Why buyers really aren’t liars: Learning what they want in a home

Have you ever heard the expression, “Buyers are liars”? In truth, most buyers are not liars. Instead, their agents aren’t asking the right questions. 

I remember my very first deal. I received a sign call from a young couple who were buying their first home. I interviewed them about the type of house they wanted to buy, the features they wanted it to have and then checked the MLS to find the houses that met their criteria. 

The first house I showed them was in excellent condition and met every one of their criteria. There were two additional houses that were strong alternatives. On the other hand, the last home I showed them was a complete mismatch. You can probably guess which house they bought — the total mismatch. 

When I asked what made them decide to buy a house that was so different from the criteria they gave me, the husband said, “This house reminds me so much of my grandmother’s house. It has that great old stove — it just made me feel good when we walked in. It felt like home.”

Reasons you’re showing the wrong properties

When most agents first meet a buyer, they ask about the features the buyer would like in their next home such as bedroom-bath count, price, location, floorplan and granite countertops. 

The result of using a “feature-focused” search is that the agent often spends hours showing buyers properties they won’t buy. After spending all that time, what is even more frustrating is when the agent receives the following call from their buyers:  

“We’re really sorry for wasting your time. We bought a house we saw yesterday at an open house. I know we told you that we wanted a one-story mid-century modern, but we walked into this open house that was the cutest two-story traditional with a white picket fence. We just fell in love with it.”

Shift from being ‘feature-focused’ to being lifestyle-focused

If you want to show buyers more houses they will buy, you must address their lifestyle, not just the features they want. Before taking your buyers out to look at a property, spend 20-30 minutes interviewing them about their lifestyle. Here are seven questions that will let you uncover what matters most in terms of their lifestyle. 

  • When you’re at home, which rooms do you spend the most time in and what do you enjoy doing? 
  • If you’re spending a full day at home, what activities do you enjoy most?  
  • How does each member of your household spend their time when they’re at home and what do they enjoy doing?  
  • If you entertain, what kinds of activities do you and your guests enjoy? (Dinners, barbecues, games, book club, etc.)
  • If you’re going out for a fun evening locally, where would you go and what would you be most likely to do? 
  • Tell me three things you enjoy about living in your present home. 
  • What is the one thing that you like least about living in your present home and why is it an issue? 

Rather than being feature-focused, these questions unlock what matters most about the buyer’s lifestyle. The last question also identifies the one feature/situation the buyer will want to avoid when they purchase their next home as well as why they want to avoid it. 

Dig even deeper

There are two words that are especially useful when you want to “dig deeper” into what matters most to the buyer. Those two words are “what” and “how.” Unlike the words, “who,” “when,” and “where” that result in short, often single-word answers, “what” and “how” are open-ended questions that result in more detailed answers. 

Each question above is an example of an open-ended question that will provide more detail and insight into what matters most to the buyer in terms of their lifestyle. 

The 2 secret strategies for determining what the buyer will really buy

While the questions above will provide a wealth of information about what the buyers “think” they want, the challenge is that their responses are still originating in their forebrain — the area that is language-based and makes logical decisions. 

Based upon the work of Clotaire Rapaille, the author of Seven Secrets of Marketing in a Multicultural World, buying decisions take place in the brainstem areas that regulate emotion, not the forebrain/cerebral cortex which controls thinking and speech. These areas are often referred to as the “reptilian brain.” 

The buying triggers in the reptilian brain are always non-verbal — they can be scents, sounds, or feelings tied to a feature. In most cases, these buying triggers are related to a pleasant time in the person’s life, usually in their childhood. 

While the cortex thinks it knows what it wants, the reptilian brain is where the buying decision ultimately takes place.  

Based upon Rapaille’s research, understanding how to tap into the reptilian brain is critical. The question is how to do it. While a detailed buyer’s interview is useful in terms of uncovering what the cortex wants, here are two simple ways to tap into what triggers your clients’ reptilian buying behavior. 

You just won the lottery for $10M

The first strategy is to order some play million dollar bills. (Please note the U.S. does not issue any currency greater than $100,000.) 

When you conduct your buyer interview, tell your buyer, “You just won the lottery for $10 million. Tell me about the house you will buy.” Next, count out ten $1 million bills and give them to the buyer. 

When you receive money, especially money you didn’t expect, it makes your reptilian brain feel very good. Moreover, the reptilian brain doesn’t distinguish between real and play money. It only recognizes the good feeling that it has experienced in the past when you received money you weren’t anticipating. 

I have used this approach for many years and it always provides a more accurate picture of what the buyers want, even if they are only buying an entry-level condo. 

For example, your buyer’s lottery house may have a view and spacious rooms with high ceilings. Even if you are selling them their first condo, you now know that a unit facing another building or something that lacks a view will not work. Instead, search for condos that have an open floor plan, high ceilings and some sort of view. 

Tell me about your favorite house from your childhood and what you really liked about it. 

If you look at the comments from my very first buyer, notice that he loved this house because it reminded him of his grandmother’s house and “it felt like home.” Consequently, this question can tap into the reptilian brain. 

This question lets you connect to pleasant memories from the buyer’s childhood that are deeply rooted in the reptilian brain. That way you have a much better idea what the buyers will purchase, regardless of what their forebrain tells you about what they think they want. 

So, here’s the bottom line. When you work with buyers, always do a buyer interview that includes the features as well as the lifestyle questions above. Most importantly, ask about their favorite house from their childhood as well as what they liked most about that house. That’s the best way to uncover what they will really buy. 

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