Many years ago, I had the opportunity to work with a client who, it seemed, was bound and determined to do everything they could to frustrate every deal I wrote for them. There was always something wrong with the way the house was priced, or the layout of the home was wrong, or something on the inspection was too serious for them to move forward with the purchase.
This was the client who tried my patience, to the point that I finally gave up on them, only to later learn they had then bought a home with another REALTOR® on the first time out.
We’ve all had the “Buyer from Hell”; the client who, no matter how hard you work, no matter how many homes you show them, no matter how many offers you write for them, just don’t seem to get the concept of what it’s going to take to actually buy a home. Or they complain about everything and seem to throw up roadblocks at every turn in the process. Well, maybe it’s not actually them.
It’s important to remember that, many times, these folks may not be sure of the process, what’s involved, who’s responsible for what and what to expect when they go out and look at homes with a REALTOR®. They’re probably under some stress and that generally doesn’t bring out the best in people. Your job will be to help them, for the most part, alleviate that stress.
In order to accomplish that, you’re going to need to understand them and to empathize with them; to put yourself in their place. Since, as REALTORS®, looking at homes, writing and negotiating offers and understanding the process is old hat to us, it’s easy to overlook or miss the uncertainty and stress that can cause even the calmest client to lose their equanimity. Our responsibility goes far beyond simply finding and securing them a home. We need to understand who they are, how they communicate, to understand their concerns, where they’re unsure, what their motivation is and to make sure we’ve educated and advised them so as to reduce or eliminate any of the issues which can cause them discomfort throughout the process.
I would argue that, in many cases, the buyer from hell is simply a reflection of our own failings in the communication, empathy and objection handling departments. All too often we try to “sell” something to our clients, whether it be ourselves and our services or a property; in essence, we try to provide solutions to them.
Where we tend to get it wrong, though, is when we try to offer a solution we think will resolve the problem, without actually spending the time to find out what the real, deep down, pain actually is. We know that, for the most part, people buy because of pain. They either want to eliminate it or avoid it. It used to be a statute of sales that to sell something we had to offer a solution to the problem. I would suggest, instead of offering up solutions, we need to look at sales as if we are doctors. We need to find out about their pain. In my previous career, I learned a really helpful mnemonic that used to help me ask questions about my patients’ problem. That mnemonic was WOCSNOR and it goes like this:
W – What’s your WORST pain? In other words, what’s the most important issue they’re facing in their current situation? Is it money, space, location or something else?
O – What OTHER pain is there? Is there something else that’s creating an issue for them in their current location? What’s the next most important thing?
C – Is it CONSTANT or INTERMITTENT? In other words, is this something that’s a constant problem they need to get away from right now, or does it create problems on an occasional basis that they would like to move away from?
S – How SIGNIFICANT is the pain? Is this situation untenable or can they live with it if they have to?
N – What’s the NATURE of the pain? What is the actual pain that the client’s experiencing and feel needs to be resolved? This is where your ability to ask questions and actively listen will earn you the respect and trust of the client.
O – Are there any OTHER symptoms? These are things other than the pain that are creating issues for them and that they feel need to be resolved.
R – What’s the RELATIONSHIP of the pain and the symptoms? If the pain gets worse, do the symptoms?
A simple example of this may be that the client has a problem in keeping up with their current mortgage (their worst pain). As a consequence, they are having to work longer hours which is placing a strain on their family life (other pain). Since they feel under stress all the time, the problem is constantly with them and is taking a significant toll on them and their family. They believe that the large mortgage is just too much for them to continue to support and that having a smaller mortgage will remove the issue (the nature of the pain). They feel that, since there is an increased strain on the family, they’re seeing more behavioural difficulties for the kids in school (other symptoms) and as the issue becomes worse so do the resultant behaviours.
Now, I know this sounds a lot like pop psychology, and in this example, it probably is. And the solution for this, from our perspective, is easy; sell the current house and buy a less expensive one. However, if you take this kind of approach to finding out what the problem is, then explore different lines of inquiry, and finally, help them understand that the cost created by the problem exceeds the cost of making a change, you can then offer your clients different solutions to the problem. For example, they may be able to refinance the existing home to ease the mortgage pressure. They may be able to take in tenants to defray some of the costs. And perhaps, they may want to consider the sale and purchase option.
In any case, by finding out about the pain, giving them options and then helping them to deal with the solutions, you eliminate a significant portion of the fear, confusion and pain that leads them to become the buyers’ from hell.
For more information on Managing Objections, check out my book, Foundations for Success – Eight Weeks to Real Estate Success.