Every election, pundits in every industry postulate about what manner of catastrophe will happen if Candidate X is elected, or about what cure-for-what-ails-the-industry Candidate Y’s policies will be. But real estate is founded on the one fundamental truth that people need places to live – and Americans, in particular, like to own the places they live. And that renders the bulk of our business arguably more impervious to the specifics of an Administration than other fields, like education or manufacturing.
Nevertheless, it’s not bizarre to wait in anxious anticipation for the election to pass – and to see what impact, if any, the outcome has on buyer and seller behavior.
However, there is another fundamental truth about real estate: it’s a business with clear seasonal ebbs and flows in activity. Business tends to slow down at the end of the year, sometimes dramatically so, especially in places where fall and winter weather is extreme.
On one hand, you have the election – which shouldn’t impact our sales dramatically, but causes consumers concerns, which snowball into our own worry that bad things might happen. On the other hand, you have the change of seasons, which is almost certain to cause a slowdown in sales. And this year, these two potential sources of slowdown are colliding, overlapping almost exactly in time.
Here’s how I see it: You can’t do much about who gets elected, nor can you even foresee what impact that will have. But there is a lot you can do to keep your current buyer and seller clients from falling off or going dormant at the end of the year, as they are prone to do. So, here’s what I propose: let’s focus on what we can control, and that’s keeping our existing clients activated. If you’re not sure just how to do this, have no fear – here are five action strategies that work, if you work them:
1. Take your clients off autopilot.
Most of us have our clients on automated listing emails that notify them when new listings that meet their criteria come on the market. On top of that, there’s generally an additional, semi-automated system of sorts that develops organically when clients obsessively search Trulia, then ping you when they see something interesting.
The strength of this system? It’s automatic and constant. It harnesses technology to ensure listings are seen, when our human limitations (time, effort, vigilance, etc.) would normally cause us to miss them.
The problem with this system? It’s automatic and constant. When the weather gets cold, motivation levels decline, or holiday season distractions overwhelm, these listing emails are extremely easy for buyer clients to simply ignore, especially because they come in constantly. They can end up in that mental bucket of noise, like those flash sale site emails people just ignore.
I’m not suggesting you take your clients off of automatic listing emails. I’m suggesting you take the bigger picture of your contact with them off of autopilot. Specifically, if you have a few buyers who had been hot and heavy house hunters, but are tapering off, do this: set aside time, a couple of times per week, to go through and do your own manual listings search. If you find one or two you think are particularly aligned with their wish lists, send them a personal email about the property, making sure the subject line is unique, like:
“What about this one?”
Aggressively curating a small number of really well selected listings for buyer clients this fall can help them stay actively engaged in the house hunting game, instead of hibernating until 2013.
2. Solve for weather objections in advance.
I’m a devoted runner. I mean, I love to run – there are nights I can’t sleep well for visualizing the run I’m going to have the next day. And you know what? There are days when I have to fight to get myself out the door, for the sole reason that it’s cold outside. And I live in California, so my version of cold is roughly 40 degrees F. (Go ahead, laugh. I can take it!)
Clearly, there’s not much you can do to actually manage the weather itself, but it doesn’t take much for ‘taking a week off’ to snowball (pardon the pun) into taking the whole season off from showing or viewing properties.
You can manage your buyer clients’ weather related objections in a number of ways:
- Check the weather out in advance. Let your buyer clients know early in the week if a clear/dry weekend is in the forecasts, and try to lock down a property tour sooner than later in the week. Don’t wait until they’ve already booked a weekend full of shopping, decorating, or parties to try to get on their calendar.
- Shorten your property tours. Instead of showing 5 or 7 homes every weekend, narrow aggressively and show as few as 1 or 2 properties that seem truly promising. A short tour of a very select list of homes is much more compelling than the thought of traipsing through the snow and wet all afternoon to see a bunch of meh listings, and is more likely to be squeezed in on their way out of town or to a party.
3. Provide alternative ways of seeing properties.
When you aggressively curate homes (see #1, above), include links to virtual tours, listing videos or notes from your own preview of the property to help your buyer get as much additional information as possible – and get excited enough to want to work the viewing into their calendar.
Also, suggest that they attend Open Houses on their own – that flexibility allows them to work a viewing into their shopping excursions or cozy family afternoons, without an appointment with you. Give your buyers a stack of your cards and some talking points for letting the Open House agent know that you represent them.
