Special Report: The art of handling objections in real estate

June 26, 2017 | By Inman

Special Report: The art of handling objections in real estate

Every client question is an opportunity to prove value


Key Takeaways

  • Listen more than you talk, apply empathy, coach or lead the client, and reframe the objection to move forward.

  • Don't be defensive and overly scripted.

  • Pushback from your buyer or seller is an opportunity to educate.

“If you’re not solving problems, you’re not selling real estate.”

That’s according to one Massachusetts agent who made it clear that overcoming objections is “an all day, everyday activity.”

Most will agree that objections come with the territory in real estate — some agents may even dream restlessly to common refrains:

“I’m not ready to sell.”

“Why should I pay that commission?”

“I was hoping to sell my house for more.”

We want to go FSBO.”

And during the waking hours, agents may find themselves knocking down these statements like devilish pop-ups in an intense game of Whac-A-Mole.

Objections are a part of any sales process, but the job of a real estate professional to advise, guide and work with clients over a long period of time on such a monumental transaction requires the highest level of communication finesse.

The best in the business have learned to develop compelling and convincing rebuttals to objections to keep the sales process on track and help clients past their concerns from the agent selection process to close.

Expect objections in these scenarios

Respondents indicated that handling objections takes up a good part of their day in real estate; for nearly a third, it’s around 11 to 25 percent.

Objections are most likely to sprout up during the listing presentation (according to 30 percent of respondents), in the lead generation phase (22 percent) and when out house hunting with buyers (21 percent).

Despite the digital age we live in, nearly 50 percent said they were most likely to receive these pushbacks in person; for a third, it was over the phone, and 9 percent said email was their most frequent objection handling playing field.

“All prospecting is objection handling, as are the listing appointments, contract negotiations and so on,” said one successful Georgia-based agent. “I view objections as someone fishing for information.”

The objection as opportunity

According to the survey, most real estate professionals are approaching objections, whether valid or not, with a positive attitude; two thirds see them as an opportunity to educate a client or prospect.

How successful are real estate professionals at handling them? According to nearly 40 percent, an objection usually leads to a compromise, while close to 30 percent said: “I win sometimes.” Only eight percent said they “always win.”

A number of respondents didn’t like the term “win” because sometimes objections are valid — not necessarily things to be conquered.

As this seasoned Myrtle Beach-based broker said: “If the objection is valid, there is no win or lose scenario.”

“I don’t see it as win or lose but successfully or unsuccessfully handling the objection,” added a Pennsylvania-based agent.

Define what kind of objection it is, cautioned one Rhode Island agent: “Seek to understand before trying to answer the objection. Is it a valid objection or an excuse objection? Does the problem exist? Empathy can go a long way.”

Consumers may push back against the traditional brokerage model because there are more discounters on the market today. And due to the proliferation of property search websites, homebuyers often feel they are doing more work in finding a home while attributing less value to the work a buyer’s agent does to make their bid a success.

“Although objections are an opportunity to educate, what we have found is the typical people that raise objections to us, specifically, are looking for discounts, rebates, and are just not seeing the value in our service proposition. We are in a hot market up against many discounters,” said an experienced Denver-based broker.

Some of the most types common objections real estate professionals face today include:

  • Price: The cost of using an agent (30 percent)

  • Timing: On being ready to sell or buy (20 percent)

  • Disagreements: Over budget for buyers and home pricing for sellers (17 percent)

  • Need: Prospects who did not feel a need for an agent’s service or they already had someone else in mind (11 percent)

Meanwhile the most common objections respondents hear — and agents would be wise to anticipate — include:

  • “I need more time to think about it.” (23 percent)

  • “What will you do differently from other agents?” (19 percent)

  • “We’ll work with you if you cut your commission.” (16 percent)

  • “You’re the umpteenth agent to call me.” (4 percent)

  • “I need to talk with my significant other/family first.” (4 percent)

What’s beneath the surface of an objection?

When it came to the best strategies for handling objections in real estate, the overwhelming majority of respondents vouched for asking useful questions to understand the root of the concern (82 percent), like a doctor who unearths the disease rather than just treating the symptoms.

“Try and figure out what’s really bugging them, which is usually something else,” said one respondent.

“I look at an objection as either an opportunity to remove an obstacle to move ahead or to smoke out an excuse and find the real objection,” added an experienced Florida agent.

Other popular methods were listening more than you talk (61 percent), using empathy (56 percent), coaching or leading the client (39 percent), re-framing the objection as a misunderstanding or turning the subject around (34 percent), and pre-empting an objection (33 percent).

The biggest roadblock to successful objection handling, according to respondents, is being caught off guard (20 percent), while 14 percent said they were “objection handling masters.”

A little over 10 percent had trouble moving on from rejection and 7 percent did not enjoy contacting strangers, with an equal number of respondents feeling as though their lack of experience hampered them.

What stands to boost one’s objection-handling prowess in real estate? More time in the industry, said 34 percent of respondents, in addition to having more scripts in their memory (22 percent) and role playing (20 percent).

