As a real estate professional, one of your most challenging roles is that of architect. No, you’re not the one designing the dream home that your clients are looking for. Rather, you are the person they turn to when they need help building something substantial and workable from their disparate thoughts, ideas and visions. In other words, how often do you have a client come in who is looking for a certain kind of environment or ambiance when it comes to a new property, but can’t quite put his or her finger on the specific features this home should have?
The answer is likely “very frequently.” As such, a real estate agent should be well-versed in turning abstract ideals into concrete plans of action. Today, let’s take a look at a few ways we can do just that.
Start by Distinguishing Needs from Wants
There are many aspects to a dream home checklist. While many of them might be valid needs, more often, most are wants. Your first step should be to create a list of needs. These are the features that are make or break options for your clients that they absolutely cannot do without. For instance, they might want to live within a certain school district. They might require a handicap-accessible bathroom. They may need to be within a certain distance from work for commuting purposes.
By understanding these needs first, you can get a clearer picture of what your clients prioritize. From there, work slowly toward integrating the wants, organizing them on the checklist based on importance to your clients, not how you gauge their value. For instance, you may be shaking your head over the farmhouse aesthetic sweeping the nation. Still, if your clients say that shiplap is at the top of their wants list, that’s where it goes. Try to keep the wants list to five to 10 aspects, maximum.
Remind your clients that one way to distinguish between a need or a want is this: If they can wait a little while to add the feature onto the home later down the road, it’s a want. If it must come with the house upon purchase, it’s a need. It’s also helpful to evaluate your clients’ overall spending habits and financial health yourself. If you get the notion that someone will not be fully qualified to take on a loan, it’s important to speak up. Another way to consider it is: While some people win the lottery and still choose to keep their job, most go on a shopping spree and start planning their island getaway. Are your clients more spontaneous with their money like that? Or, are they meticulous planners who budget every cent? Know this before you begin so you can direct the house hunting efforts in a more streamlined fashion.
Get the Numbers Straight
Your clients might dream of a million-dollar estate, but the loan they’re ultimately approved for won’t even buy them the walk-in closet. To avoid such disappointment, it’s critical to set a realistic budget at the onset. Encourage your clients to speak with their bank or credit union, as well as their lending agency, to see precisely how much they are approved for.
Then, talk about what it will take to pay back that monthly mortgage. Sure, they’re approved for a certain amount, but if they can’t meet the monthly minimum payments, they could quickly default on the loan. Will someone be required to pick up an extra shift? Will a stay-at-home mom need to go back to work? Buying a home is one of the biggest and most important financial decisions your clients will ever make and as such, it’s important that they understand the magnitude of the investment before diving in.
Once you better understand how much cash you have to work with, you can help steer your clients toward homes that are in their price range. This way, they can see what other houses in that bracket look like, and begin dreaming of ways to apply their personal style to a similar find.
Tour and Take Notes
With every open house you take your clients on, be sure to bring along a notepad and pen. As you walk around the room, you’ll likely hear someone mention certain things that stood out to him or her, things adored and things that bring disgust. Write it all down.
Take note if one spouse loves plain white subway tile but the other prefers a more colorful design. Did someone just say the colors of those bathroom walls is a Pepto-Bismol pink? Do they make over the intricate crown molding? You’ll be surprised at how much of someone’s opinion and personality you can learn during a property tour or walk-through. Go back later and look for homes that feature the items they raved about earlier.
Be a Constant Encourager
Your clients might have the look and feel of their dream property right on the tip of their tongue, but still not be able to articulate what it is they want. To this end, they might experience bouts of frustration, disappointment and failure as they repeatedly come up empty-handed. As their real estate agent, it’s not your job to coax them back into a false sense of confidence. Instead, encourage them to be flexible with their findings and open to a new adventure if one should come along.
That way, they’ll give up the quest for perfection and can go approach the home touring and buying phase with more enthusiasm than they did before. With a clearer and more focused mindset, they might even find their dream home that much quicker!
Be a Research Advocate
During the home buying process, you may be inundated with questions and comments from well-meaning clients who only want to be as involved as possible. They might ask you to retrieve data from years past to analyze how safe a neighborhood is and if there have been any crimes reported in the area in recent years. This is an especially important step for parents to take.
This is also an ideal opportunity for you to show your clients that you are on their side. Delve into the research right alongside them, pull the files they request and if you don’t know something, find someone who does. Show your clients that a major part of turning their vision into reality is understanding all of the complexities that it carries. You don’t want to be the hands-off agent who shrugs his or her shoulders after every inquiry and leaves clients to do a majority of their own legwork.
Let Them Sketch It
Our brains are all wired differently from one another. Some of us as visual learners, some are more auditory and others learn best by writing things down. There is a chance that your client’s can’t come up with their dream home design because they are unable to properly write or say aloud what the finished product will look like.
If you, as their agent, get the sense that may be the case, ask them to draw you a picture of the dream home instead. While not everyone will deliver a Picasso, they just might be able to explain that idea they had for the dormers or the kind of front door windows they prefer. This can be valuable knowledge as you move into the design/built portion of the process as well.
Create an Inspiration Board
One of the most common ways that fashion designers stay motivated and ready to make things happen is by creating an inspiration board. In short, this is a board that hangs in the wall of your office, on top of which you can put notes and reminders to yourself, as well as mementos, pictures, inspirational quotes and more.
At your client’s first meeting, bring out a clean inspiration board. Then, send it home with them and ask them to come to the next meeting with it filled in. From old magazine cut-outs to curtain fabric samples, this is an ideal way to capture some of the most important things about a home. It also allows you to see if your tastes, likes and dislikes follow any sort of pattern. For instance, do they always lean toward muted neutrals over loud, bold hues? Do they favor more textured and graphically interesting fabrics over simplistic ones? What their inspiration board says can reveal about the things that excite and motivate them and understanding how your clients organize theirs is a great first step toward resolution. You’ll also know more clearly of what to stay away from on the next tour!
Inquire on Motivators
Finally , it’s important to get down to the heart of the matter. Why are your clients interested in buying a home? What motivates them? Is it primarily work-related or do they just need a fresh start? It’s helpful to have your clients write down a list of what makes them wake up every morning. It can be as simple as the smell of coffee brewing down the hall to a full and happy home.
From Vision to Reality: The Dream-Conquering Parallel
Your main focus as a real estate agent shouldn’t be on finding the perfect home on the first try, right after the first client meeting. Rather, it is in both your and their best interest to get to know each other just a little first. Take the time to fully understand why they are moving, what they want in a home, what is motivating them to move out of their current setup, and what their long-term plans and goals are. Only after establishing that trust as a baseline can you begin to narrow down on the options that fit the bill precisely.