When all the facts, figures and information people need can be accessed through the smartphone in their back pocket, the value of a real estate agent becomes less obvious.
But all homebuyers, especially if they are first-time buyers or first-time new construction buyers, need help filtering all the information that overloads their phones and their minds, says Shari Levitin, author of Heart and Sell: 10 Universal Truths Every Salesperson Needs to Know.
“The problem is that trust, especially in sales people, is at an all-time low,” says Levitin, CEO of Shari Levitin Group, a training and consulting firm based in Park City, Utah. “The biggest mistake sales people make is to just repeat the information that buyers already have. To get past that, you need to make an authentic connection with people and reach them on an emotional level.”
As a real estate sales person, you’re probably already comfortable asking questions of your clients to find out how you can best help them. But Levitin suggests probing a little deeper to understand their emotional motivations.
Skin, Bone and Heart Questions
Levitin divides questions into “skin,” “bone” and “heart” categories to explain how to connect with clients. “Skin” questions tend to be about important, but superficial, topics such as “When are you relocating?” and “How many bedrooms do you want?”
“Eighty percent of sales people stop right there and start showing people houses,” she says. “The better agents go on to the ‘bones’ questions, which are a little deeper. They ask things like ‘What do you like about where you live?’ and ‘Why is a yard important to you?’ But very few agents go even further to get to what I call the ‘heart’ questions.”
For example, Levitin suggests asking similar questions this way: “How will having a yard make a difference in your life?” or “How would you feel about living in this neighborhood?”
“Once you can get your customers to elaborate, you can find out more about what they are really looking for and what’s most important to them,” she says. “One time I was helping a buyer who kept talking about having a big yard so he could play with his son. So the real key to this man’s purchase is that he craved more time with his family. We couldn’t find a house with a big yard that he could afford in the neighborhood where he wanted to live, but we were able to find him a townhouse next to a schoolyard where they could play and he could feel less stressed about his finances.”
The key distinction to “heart” questions is that the more you understand the emotional reason someone wants to buy a new home, the more flexibility you have to find them a place that meets those emotional needs.
Seven Emotional Motivators
“Sales people often make the mistake of thinking that they can motivate buyers by telling them there are only two lots left or that prices are about to rise,” she says. “But those things don’t matter if someone doesn’t want the house. Buyers only feel a sense of urgency if they are emotionally committed to your offering.”
Levitin identifies seven core emotional reasons that drive the decisions people make:
- Safety. Self-preservation is a prime motivator for people in every aspect of their lives. Pointing out safety features of a community can help them recognize its value.
- Adventure. “Ask your buyers how the amenities and fun activities available in a community will enrich their lives,” she says. Pleasure and excitement motivate many buyers.
- Significance. People like to feel they are living in the “right” community, so sharing social media reviews and positive aspects of a community can help them feel like they are in the right place.
- Relationships. Research shows that people are happier and healthier when they are connected to others. “Sharing stories about why other people purchased in a community can help them visualize what it could be like to live there,” she says.
- Health and wellness. The physical benefits of living in a community with walking trails, a garden, a fitness center or even just a less stressful commute and an emotional retreat from work appeal to today’s buyers who are looking for ways to live a healthier lifestyle, says Levitin.
- A sense of purpose. Understanding why someone wants to buy a home now gets to their true sense of purpose. “Congratulate them on their success whether they are buying their first home, upgrading or investing in real estate,” she says.
- Growth and education. No matter what life stage your buyers are in, most want to pass on a legacy of financial security and knowledge to others, adds Levitin. Tying a home purchase to financial investment in the future can be a powerful motivator.
“The best way to create emotion among buyers is to tell them stories,” says Levitin. “In any business, third party reviews and testimonials carry more weight than anything a salesperson can say.”
Five Rules to Telling Stories that Generate Emotional Urgency
Levitin recommends practicing storytelling, even writing down stories for yourself so you can become more adept at telling them to buyers.
Her rules for improving your storytelling include:
- The story must serve a purpose. The purpose can be to hit an emotional buying motive, to overcome an objection or a problem or just to establish your credibility.
- The story must be based on truth. Tell a story about real people and real experiences for the biggest impact — change the names if you need to for privacy.
- The story must be relevant. Tell stories about other buyers with similar characteristics — a story about retirees won’t resonate with a young family.
- The story shouldn’t be about you. Share effective stories about other people’s experiences, not your own.
- The story must be specific. While you may need to change details for privacy, using names, dates and places add credibility to your story.
“With all the technology available today, agents can create a story bank on their phones with photos of buyers and the homes they bought that they can show to other buyers,” says Levitin.
Real estate agents often describe themselves as being a “people-person,” someone who loves getting to know their clients and helping them make their dreams of homeownership come true. Levitin’s techniques provide some tools to help agents deepen those relationships for even greater success.
Michele Lerner is an award-winning freelance writer, editor and author who has been writing about real estate, personal finance and business topics for more than two decades.
She writes for regional, national and international publications in print and online for a variety of audiences including consumers, real estate investors, business owners and real estate professionals.
Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Urban Land magazine, NAREIT’s REIT magazine, National Real Estate Investor Magazine and online at Bankrate.com, HSH.com, The Motley Fool, DailyFinance.com, Insurance.com, Fox Business, MSN, Yahoo, Investopedia.com, MoneyCrashers.com, GetRichSlowly.com and in numerous state and local realtor association publications.