“So, Why Are You Selling . . . ??”

Realtors who aren’t skilled at determining prospective clients’ motivation . . . usually aren’t Realtors for long (in fact, something like 90% of all new agents don’t make it to year #3).

So, how do good Realtors determine Seller motivation?

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 by November 1 for a new job, and a self-employed consultant who’s anxious about impending ice and cold locally (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 are the bane of hard-working Realtors, consuming vast amounts of agents’ scarcest resource (their time).

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 it’s imperative that the Seller be properly motivated, they also must be realistic.

Plenty of motivated Sellers harbor unrealistic expectations about their home’s likely selling price because they’re either: a) emotionally attached to their home (natural, after a couple decades in place, in some cases); and/or b) unfamiliar with the current housing conditions.

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

Good agents know their job includes providing a “reality check” . . . before the Sellers’ home comes on the market.

See also, “Perils of Overpricing Even (Especially) in a Rising Market“; “Real Estate Sales Law #1: “Unmotivated Stagers Make Unmotivated Sellers”“; “Just Tell “Em to Make an Offer”: Why Buyers Don’t Write Offers on Overpriced Homes (at least in Minnesota)“; “Prospective Home Sellers Who Get a 2nd Opinion ” and a 5th, 6th & 7th.”

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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