Do buyers tell their agents the truth about what they want? The phrase “Buyers are liars” was one of the first I learned when I entered the real estate brokerage business forty years ago, and it has stuck with me for a variety of reasons. 3 But second, and perhaps ultimately more important, the phrase demonstrates a complete lack of comprehension of the process through which buyers pass to arrive at a final purchasing decision.
Most home buyers, including both first-timers and those who have purchased before, enter the search process with a series of well-defined parameters. For a few of those buyers, the parameters will remain constant throughout the search. But for most, the hierarchy of needs that governs the final decision mutates over time as more properties are seen, and more vistas open up. How does this happen?
In the beginning, most purchasers have a clear sense of how many bedrooms they want, what kind of exposure they want, what kind of building they want, and where that building should be. And for most of them, as time passes and they see more properties, the realization sets in that they probably cannot match up every item on their priority list. This tends to happen regardless of the price range in which they are active. So this requires a next step: a prioritization of priorities.
As buyers come to grips with the fact that the perfect amalgam may not exist, they must make choices. Does space matter more than location? Or is living in a particular spot so important to a buyer that they will sacrifice a few hundred square feet to live in the center of their geographic comfort zone? Does being within walking distance of schools matter more than making sure each family member has a bedroom (and bathroom) of their own? Or can the buyer make their peace with traveling to school every day in an Uber to get that extra space that gives every member of the household more privacy?
And then, of course, there is the view – does it need to be Park or River, or is good light good enough if the other criteria are satisfied? Finally, the question of timing may loom. Can this buyer keep looking for two years to find exactly the right thing, or do they need to be settled before the summer sets in?
None of these questions have the right answers. Each functions on a sliding scale with the others to create the moving target of the features that will lead to a satisfied buyer. And, of course, all of this comes before the issues involved in negotiating the price!
So the answer is no, buyers are not liars. Their decisions evolve as the search process continues, and they refine their own criteria as to what amenities they care about the most. A good real estate agent is, above all, a good and attentive listener. Often the savvy agent can sense, in the interstices of the buyer’s conversation, the real priorities of which they may not even be aware yet. The agent’s job, perhaps more than any other, is to really HEAR the buyers and show them alternatives that allow their perhaps inchoate desires to find expression in the choice of the best home they didn’t even know they wanted.