4. Head off holiday anxiety
Do not underestimate the impact Black Friday sales, travel plans and holiday turkey-induced tryptophan dozes on even your most active, most motivated buyers and sellers. Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas and New Year’s are coming, regardless of your position on them.
And, here are a couple concrete steps you can take to undo a seller client’s inclination to pull their place off the market – or limit its availability for showing – until New Year’s:
- Negotiate a holiday showing schedule that jives with their plans.
Sellers who are having holiday visitors can talk themselves into thinking the chances of selling during the holidays are generally slim, and consider taking the place off the market entirely. Get out in front of these sorts of concerns, before you get a de-listing phone call. Reach out to your sellers about the upcoming season and their related concerns and calendars. In particular, acknowledge any concerns they have, but remind them that continued accessibility will be essential to getting it sold.Then, discuss their holiday travel or hosting plans and offer to create a showing schedule that accounts for them. If they are hosting, pulling a place off the market for a week is far preferable to pulling it off for two months – and some sellers might be amenable to showing while they have company, so long as they have a little more advance notice than normal. And holding a home open while the seller is out of town can be a particularly painless way to ensure its continued exposure to buyers without becoming a burden for sellers.
- Brief on the supply/demand dynamics that favor them this time of year.
Yes, the buyer pool is smaller this time of year. But so is the seller pool. And the buyers who are active are typically very motivated: motivated enough to stay in town over the holidays, motivated enough to get out in the wet and cold and see homes, motivated to score the tax advantages they can recoup as soon as January if they can just close by year’s end. Let sellers know that the Fall/Holiday selling season has considerable advantages, which they’ll miss if they opt out of it.
5. Conduct an IRL (in real life) strategy session.
We agents get busy during the holidays, too! If it’s been a little while since you’ve actually seen your buyer or seller client, this is a great time to offer to treat them to breakfast or coffee and have a little face-to-face strategy session. Position it as a chance to talk about what about their current house hunt or listing is working and what’s not, in order to put an aggressive action plan in place for the next couple of months. Having such a session is enough to spark some languid buyers and sellers back into engagement.
Make sure you cover these topics:
- Re-ignite their inspiration.
If their home has been on the market for a while, or they’ve been house hunting for months on end, it can be useful to simply revisit the reasons they wanted to make this move in the first place. Just bring the topic up, they’ll usually take it from there.This also creates the opportunity for them to brief you on any shifts in timing, motivation or circumstances that may be causing them to think or act differently in the course of this house hunt or home selling experience than you would expect, like a change at work or a new concern about living in a particular district. My favorite line for this: “What’s new?” It’s that simple.Also, point out any additional motivators that may have developed over time, like the fact that you might be able to really create a powerful tax break they can recoup in just a couple of months with some skillful negotiating, or the fact that bank reviews of local short sales seem to have been speeding up lately.
- Metabolize feedback.
This is where everyone has a chance to get everything out on the table, in terms of feedback from the first portion of your work with them. Buyers can express their hopes, disappointments, and frustrations with the properties they’re seeing, with having lost out on homes to other offers or with the process in general. Sellers can express their anxieties and concerns about marketing, viewings or anything else that is causing them angst. As the pro in the room, your job is to elevate this conversation from venting to a systematic and productive process I like to call “metabolizing” feedback. When we metabolize food, we hold onto what’s useful and eliminate the rest. That’s a good framework you can present for moving from feedback to action plan during this Fall strategy session with your clients. Take the lead in terms of writing down the actionable insights they – or you – express, whether it be that your buyer client wants to rule out condos or that your seller might now be open to professional staging.Transition from the feedback stage to action planning by: (a) acknowledging all the emotional frustrations as valid, but needing to be released in order to move forward; (b) summarizing the actionable feedback and (c) shifting the entire conversation into a timeline for the coming weeks.
- Revisit pricing.
One major topic of this conversation, for both buyers and sellers, will undoubtedly be pricing. There’s no time like this talk to have a frank conversation about how overpricing is causing a listing to lag on the market, even sharing feedback you’ve collected from buyer’s brokers who’ve shown the home. And for buyers, this is the time to talk about searching a lower price range or course-correcting a tendency to make lowball offers. Show them what the homes they’ve liked and been outbid on have actually sold for, and don’t hesitate to also show them some promising properties in a lower price range, so they can begin to visualize and come to terms with the compromises that will likely be part and parcel of the home buying process, in the end.