Realtors Who Speak in Rehearsed Scripts Instead of Thinking

Sylvia wrote an offer for one of our buyers last week. When the listing agent called to confirm receiving the offer, he immediately started in with rehearsed script-speak. For those of you unaware of “scripts”, they are exactly what you might imagine. Prefab spoken lines to use in certain situations.

Many Realtors and Real Estate Coaches swear by scripts and practice them daily.  Sylvia and I are very familiar with the concept of scripts, we’ve had training in scripts, and we’ve attended workshops at real estate conventions about using scripts. But we don’t employ scripts in a formal way. This blog article will explain why.

I only heard Sylvia’s side of the conversation with the script-driven listing agent, but she filled me in after hanging up saying, “man, everything that guy says is a script”.

It started with: “Got your offer. So … (pause)… your buyer is offering exactly ___% below list price for a listing that has been on the market only ___ days”.

To which Sylvia responded off the top of her head with with: “Well, the offer is based on the market analysis I did, which I sent with the offer. The list price is irrelevant. I determined the market value based on recent sales of similar homes and advised the buyer as to a fair offer price, and that’s what you have. Plus, we’ve sold over half a dozen homes in that neighborhood and we know what those houses are worth”.

Then, as skilled practitioners of script-speak do, whatever you say is ignored. Instead of having a conversation about the comparable sales that were used to justify the offer, the next rehearsed line is uttered, no matter what your response was to the first.

“I’m going to need your buyer to come up to a price my seller can agree to so we can make this deal work and so you and I can both get paid our commissions”.

To that, Sylvia said: “{Agent Name}, I’m not doing this for a commission. I’m helping my buyer find the best value I can for a home that meets his needs. He likes your listing, but it’s over-priced. You have a good clean offer, based on a proper market analysis, and I think the seller should seriously consider accepting the offer as-is”.

I thought it ended shortly thereafter, with the seller and agent not willing to budge from the list price. I was amazed a few days later to be told that the buyer and seller were in fact now under contract for an amount less than the seller’s price and a bit higher than either Sylvia or I felt was justified for our buyer. But the buyer is the one who makes the decision to accept a seller’s counter-offer or not. We just provide the data, our opinion and our advice. So we entered into the inspection period.

The property inspection revealed a bad roof that needed replacing. My roofer went out and confirmed this after the inspection. The roof had multiple active leaks and was at the end of it’s functional life. A new roof was going to be $6,000. I told our buyer that I already thought he was paying a bit too much before the bad roof, but that at least he was in the range I thought it might appraise for. But adding $6,000 to the top of the price put it unquestionably beyond a reasonable value, about 9% more than I though the house was worth. The seller refused to negotiate a new roof into the deal, so our buyer, following our advice, terminated the contract. We know we can find a better deal for him.

As I made my final efforts to negotiate the roof and other repairs with the listing agent (it’s usually me who handles the repair negotiation process instead of Sylvia), I got my own taste of his scripts library. The dumbest one was his parting shot when I called to verify that I had sent the termination notice, to which he responded with a snide, “I guess this house was just more than your buyer could afford”. To that, I simply said, “Good luck to you. Maybe our next deal together will work out”.

But let’s take a closer look at these real estate agent scripts and see what they accomplish. Let’s start with the first one, used out of the gate by the listing agent.

“Got your offer. So… your buyer is offering exactly ___% below list price for a listing that has been on the market only ___ days”

All I can guess is that this is intended as some sort of Alpha Dog power play, putting the buyer agent on the defensive. It probably works with inexperienced agents and/or agents who don’t know the market or how to defend their offers. It probably causes some agents to doubt their offer, or catches them off-guard, thus allowing this listing agent to assume a dominant stature in the agent/agent dialog and allowing him to control the conversation. Nothing to put an agent in his place like a quick and sudden reprimand.

