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Commentary by Lelia Chapman

RISMEDIA, Oct. 14, 2008-Today’s 24-hour news cycle can bombard potential home buyers with stories about the decline of the housing market. With the media’s constant negative reminders influencing buyer morale, and with stricter lending criteria reducing the pool of available buyers, many real estate professionals are seeking new strategies to build business while navigating these rough waters.

Success in this volatile market starts and ends with the buyer. Real estate professionals have to work twice as hard to satisfy buyers and finalize sales at a time when housing supply is plentiful and competition for the shrinking pool of qualified buyers is fierce.

Record-low housing prices may bring out lukewarm, unqualified buyers or “tire-kickers” who are just curious, but have no real intention or means to buy. While time spent with this group may turn into a rare sale, the likelihood of reaching the closing table is low. Therefore, it’s important to know how to identify red flags. If potential buyers have no set time frame or budget for purchasing a home, they’re probably not serious about a purchase. But it’s important to treat all customers with respect, as today’s unqualified buyer could be ready to buy in six months.

While working with higher-quality buyers is more rewarding, those rewards come with more work. All these challenges make it imperative that brokers and agents optimize opportunities with high-quality buyers.

Here are a few tips for brokers to share with their agents to help attract and retain the most desirable buyers:

-Keep abreast of legal and procedural changes affecting the industry so you can serve as a source of knowledge for your buyer. Be prepared to help buyers navigate the changing lender codes and rules.

-Determine whether your buyer is prequalified for a mortgage and be prepared with the most up-to-date information to provide counsel on the topic.

-Learn buyer preferences and be prepared to speak knowledgeably about topics that are important to them. For example, if the buyer wants to live in a certain area of town, learn about the school district, crime rate, grocery stores, etc.

-Always be honest when dealing with the customer. Help them set and manage expectations. Keep the customer’s interest first by telling them the truth-not necessarily everything they want to hear. One small lie or omission can irreparably shatter the trust of the buyer and your reputation.

-Be prepared to face heightened expectations. Quality buyers expect quality customer service every time they interact with your office. It is important to exceed their expectations, anticipate their questions and make certain that you explain all facets of how real estate transactions work. There’s no room for unpleasant surprises.

-Position yourself as the expert on real estate in your market. Promote your firm’s “sold homes” to build confidence. The firm’s success with home sales also influences a buyer’s perception of the agent’s ability to deliver.

-Encourage your buying clients to only submit offers on attractive properties that include home warranties. A home warranty can help protect a new homeowner from unexpected expenses associated with covered system and major appliance breakdowns after the close of sale.

By providing exceptional customer service every time and proactively building confidence, real estate professionals will be able to please even some of the most difficult clients. A satisfied home buyer will open the door to more opportunities and lead to an elevated reputation in the community.

Lelia Chapman is vice president of real estate sales for American Home Shield.

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