How Real Estate Pros Can Ask Homebuyers Better Questions

Couple signing documents with real estate agent
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How many times have you shown a buyer a series of houses you thought matched their needs, only to end up writing an offer for something entirely different? Have you had buyers who lose interest because you just can't locate the right property? Both scenarios happen to many agents, but when either is a common occurrence, it's time to figure out why.

In many cases, these issues come down to one simple thing: You're not asking the right questions. The most successful real estate agents know how to ask open-ended questions that give them more insight into their buyers. Let's look at how they do it.

Stop Asking Homebuyers the Same Old Questions

Real estate agents all seem to ask the standard questions:

  • How many bedrooms and baths do you need?
  • What's the minimum square footage you require?
  • Is a garage or basement necessary?
  • Are you ready to buy a home now?
  • Do you have a preapproval letter?

Questions like these can be answered with a "yes" or "no," or at least a simple number. You can easily feed the responses into multiple listings service (MLS) databases. Unfortunately, they don't provide much information about a client's desires.

Aim for Open-Ended Questions

Asking open-ended questions provides better insight into what the client is really looking for. With open-ended questions, your clients are encouraged to give more detailed responses that offer deeper insights that can help you guide their home search.

Instead of asking what type or size kitchen a buyer is looking for, ask how they use their kitchen area. Do they entertain a lot? If they do, is it with large groups that would benefit from open spaces or small dinner parties that would be more comfortable in a formal dining room?‚Äč

Someone who loves to cook would probably be impressed with a chef's kitchen, but the client who would rather bring home Chinese takeout might prefer to see extra dollars invested on amenities in other parts of the house.

Ask question that will help you understand a client's lifestyle and how they see their house fitting into it.

More Answers Lead to More Questions

You'll find that each answer to an open-ended question leads to the opportunity for more questions and answers. Before long, you'll have a better overall picture of what the buyer's true needs are, and that gives you an edge when identifying properties. Even though you might not hit the perfect property the first time, showing buyers things they like right from the start is a great way to keep them from drifting to other agents.

After receiving an answer from a buyer, it's a good idea to parrot the answer and make sure you understand it. You can do this by saying, "I understand you want a large dining room because you need a big space to entertain." Look for confirmation that you're on the right track.

You might also ask, "How would you feel if you didn't have a formal dining room, but instead found a home with a large family room?" Try putting trade-offs into the framework of the buyer's qualifying factors to see if the answers change.

You also might want to probe the question further and find out exactly how important an indoor dining space might be, for example, as compared to an outdoor dining space. When do the entertainment events tend to take place? If it's in the winter, and you live in Minnesota, an outdoor dining space will probably be pretty much impossible, but if you live in Florida, it's another story.

This cycle of questions and answers helps gives you a much better picture of what the client wants than a series of yes-or-no questions.

Know the Market So You Can Respond

When buyers describe their dream home, you have to know where to find it. Set aside time every week to view new listings. Attend open houses, especially those held specifically for agents, such as broker tours. Those showings give you the opportunity to get to know your fellow agents. Your peers are some of the best sources of information available to you, and working with them always brings rewards.

Edited by Elizabeth Weintraub