In the world of real estate sales, the most effective agents will try their best to honor the message sung by Bing Crosby and Sonny Tufts in the 1944 movie, "Here Come the Waves": ". . . accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, latch on to the affirmative, don't mess with Mr. In-Between."
To a well-trained real estate agent, or at least the 100 agents and builders who attended a seminar last week on "How to Get More Sales," there is no such thing as an aging, falling-down house; rather, it's a humble abode with a lot of character that just needs some loving touches.
How an already confused consumer can manage to sift through such sales jargon to find the truth about a house is no easy task, especially in a marketplace that today requires home buyers to become mini-experts in home maintenance and inspection, as well as creative financing. Meanwhile, sales agents have been taught some of the same subtle marketing techniques traditionally reserved for Madison Avenue.
In last week's seminar, a 3 1/2-hour intensive course sponsored by three Washington-area builders' associations, the participants were taught a variety of sales methods all designed with one purpose: selling more homes.
Doug Jones, a sales expert with the nationwide training firm of Pryor Resources Inc., told the class that stressing the positive features of a home is just one certain way to increase sales.
"You must take the negatives and neutralize them. . . . It's your job to tangibilize the intangible," said Pryor, a former top sales agent with International Business Machines Corp., who said real estate dealing is a mix of salesmanship, showmanship and knowledge.
For example, he said a minuscule five-by-seven-foot room in a house is not small, but compact and efficient. A tiny backyard becomes a humble space "that'll take a whole lot less maintenance to keep it up," he added.
Or, if a home buyer says the house is too expensive, Jones said an agent should quickly respond, "Too expensive?"
Such a response "let's them be reflective . . . because often times it's not clear to them what they said," Jones said. If the buyer still contends that the house is overpriced, then it's the agent's job to start talking about appreciation of the home's value and the tax incentives of homeownership, he said.
Jones also gave the group, through a series of two-minute drills, a number of hints on the best way to get the attention of a prospective buyer, through what he called "conversational guidelines."
"You can make a case to anyone to buy a house if you just get their attention," Jones said. "In 97 percent of the times that you didn't get a sale, it's because you didn't get the buyer's attention."
Such time-proven techniques of grabbing a buyer's attention include eye contact, using the person's first name, a firm handshake, a lot of smiling and nodding, not standing too close and asking questions.
"People love to talk about themselves. Ask them questions," Jones said. "The person who asks the questions controls the conversation.
"Buying should feel like a natural consequence of the discussion," said Jones, who also taught the group to recognize certain "buying signals" that a home-looker may drop, such as, "Wouldn't it be nice if the bookcase was over here?" At that point, Jones said the agent should accelerate his pitch and try to wrap up the sale.
Through the use of "word pictures," buyers can also be persuaded that a certain house is just right for them, according to Jones.
Jones said an agent trying to sell a house close to the city that would require a short commute could take the prospective buyer out to the backyard and simply say: "Imagine yourself on a Friday afternoon sitting here in front of the barbeque while traffic is backed up."
Buyers don't like to handle "risk and change," Jones said, and therefore it is the job of the agent to make the consumer conscious of the implications if they don't buy the home, by addressing what he called the "FUD factor" -- fear, uncertainty and doubt.
He said that "emphasizing an impending event," such as an increase in interest rates or the possible sale of the house to another buyer that day can also help agents sell more homes.
"It sounds like a head job, and it is," said Jones, who teaches 150 seminars a year on various training techniques. "You are manipulating people anyway, so why not use the methods that work?"