Mistake #3: Not Asking the Right Questions

Services for Real Estate Pros with Arch Telecom


Previously we discussed the importance of timely response and qualifying motivation.  This post focuses on what you say to the prospect - the script.  If you are going to increase your conversion, there is nothing more important than asking the right questions.

Several years ago we surveyed our client base and found that one of the overwhelming problems that they faced in their business was responding to leads in a timely manner.  We decided to address this by creating a live operator service that would represent the agent professionally, responding to their leads within fifteen minutes of the inquiry and qualifying them. 

Since we had never actually talked to prospects previously, we hired a coach from one of the most successful real estate coaching firms in the country to write our initial script.  This is an abbreviation of the script we received:  

  • Hello, this is Joe Realtor with ABC Realty; may I ask who I am speaking with?
  • Great, I saw you were interested in 123 Main Street.  Would you like more information on the property?
  • I would like to add you to my mailing list and send you similar properties.  May I have your mailing or email address?
  • Fantastic, and are you currently working with a real estate agent to find your home?
  • Wonderful, are you going to need to sell your current residence before you move?
  • Perfect, what price range and area of town are you looking in?
  • I’m excited for you; do you know anybody else who is looking to buy or sell?

No matter what the prospect said, our operators were to respond with a superlative such as “fantastic, great, wonderful, I’m excited for you…”  I thought this seemed somewhat hokey and too homogenous for every situation.  But the coach convinced me it was about being “positive and excited,” not about what you said.  Since I do believe attitude plays a major part in success, I went along.  What sounded great on paper did not translate to success in reality.  We failed to qualify leads more often than we succeeded. 

We reviewed the call statistics to find similarities in the calls we did qualify, and consistencies with the calls that failed.  We noticed:

  1. We had no better success when the prospect responded yes to the question “Would you like more information on the property?”
  2. 90% of the leads were already working with an agent.
  3. We were receiving one referral out of every 100 calls.
  4. The operators reported that on successful calls the prospect often offered information without them asking for it.

It was clear that the call should not be about the property, but about the prospect.  We experimented with many techniques to create dialogue and realized the key was to place the needs and wants of the prospect first, and our agenda second.  This created dialogue and in the end enabled us to qualify.  To emphasize the concept to our live operator team, we created two slogans:

  1. Strip yourself naked.  This was about mindset; it meant to ignore any office distractions, self-inhibitions, concerns about your results of the call, or pressures of the job.  The operator was to be so focused on the prospect that if they were naked in the middle of our offices, they wouldn’t care or notice. 
  2. Ride the wave to the beach.  Generate dialogue to build momentum and never exit a call.  Don’t be satisfied; go beyond what you think is satisfactory and ride the wave of momentum all the way to the end.

We started there and over time tracked results, tested, adjusted, and obtained consensus on what specific questions and techniques worked for getting prospects to open up.  Keep in mind we were calling prospects from Florida to California and we had no ability to talk about the specific property.  Our sole purpose was to qualify prospects and harvest information to help our customers be more efficient.

The techniques began to crystallize.  Be service-oriented in the beginning, create dialogue by asking questions, and get callers in the rhythm of responding.

Our script:

  • Hello, this John Smith and I saw that you had accessed my recorded information line about 123 Main Street, and I just wanted to email or mail you some more information.  Which of those is easiest for you?

This was disarming to the prospect; we weren’t asking them if they like the property or not, just making it easy for them to give us their email address.  We were offering service, not asking them if they wanted it.  This question also opens up an excellent opportunity to ask a simple follow-up question to ensure they get complete and proper information that is relevant to their particular home search.  Again, we want to focus on their needs and get them in the rhythm of responding.  

  • I would like to get an idea of exactly what you are looking for and send you some similar properties in the area.  Do you have a bedroom and bathroom requirement?

No matter who is in the market or how long they have been searching, they know the answer to this question.  They may not be sure of their price range, or even if they are interested in a single-family or condo, but everybody knows how many bedrooms they need.  They don’t have to think about it and can’t see any harm in answering, and you have them engaged.

Now that they are in the rhythm and ready to freely answer your questions, you can begin to qualify.

  • What is the ballpark price range you are looking at right now?
  • Are there any particular areas or school districts that you really desire to live in?
  • Are there any specifics, in terms of pool, garage, or other features you really want in this home?

We lead and help them along, but with the focus on listening.  Many times, the prospect will begin to qualify themselves by inserting statements such as, “Well, we’re looking to purchase this summer,” or “I need to buy in this school district before the semester begins.”  Never interrupt; anything you say will not be as useful as just listening to them.

We have learned that good lead follow-up is about listening and learning.  It serves no purpose to give out a price only to have the call end, or to talk about granite countertops without even knowing if the prospect likes granite. 

In a real conversation, all sorts of details came out.  Perhaps they revealed they were renting (first-time homebuyer), or they needed to paint their property before selling it (listing opportunity).  The conversation is about the prospect, not the house.  The truth is you do not sell the home; you find the buyer.  You do not list the home; you convince the seller.

The initial script asked the prospect if they “were working with a real estate agent” and amazingly all of them were.  When we quit asking that question at the beginning and explored it after we had a dialogue, we learned only 20% actually were.  Clearly, without rapport the prospect was just saying, “No thanks, I’m just looking.”

So we ask:

  • How long have you been actively searching for a home?
  • How are you doing most of your searching… just driving around and looking on the internet?

If they do state they are working with an agent, we ask:

  • Are you under a buyer agreement or are they just showing you properties?

These questions are open-ended and encourage the prospect to speak freely about their search.  Similar strategies can be applied to uncovering a listing opportunity, with questions like:

  • Are you a first-time homebuyer?


  • Do you currently lease?  If so: How long do you have left on your contract?
  • For people in resort or investment areas: Will this be your primary residence?

The key is to ask open-ended questions that encourage dialogue.  And it’s all about dialogue.  Then determine if this prospect fits your agenda and simply close for an appointment or choose not to work with them.  When a relationship is established, the close is automatic and natural.    

Next time you generate a lead, one that you created with your hard-earned money and effort, try stripping yourself of every external distraction and focusing solely on the prospect.  Then when you create dialogue, extend that momentum all the way home.  You may well find your buyer conversion, your listing opportunities, and your sphere of influence pipeline skyrocketing.

Next post we will explore how we have learned to handle objections.

Arch Telecom  210 Barton Springs Road, Suite 275, Austin, TX 78704  800-882-9155  www.archtelecom.com


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Mercedes E. Santana
Santana Property Group - New York, NY
NYC Multifamily Properties

Excellent information.  It's an all important reminder to take our time in our phone conversations with clients.  The info you could get in the first phone call could be the difference between gaining or losing a prospective client.

Oct 15, 2009 04:38 AM #1
Shari Song
Berkshire Hathaway Home Services - Federal Way, WA

Thanks for the informational article. We could always use tips and better stategies in our business.


Oct 20, 2009 07:01 AM #2
Phil Leng
Retired - Kirkland, WA
Phil Leng - Retired

Wow, Arch,

This is awesome!

Written a long time ago but useful today.

Thanks for writing it. I am passing it on...


Dec 16, 2011 11:13 PM #3

Great information thanks for your effort to share!

Jun 26, 2012 06:22 AM #4
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