THE PLAYBOOK: Strategies for a More Productive Consumer Consultation

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Editor’s Note: The Playbook is an RISMedia biweekly segment centering on what brokers and agents are doing to ensure they not only survive but thrive in these challenging times. Industry professionals explain the strategies they’re employing and unique ideas they’ve formulated. Tune in every other Thursday for another addition to the series. 

There’s a lot that consumers don’t know about buying or selling a home, which can lead to a fear of the unknown in some. This means—more or less—that it’s practically unavoidable that agents will have to take some time to break the ice with a prospective client and hash out their goals for the journey they are getting ready to embark on. 

Consumer consultations—formal or informal—are valuable tools to root out essential information about a buyer or seller that will help you better serve them during the transaction process. As such, agents share several points they prioritize in the initial meeting to help them gauge and prepare prospective clients for the transaction process. 

“I think that it’s probably more important than ever that the buyers be very well prepared for the process and the experience,” says Al Filippone, president and founder of Al Filippone Associates at William Raveis Real Estate. 

Quality of interactions with clients can outweigh quantity, so he stresses the importance of initial consultative meetings with buyers to get an idea of what they’re looking for in a home. 

In Filippone’s case, sometimes there are two meetings ranging from a phone call to an in-person sit down with clients, depending on how he and his team are contacted, to drill down into the client’s goals and expectations before going out to visit homes.  

“Our whole philosophy is let’s formalize this initial meeting so the showing experience doesn’t have to be so formal,” he says.

Aside from covering the location, size and style of home a consumer wants, Filippone  likes to use consultations to determine the level of motivation a buyer has heading into the market. 

“It’s about talking about their needs,” he says. “If they’ve seen any houses with other agents or by themselves or open houses, what they saw and figuring out their response to those houses helps us narrow our search with them.” 

Pivots in preferences 

Depending on the market, agents may also need to account for shifting consumer preferences. That’s been the case for New Jersey-based agent Frank Isoldi of Coldwell Banker Realty, who is used to serving clients seeking homes outside of Manhattan.

“Commuting used to be a huge factor in getting close to a train station or a bus stop,” he says. “That’s pretty much on the back burner or lower on the list now, so the consultation and the questions have evolved into more about what type of lifestyle they are looking for.”

That’s primarily because of the work-from-home phenomenon during the pandemic, forcing people to rethink their use of a home. 

While pre-pandemic conversations focused heavily on price ranges, location and bedroom/bathroom numbers—which are still prevalent points to cover—Isoldi admits that homebuyers have begun prioritizing lifestyle needs. 

“Many of these people come out of Jersey City, Hoboken, New York and Brooklyn, and they’re coming post-COVID to the suburbs because they want outdoor living space. They want home theaters, gyms and resort-style living, so they don’t have to leave home to enjoy whatever their priority is,” Isoldi adds. 

Though the pandemic is over, much of the trends that swept the nation—home offices, for example—haven’t dissipated. 

Isoldi also notes that initial conversations with buyers should be productive and help establish expectations and needs while balancing education. 

“I think the important thing is to offer as much solid advice as you possibly can, but it’s also important that an agent listens,” he says. “Listen to what’s making them maybe nervous about entering this market and then help guide them through the process while ensuring everybody’s comfortable and confident with what they’re doing.” 

Lead with numbers and expertise

While consultations with buyers and sellers convey differences in context and talking points, some similarities exist in managing expectations and discussing prices. 

As such, New York-based Corcoran agent Deborah Rieders strongly recommends coming to the table with data during initial meetings with prospective listing clients. 

“First and foremost, the most important thing most sellers want to know is what their apartment is worth and the current market conditions,” she says. “I’ll come armed with comps, and that will be a part of the conversation, but I’ll also talk about the more global market and their specific market.

“I think it’s very important to distinguish each client’s property within both markets and then really hone in on the particular property that I’m addressing during that initial consultation,” Rieder continues. 

While leading with numbers is a must in seller consultations, more may be required to help prepare people for the transaction process on the listing side. Touting more than 20 years in real estate, Rieder believes that sharing anecdotal examples has helped her ease concerns and manage expectations for sellers she works with. 

“Sometimes I think that tales from the real world are just as valuable as the data because sometimes the data doesn’t actually reflect where we are at the very moment when they call me in to meet with them,” she says. “I do try to bring in stories from the sales that I’ve done since 2023 began and how they differ from 2021 and 2022 to set their expectations that we’re not in the same market that we were when interest rates were 2.5%.”

Key Takeaways:

  • In many cases, the quality of initial meetings is more important than the quantity. 
  • Educating and offering advice is essential, as is listening to your clients during initial consultations.
  • Numbers are your friend in these meetings, but anecdotal and experiential examples can be equally effective when preparing consumers. 
  • Formalize this initial meeting so the showing experience can be more relaxed.

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