But I think that’s a mistake. What the script essentially says to a buyer’s agent is, “You are stupid. Your offer is too low. What do you have to say for yourself?” This is unprofessional, in my opinion.

The reason Sylvia sent her CMA with the offer is that we think it’s courteous to do so. It helps the agent and seller understand that this isn’t a “low ball” offer, but a serious offer based on what the home is worth according to market conditions as we see them. Often, the other agent will send back their own CMA, which our script-loving agent eventually did at Sylvia’s insistence, but the comparable sales he used were not proper comps because they were 1) a lot smaller than the subject property (inflating the price per square foot), 2) not properly adjusted for the seller-paid closing costs that almost all of the sales included, and 3) not all from the same neighborhood, but, instead, cherry-picked comps from further away.

Asking the listing agent for the comps used to establish list price of an over-priced listing is a good and fair tactic because it exposes the over-priced listing price as being unsupported by market data. The agent usually cannot justify the list price, though sometimes they do offer rational debate, which sometimes has merit. Sometimes they just admit, “this is what the seller wants to try to get and I don’t have comps, but send me your best offer and I’ll present it”.

This approach is appreciated because it’s the truth and we know sometimes agents take over-priced listings with the intent of getting price drops later on. Some agents actually appreciate the kind of justified offer we send because it helps them say to the seller “this is what I was talking about when we discussed list price, other agents know the market and will run the same comps I showed you before”, and helps them get the over-priced listing lowered to a more reasonable list price.

But when an agent sends back an embarrassing CMA that would flunk a Real Estate 101 Market Analysis course, that’s at the same time funny and sad. Especially coming from a “veteran” agent who ought to know better.

Next script:

“I’m going to need your buyer to come up to a price my seller can agree to so we can make this deal work and so you and I can both get paid our commissions”.

This one is paraphrased somewhat, as Sylvia couldn’t remember the exact script, but the “so we get get paid our commissions” part is accurate. This script extends the “you’re stupid and you’re wrong about the price” bullying tactic, but it further assumes that the buyer agent really needs the commission and might be motivated to try to keep the deal together just so she can get paid a commission.

Unfortunately, I think this also probably works with many agents, especially in a slow market where so many agents in Austin are struggling to get by. I think some agents don’t fight as hard as they should for their clients because they do in fact need this deal to pay next month’s rent, and it possibly affects the manner and vigor with which they advise the buyer. They want the deal to work so they can get paid. just as this listing agent assumes.

But what Sylvia told the agent is the truth. We don’t care about the commission. Realtor-haters may not believe that or understand it, but for us it’s true, and for many very good and successful Realtors we know, it’s true. We do not hesitate, at all, to tell a buyer to walk away from a bad deal, and we do it all the time.

Sometimes the buyer really wants the house and is willing to pay too much, which may seem odd, but it happens. (This is what every seller dreams of, and why some houses do sell for too much). In certain circumstances that can be justified, for example, if your grandmother lives across the street and you need to be close by to care for her. Or this is the only available home in your price range that tracks to the prized set of schools you want your children to attend for the next 12 years.

But absent those sort of factors, and when purchasing the type of “commodity” cookie-cutter home at question in our current example, there is no reason you should pay a price higher than the market value for a home, and your agent should be quick to tell you so and keep looking.

Finally, the parting shot, which rolled off the agent’s tongue like a tried and used script:

“I guess this house was just more than your buyer could afford”.

This rounds out the superiority complex that the set of scripts nourishes for this agent. A better, professional, Realtor to Realtor farewell would have been something like, “sorry we couldn’t work it out. I understand your position but I honestly think my seller is going to do better with the next offer. I hope your buyer finds something more suitable”.

