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Are Buyers Really Liars -- Or is it Just a Rhyme?


When I was a young real estate agent in St. Louis in the 1970's, my manager John coached us on how to handle buyers.  Buyers are liars, he warned.  How much of this he believed and how much was contrived to form a rhyme, I will never know.  But even back during those salad days of seller markets, John knew the value of a buyer and the importance of holding onto that buyer.  And when the buyer was from out of town?  Well, that was gold worth guarding.  "When you get an out-of-town buyer," John would shout, "you sleep with them until they buy!"  Now, what I think he meant was that we should keep very close tabs on them, although I happened to have known some agents who I think took him literally.

So, if they're lying, what are they lying about?  And why?  Are we to be like the old shoe salesmen who brought out three pair of shoes that matched the customers' request and one pair that did not, just in case they really didn't know what they wanted?  I took a training class years ago from Steve Brown, who taught that we need to determine a buyer's dominant buying motive, or DBM.  When I first heard that, I instantly understood why, in my first year of selling real estate, I was not able to find the right home for George and his wife:

George was a very successful insurance salesman.  The message from the partially-smoked cigar cupped in his right hand at all times could have told me a lot, had I been listening.  He was going to spend $150,000, and that was big bucks in 1973 -- especially to a new agent.  A friend of his lived in one of the old-money neighborhoods of St. Louis near Washington University, and George wanted a house like his.  Until one came available, I showed his wife what felt like hundreds of homes that were close, but not quite, the look of the Clayton neighborhoods of Brentmoor and Carrswold.  Finally, the day arrived that a new listing came on the market in Brentmoor for $150,000.  The first two floors were updated and air conditioned, and I could almost taste my commission.  I even took my husband along for the showing, to give him the rare opportunity to be inside one of these hallowed homes.

George was quiet as I walked him and his wife through the stately rooms with the very high, ornate ceilings.  He seemed uncomfortable with the push-button wall switches and wanted to know where the wet bar was.  What's going on? I asked myself in disbelief.  I finally found him what he's looking for and there's no gratitude?  No wanting to run to the office and write up an offer?  The answer was very clear to me:  George was a fraud.  He probably didn't have the money.  Or, did he?  I didn't wait to find out.  Feeling like a fool who had wasted months of her time, I promptly dropped George and his wife and moved on.  It wasn't too many months later that I heard they had purchased a 12-year-old home in an upscale but newer neighborhood for $125,000 -- a home with traditional wall switches and a wet bar.

I finally understood John's warning and the great lesson George had taught me.  It gets reinforced daily in my real estate practice.  Just the other day, while on a listing appointment for a 2-story home in Marysville, I was explaining the price I was recommending.  I pointed out that the home abuts a busy road and that affects its market value.  "I know," said the homeowner.  "When I was looking for this home, I was determined to avoid busy roads and stairs, but when I walked in, I just fell in love."


It's A Seattle State of Mind


When I moved from St. Louis to Seattle, I left behind more than high humidity and the baseball Cardinals.  I said good-by to the conservative Heartland and hello to the progressive Northwest.  No more cursing at pesky cyclists trying to squeeze out a piece of pavement for themselves.  In Seattle, they get their own lanes and a position of respect.  And they seem to typify the basic heartiness of the Pacific Northwesterners.  No one is too old to be caught riding a bike in Seattle.  And if you want to take the bus or ride the train, there's always a designated space for you to store your bike.

What I didn't expect when I moved to Seattle was the Carpool Lane.  Talk about traveling first class!  While there are no meals or drinks served, life in the carpool lane is definitely a superior place to be, as you zip by the miles of clogged traffic lanes that are famous in Seattle.

We may be called the Rainy City, but it's only the wimps from Somewhere Else who grab an umbrella.  We all have raincoats with hoods, and that's good enough for us.  Washington is a state of 502 health clubs,  at last count.  Missouri, on the other hand, isn't publishing their number.  Suffice it to say, Seattleites are outside.  They're walking and running and cycling, and they'll do it in the rain if they have to.  If you're walking or running in Missouri, you need to look both ways before crossing the street.  Washington pedestrians, on the other hand, are treated like an endangered species and don't even have to look.  They can just cross.

You've probably heard that Seattle is the Land of Green.  For navigating icy, snow-packed streets in Seattle, we're told to use tire chains.  Never mind that they tear up the streets.  But don't try using them in Missouri or you'll be getting a hefty fine for breaking the law. Missouri uses lots of salt on its winter roadways, preferring to harm the environment rather than the streets.

But never more loudly do I hear the clash of cultures than while grocery shopping.  I can still recall my purchases being scanned at the cash register in St. Louis and that familiar question "...paper or plastic?"  Well, there's no such talk at Whole Foods.  "Plastic" there is not an option.  They even credit you 5¢ off your bill if you bring in your own bag.  And so, I try very hard to be part of this socially-conscious landscape, to overcome my many years of brutish Midwestern training.  I travel with extra cloth bags in my trunk.  And when I forget to bring one into the store, I do my best to juggle my purchases without a bag.

Like today, when I realized I had forgotten to bring a bag with me. I first perused my purchases, which consisted of a bunch of bananas, carton of orange juice, celery, carrots, carton of blueberries and rotisserie chicken.  Then, I looked back at the checker, who seemed to be staring into my very soul.

"Do you need a bag?" he asked.  I knew he was hoping I would say no. I gathered up my purchases in my arms to make sure I could handle them all, plus my purse, cell phone and keys without dropping anything.

"No, thank you.  I'll be fine without one," I answered.  He smiled a reassuring smile and gently nodded two or three times, as if reassuring me I had done the right thing.  He and I were on the same page.  It was right for the environment.  I've got that Seattle state of mind.