Feeling defensive? Resist the impulse

Human instinct is to get defensive when approached with conflict, but it’s an adviser’s job not to.

The no. 1 mistake respondents cited is becoming defensive when faced with an objection they couldn’t answer (38 percent).

Whatever you do, don’t take an objection as an attack.

“Objections are not personal,” said one respondent. “Answer the objection by acknowledging the fear and presenting the benefit.”

The objection may be personal to the buyer, however. As a rookie Florida-based agent advises: “Know your buyer and their needs so as to minimize objections. What you perceive as an objection may be something very important and personal to your buyer.”

Moreover, it’s the agent’s role to keep emotions to a minimum.

“You have to keep the client focused on the end result and provide the options within the walls of the contract to get them there,” said an experienced South Carolina-based broker. “Presentation is everything when handling objections.”

Failing to take the time to explore an objection before addressing it is agents’ second biggest mistake, according to the survey, followed by being overly scripted or cookie cutter and moving on without properly addressing a concern.

Two thirds of respondents felt that short, sweet and to the point answers were better than long, thoughtful ones.

Agent as teacher

They say that an agent wears many hats, and in the case of objections, one of them is teacher.

For many agents surveyed, responding to objections begins with education, a positive mindset and being well-equipped with the facts.

Acting as if you’ve heard objection before (you probably have!) and answering confidently is a good idea. And having a can-do attitude that calms the client’s nerves can work well, too.

A long-established Florida-based broker has actually changed his vocabulary to make this happen: “My mindset starts with banishing the word ‘objection.’ It’s only a request for more information or telling me I have gotten something wrong.” Another survey participant echoed a similar sentiment in choosing to think of objection handlers as “conversation continuers.”

“An objection can be an opportunity to allow your client to understand that they are truly heard. And, it’s an opportunity to educate,” said a North Carolina-based agent. “I have found that most objections can be handled with facts. The objection usually comes from a lack of knowledge. I have the mindset of a teacher during those moments.”

An experienced California-based agent relishes the opportunity: “I absolutely love objections because it’s a way for me to set myself apart from other people vying for their business and and an opportunity to educate the client.”

An experienced Sarasota, Florida-based broker urges agents not to patronize their clients when they are setting out to educate.

“Don’t be that know-it-all that nobody likes, and remember that some objections just can’t be overcome, so be disciplined enough to pick and choose your moments with buyers or sellers,” he said. “I would tell every Realtor in the country to recognize it is not about them and that it’s exclusively about the customer.

“So make a good impression, act with accountability, get the facts, interpret the facts and close in agreement.”

And before you can get your message across, you have to have made a good connection with the client, added a Boston-based coach, who sees consumers having unrealistic expectations shaped by the media: “TV and internet influences a lot of people, but not always in a realistic sense. So you need to bring clients, especially first-time homebuyers, to realize the truth. But you have to first connect with them and show credibility before they will really listen.”

There is a certain amount of psychological digging that needs to be done in the agent-client relationship, suggested some respondents. Put the ball back in their court, and open your ears.

“Objections are best handled by listening and asking additional questions to get a clearer understanding of the client’s questions or concerns,” advised a company founder and coach. “When I respond with questions, it is an unexpected response and puts the responsibility of explaining and justification back on the client.”

How to do your homework

How does an agent best prepare for the inevitable and predictable objections? Come armed with persuasive data and practice your responses until they’re ingrained like muscle memory.

“Being an expert in your market means you should have answers to objections the client hasn’t even asked yet,” said an Atlanta-based agent. “Make this work for you. By properly educating and getting ahead of those objections, not only do you look more intelligent and professional, but more trustworthy as well.”

In many cases, empathy is the place to start.

“I put myself in the other person’s place and think of the questions and objections they might have depending on their knowledge, background, personality and develop answers to those,” a Chicago-based agent shared. If she knows an objection will come up, she tries to introduce it into the discussion first to address the issue before it becomes a problem or source of irritation.

As in all relationships, people bring baggage, and agents should take this into account when preparing for a new client, advised one experienced broker: “Look at all sides of a situation if you feel you may receive pushback from your client. This will give you an open mindset to talk through the situation. Many times clients have been through similar situations that did not go in their favor … Help them by listening and then asking good questions about that past situation.”

A San Francisco Bay Area executive broker described his method for professional development, a system that allows the best ideas to make their way to the top: “After each interview, I write down the objections, then four good responses, then memorize every one. Then, test, improve, over and over again until the best answer is exposed to any question.”

An agent in the Hamptons will bring overpriced listing examples (not his own) that sold for much less, much later and compare them to homes that have sold near or at listing prices quickly.

You’re in the moment: What now?

Once you’ve done the prep, what works when you’re on your toes, face-to-face (or on the phone) and it’s game time?

Popular suggestions were listening well, reframing, pre-empting, coaching/leading and asking questions. A number of respondents stressed that it’s not one-size-fits-all when it comes to the best approach.