Active Rain August 9, 2010

Lurkers, Lookers, and Other People Mom Never Warned Me About

Over 10,000 online views have yielded 15 showings and 3 offers.Chances are that if you are selling a home that has been on the market any length of time, you’ve had your share of showings. If you haven’t sold yet, you might wonder what all those people who passed on your home eventually bought. I’ve got news for you: a huge percentage of them aren’t buying anything anytime soon. They are working with an agent, they may be pre approved, but they might be a months or a year away from actually acting. How can this be?

Right now, the buying public is in a war of attrition with sellers. The vast majority of prospective buyers are sitting this out. They aren’t indifferent, they just aren’t in any hurry. We have listings that have hundreds and even thousands of unique pages views on the Internet every week. Many of those views are the same people, but they are there. The same listings have had dozens of showings, yet there aren’t dozens of homes selling in that category. We get phone calls and emails inquiries, which we answer diligently, and believe me we are selling the value. But the mass inertia of the public will never be overcome by a persuasive phone pitch or email. 

Here is a quick breakdown of what I am observing. 

  • Lurkers. The vast majority of the prospective buyers are silently lurking online. They watch houses online for weeks, months and more. If the one they really have their eye on reduces to a tantalizing number, they graduate to the next category:
  • Callers. Callers are the ones who call the office asking about a listing or inquire via email, and then disappear unless the stars align. What floor is the apartment on? Oh, the first floor? Never mind. How close is the house to the school? One block? Oh, I was afraid of that. Too close. If the stars do align, callers become…
  • Lookers. Ah, the looker. The mystery is revealed. The person I have been playing footsie with for 3 months has finally appeared in the flesh to see my listing. Lookers aren’t buyers. Lookers look. And question. And ponder. And figure. They want to see the utility bill. They want to bring their father in law to check it out. They go down to City Hall to make sure the shed/deck/basement/whatever is up to code. They seem to not understand that there is a time for that. Sometimes lookers are…
  • Likers. Likers like. They want to keep looking, but they like it. That’s very nice. I like that. What? An offer? Whoa, there, don’t pressure me. What’s your hurry? This is a big decision. Are you hiding something? I want to keep looking. But that is very nice. Let me know if they get any offers. They say buyers are liars, but they are not. Likers are liars, because they game the agents with faux interest so they can keep seeing more houses. 
Lookers and likers do become buyers on occasion, but most of the time if they do make an offer it goes nowhere, often after huge effort is expended. My experience is that buyers start out as buyers, and they are rare. Buyers are ready to act. Buyers want to find something. Buyers make adjustments. Buyers are quick learners. Buyers live in the question of “what will it take to get this house.” Whereas lookers live in another world where they feel they cannot act unless they absolutely steal something. They seem to forget that they will derive utility from living in their purchase as a home, an instead view it as a cold asset that must be bought low, at a fire sale price. The problem is they seldom like anything that is not cream of the crop, and those aren’t stolen.  
The numbers bear my thoughts out. I have hundreds of online views, dozens of calls and inquiries, some showings, a rare offer, and at the end of the funnel is a few closings per month. Lots of agents are out there showing homes to people they will never, ever sell a home to. And because we don’t have a crystal ball or some other device to measure sincerity or motivation, we accommodate them. That’s the reality of this market.