC
Steve & Pat Kovac
Century 21 Market Place Limited
Koenig & Strey GMAC