One of the most important relationships we have as Realtors is our relationship with other agents. Every offer is a good offer, whether it works out or not. We always thank agents for sending us an offer and treat them with respect and courtesy. I can’t think of an upside to treating another agent poorly. I’ve seen some terrible, lowball offers tun into great deals for our sellers. And I’ve seen full price offers turn into nightmares. We never prejudge offers. We simply obtain a response from the seller with the assumption that the buyer really does want the house or they wouldn’t have taken the time to write the offer, no matter how low. Neither me or Sylvia would ever wrap up the final conversation about a failed offer by insulting the other agent or his buyer. It’s too bad this other agent sees it differently.

Are scripts a bad thing?

No, scripts are not a bad thing. I used them for years before I even knew what they were or that I was using them. Instead, I would say something to a client or prospect like, “the best way I’ve found to explain this is … “, and then I’d go on and repeat something I’d said the same way a hundreds times before in response to the same question or situation. But it’s not something I designed or stood in front of the mirror practicing, like some agents do.

The difference between “good” scripts and “evil” scripts is the intention behind the script and the sincerity with which it is delivered.

Many sales scripts, the kind you hear used by high pressure salespeople such as telemarketers and car salesmen, are intended to manipulate you toward a specific end that benefits the salesperson, but completely ignores whether or not you need the result sought by the salesperson or whether you’d benefit from it.

I was in a sales script training course once, taught by a highly successful Realtor who was sharing his techniques in a workshop format. He did some role play with a participant and demonstrated how a particular set of scripts would work during a sales listing presentation. When classroom participants would ask, “but what if they say this, or what if they say that”, the answer was “it doesn’t matter, just say the next line no matter what, and keep the conversation going in the direction you want it to go. Their answers don’t matter. Just stick to the script and eventually you wear them down”.

I thought it seemed creepy, phony and I didn’t like the idea of “wearing them down”. I’m not saying this stuff doesn’t work. It just ain’t my cup of tea, nor Sylvia’s. We probably have a lower listing appointment closing ratio than we’d have if we were more willing to practice and use scripts, but those kind of Realtor scripts are not for us. We want people to know and trust us, not our scripts.

So, the scripts we do use are mainly informational and help people better understand a circumstance or situation.

For example, I have an “old house” script, which means that buyers who are interested in older 1970s homes will hear me go over a set of realities that are going to come into play at inspection time, which is that the older homes produce “ugly” inspections due to code related issues found in older homes. I’ll ask a buyer if she’s prepared to survive that sort of inspection, and I try to set expectations. This is to benefit the buyer by educating. It’s not a sales tactic to “close” a deal.

So, if you’re a Realtor who practices scripts, ask yourself who the script benefits. If it’s benefiting your ego, by belittling other agents, you are out of integrity and you are not in service to your clients, but rather your over-inflated opinion of yourself.

If you have scripts to “close” a buyer into writing an offer they are not ready to write, then you haven’t properly educated that buyer and you need to slow down. If you use scripts to pressure sellers into listing with  you, by over-promising the obtainable sales price, or “wearing them down”, you are again serving yourself and not the client, and you give us all a bad name when you do that.

If your scripts manipulate and pressure people rather than educate and convince, then you are, in my opinion, not a good Realtor and you should re-examine your tactics.

Posted by Steve
6 years ago

Steve is a Real Estate Blogger, Husband and Dad, UT Austin Grad, Runner, Real Estate Broker and owner of Crossland Team and Crossland Real Estate in Austin TX.

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Garreth Wilcock - 3 years ago

I’m glad you exposed the whole scripts thing. I had no idea that people were so robotic and unthinking before I got my dose of “scripts and dialogs” practice at my first brokerage. Now when I hear agents use them, I get an idea of who the robot programmer was. Some of them are useful, but really I get tired of saying the same thing in the same way over and over again when I think there are other ways to share information with people. I tend to tell anonymous stories about past clients rather than trot out old scripts.

I’m glad you’re a man of principal – rather than using “sideways, t-bone, reverse close” scripts to get more listings, you probably wake up and feel good about who you are and how you interact with people. And I know there’s a script to counter what I just said, and you know what? I just don’t care!

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