Prospective Listing Agent to Homeowner: “So, Why Are You Selling?”

Realtors who aren’t skilled at determining prospective clients’ motivation . . . usually don’t make much money selling real estate.

So, how do you tell how motivated someone is?

A good starting point is asking them why they’re selling (Duh, right?). 

Sometimes, you don’t even have to; lots of prospective clients, in their first phone call or email to a Realtor, will announce that they just got transferred, had (or are expecting) a baby, are downsizing, etc. . . . and therefore need to sell.

Even when there’s an obvious circumstance motivating a sale, it’s still a good idea to nail down timing ” and, specifically ” sense of urgency.

There’s a big difference between someone who needs to be in Denver May 1 for a new job, and a self-employed consultant who’s tiring of winter (the latter category probably describes half the people in the Twin Cities right now).

Stated vs. Actual Motivation

Unlike some Realtors, I don’t formally grade or otherwise quantify seller motivation.

But mentally, I do place Sellers in one of the following four boxes.

#1.  Says they’re motivated ” and really is.

Such Sellers have an obvious reason for selling (see above) as well as a definite timetable.

Just as significant is what they don’t have:  a minimum price.

They know that prices are set by the market, and expect a good Realtor to maximize what they get while guiding them through the process.  See, “Realtor Job Description.”

When you meet with them, they’re all business, and want lots of factual information, market data, your credentials and track record, etc.

Needless to say, Seller #1 represents busy agents’ bread-and-butter.

On the Market ” But Not “For Sale’

Which leads directly to the other end of the continuum, Seller #2 (the easy one for Realtors to pass on):

#2.  Says they’re not motivated ” and really isn’t.

Usually, such prospective sellers inject qualifiers such as, “You know, I don’t really need to sell,” and/or “If I can’t get $X for my house, I’ll rent it instead.”

In my experience, people who don’t really need to sell . . . don’t.

They don’t do the hard work of prepping their home for sale, and even if they do, don’t price their home realistically.

Realtors who take such listings are looking for Buyers, all right ” not to sell their client’s home to, but to line up as future clients.

Two Most Challenging Cases

Which leaves the two more challenging types of prospective Sellers for Realtors to assess.

#3. Says they’re not motivated . . . but really is.

Sometimes, prospective Sellers adopt this stance because they think they have more leverage that way.

Sometimes, there’s an element of self-denial, especially when a health issue is involved.

But, once the Realtor gains the trust of such a Seller, their true motivation usually becomes apparent.

#4. Says they’re motivated . . . but isn’t.

Surprise, surprise, such non-Sellers can be huge time and money wasters for Realtors.

Unfortunately, such a Seller’s motivation ” or lack thereof ” often doesn’t emerge until later, when they balk at reducing a manifestly over-priced home, aren’t cooperative about showings (not just OK’ing them, but prepping the home beforehand and then vacating during), etc.

By then, the agent may have already invested several months of their time ” and be loath to walk away empty-handed (this is where the phrase, “cutting your losses” comes in).

All of which is why the initial, “intake” Realtor — Client interview looms so large (also known as the listing presentation).

While the prospective Seller is busy qualifying the agent and putting them through their paces . . .a good Realtor is quietly doing the same with the prospective client.

Other Considerations

While hugely important, gauging Seller motivation is just a starting point.

Prospective listing agents still need to determine if the Seller has the financial wherewithal to sell.

If they owe more on their mortgage than their home is worth ” and can’t write a check for the shortfall ” they effectively aren’t in a position to sell.

Or, at least they can’t without the assent of one (or more) banks, a transaction called a “short sale.”

Last point: “motivated” doesn’t mean “realistic.”

Plenty of Sellers are unquestionably motivated, but still not realistic about selling price ” typically, because they’re emotionally attached to the home they’re selling (natural, after a couple decades in place, in some cases), and can’t see it objectively.

Reason #2: they don’t know today’s housing market.

Which means they don’t know what Buyers are looking (and paying up) for ” and what they’re discounting.

About the author

Ross Kaplan has 19+ years experience selling real estate all over the Twin Cities. He is also a 12-time consecutive "Super Real Estate Agent," as determined by Mpls. - St. Paul Magazine and Twin Cities Business Magazine. Prior to becoming a Realtor, Ross was an attorney (corporate law), CPA, and entrepreneur. He holds an economics degree from Stanford.

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