By: Alex Craig
Editor’s Note: This piece is a part of a larger series on selling inherited properties. Make sure to check out all the articles in the series:
In my last article, I discussed many tactical elements of selling an inherited home. However, the emotional side of working in the probate niche market was intentionally left out, because it deserves a full piece. The transaction’s emotional side is often one of the most nuanced to navigate.
If you plan to sell inherited homes or make it a large part of your business, then you must understand the range of emotions that your clients will experience and how to respond to them appropriately.
The majority of these rules are soft skills that require time and cultivation through practice and experience. Knowledge isn’t enough, so make sure you take the time to practice often.
Rule #1: Move at Your Client’s Speed
Home sellers in this space are on various timelines. Some clients are ready to have the inherited home listed today, while others are 12, 24, or 36 months out.
You want to respect their timelines, especially since sometimes, there are factors at play that you might not be privy to. The last thing you want to do is appear pushy and sales-y. Clients will then view you as insensitive and focused only on a dollar, which won’t land well for a transaction that to them is likely emotional.
You’ll also want to remember that grief is often a primary emotion for your clients in this kind of situation. Trying to push a grieving person into a timeline that won’t work for them could cause a lot of anger to emerge and get projected on you. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been rejected a thousand times or you’re able to intellectually put distance between your client’s emotions and yourself, it still feels terrible.
As a general rule, avoid tactics like assumptive closing or intense follow-up campaigns. Unless you’re at the stage where a client is ready to list the home and they have voiced that, avoid saying something like, “Would Wednesday or Friday be better for my photographer to come and take photos for the listing?”
Settle in. You may be in for a long journey. Move at their speed.
Rule #2: Communicate In A Therapeutic Manner
Nurses make great real estate agents because they’re trained in therapeutic communication. This technique is used to collect information and support a client while maintaining professionalism. While you might not be a nurse taking care of patients, you are a real estate agent helping someone through a tough experience.
As real estate agents, we can all learn from nurses. Here are some therapeutic techniques to use in your conversations with clients.
- Avoid asking “Why” questions. Especially when emotions are high, these types of questions can feel like an interrogation. They might put your client on the defense.
- Use active listening. Show your client that you are interested in what they have to say. Great phrases are “Tell me more about…” and insert a phrase of what they said. “Tell me more about how your siblings feel about selling the property?” When your clients answer these questions, engage in conversation, always starting with empathy.
- Give broad openings. Ask broad questions to see where they are. You want to focus on questions where more than a yes or a no is required as an example. “What are your plans for the home?” is one way to open up a conversation and help you get the information you need.
These conversations and questions allow you as the real estate agent to help clients through a complex process. It gives you an opportunity to discover how you can help them while acknowledging and respecting their emotions.
Rule #3: Find Out How You Can Help In The Moment
Earlier, I mentioned moving at a client’s speed, which is important. It’s equally important to help move your clients along when needed. This is done through therapeutic communication focusing on how we can help them at the moment.
You want to ask with regularity how you can help your client. Know that the answer might look different from one day to the next, and be ready for some surprising answers. If it’s within your wheelhouse as a real estate professional, seek to provide assistance when you can.
Sit back. Enter the silence. Let them think and respond.
If they can’t come up with anything, then follow up and ask a specific question on what you know they need as part of the process of selling an inherited home.
For example, you can ask, “What is your plan for the belongings and items in the home? If you need one, I can recommend an estate sale company and a junk removal company.”
Sometimes clients don’t have a complete picture of everything needed to sell an inherited property. It’s common to have these conversations where the client states, “I haven’t thought of that.”
To help, build a service referral network or ensure the one you currently have meets the needs of clients selling inherited homes.
Rule #4: Curb Your Expectations
Here’s the thing: death and grief make people very uncomfortable. Most of us have our feelings about grief that we inadvertently project onto people. As a result, we have expectations for how clients should respond. We expect people to behave a certain way given the situation when the reality is everyone grieves differently.
We can become very uncomfortable when their response does not match our expectations.
Understanding that people grieve differently is the first step to curbing your expectations. It can help to understand different aspects of the grief process and different types of grief.
For example, anticipatory grief is common when adult clients face a father who recently passed away after being on hospice care for six months. These adult clients may not have already started processing their grief and are ready to sell the home quickly. As always when selling inherited properties, follow your client’s lead in this situation.
The reality is that your client could be at any stage of the grief process when they contact you, and throughout the process, they might oscillate between stages like anger, depression or denial.
How a person processes and moves through a stage in the grief process will look different from one person to the next. Don’t think that just because one person is motivated to sell in the anger stage means the next one will react the same way. Take time to understand that differences happen, and avoid projecting your feelings onto your clients. You can do this by practicing detachment. Its more than likely that your client’s reaction have little to do with you since they are processing so much internally. Try not to take things personally.
Rule #5: Navigate Personalities As Needed
You may find yourself in the middle of a dispute between the various parties in an inherited home situation. Communication is critical here. You might be in a position where you’ll need to mediate to a degree.
Disputes can be as minor as one sibling wishing to wait 14 days to list the home or as big as seven different siblings who all have a different idea of what to do with the house.
Mediation doesn’t mean you take it upon yourself to resolve the issue. Your first step is to consult with any legal authority in the matter and to review any pertinent details in the paperwork. Feelings and opinions are moot points when the law is involved. It doesn’t matter what a family member wants to do with the house if a Will or Trust explicitly dictates what will happen to the home.
If no legal requirements exist, then you mediate by listening with empathy, asking what’s needed of you as a real estate professional and doing your best to move at your client’s pace. You can make suggestions as well, so long as they’re in your wheelhouse or you can refer them to an expert.
Here’s an example. Sometimes siblings want to hold onto the property as an avoidance technique for dealing with grief. Once the home is sold, they may have to find a way to accept that their parents have passed away. Try to use therapeutic communication to get to the heart of the matter, but don’t press too hard. Then present appropriate solutions within your skillset and knowledge.
You’re not going to help a client through the grief process. That’s not your job and you shouldn’t try to. But you can present solutions to the problem at hand, which is with the property. If you’re dealing with two siblings and one wants to sell while the other wants to keep the home, a buyout might be a viable solution. In that case, you can use your network and refer them to a lender who can facilitate the buyout process.
Sometimes by uncovering the reasons, you can help clients develop a better solution to their needs.
Compared to other markets, the inherited property market requires significant soft skills — from working with client timelines to therapeutic communication and helping in the moment.
You will find this niche market incredibly rewarding if you’re willing to navigate emotions and meet your clients where they are. There is an opportunity to guide people going through a difficult time, which is its own reward.
Alex Craig, a real estate professional with Century 21 Looking Glass in Lansing, Mich., helps homeowners sell their homes for maximum cash in their pocket by taking a data-driven approach and executing a systematic marketing plan that uses current digital marketing strategies. Craig also runs the Dolinski Group, a company focused on helping real estate agents get more from their careers and earn more without the heartache.