Making “The Call”

I dread making “the call.”

It’s the one part of this business that after ten years, I still am not comfortable with.

Buying a house is an incredibly emotional journey, and in today’s market, buyers are put through the wringer in their quest to finally sign on the dotted line, and close on a deal.

And when they lose in multiple offers, I have to call them and let them down easy.

I absolutely hate making “the call”….


Remember the first time you called a girl?

Well, if you’re a lady, then maybe not.  Or maybe so.  But gentlemen – do you remember?

I remember it like it was yesterday.  I was 29-years-old…..

…..okay, I’m kidding.  But I was probably a lot older than you would think….

I stared at the phone for about ten minutes before I even picked up the receiver, and when I picked up the receiver, I held it in my hand long enough that the dial tone stopped, and that annoying “off the hook” noise started in.

I repeated the same sequence twice.

When I finally dialed the number, I believe I touched about two or three digits (this was before 10-digit dialing), before I hung up the phone again.

I did this over and over, each time dialing another digit, until finally I had the guts to dial all seven.

Then I hung up again.

I think close to thirty minutes had passed before I actually went through with dialing all seven digits, and letting the phone ring.

“Please don’t pick up, please don’t pick up,” I thought, hoping the call would go to voicemail on the family’s home answer machine, and I could hang up and say that I tried.

Why do we bother calling if we’re so afraid in the first place?

This story is quite common among salespeople, especially those who sell over the phone.  I’ve heard this story a hundred times from people who aren’t comfortable making phone calls, which of course, is a dying way of selling real estate these days.

I don’t do cold calls, and I don’t sell real estate over the phone.  But I’m still uncomfortable calling my buyer clients at 10:00pm at night, after a long day, and saying, “I’m sorry, but you didn’t get the property.”

I do it at least once per week.

Those who haven’t transacted in real estate in many years, or those who are real estate bears, or those that just don’t give a damn about other people, might suggest that the following sentiments are overblown, or should fall on deaf ears.  But unless you know hard it is to buy a house in today’s market, first-hand, you can’t possibly understand how it feels to lose in multiple offers.

It’s not just one phone call, and one 30-second conversation that’s doing the damage.  It’s the entire process.

Consider that when a new listing comes onto the market, in that coveted $699 – $899K price point that is under so much pressure in Toronto, you live and breathe that property for seven days, until offers are reviewed.  You go and see the property the first night it hits the market, and you think about it non-stop, all week, until offer night.

Being an active, aggressive buyer in today’s housing market requires a thick skin, and a tough stomach.  And for many buyers, those seven days between seeing the house, and making an offer, are endless.

Now imagine doing that 5-6 times…

The night before offers, many buyers can’t sleep.  You know that you’re either 24 hours away from owning a house, and ending the tireless process, or starting all over again.

The day of offers is excruciating.  Offers are at 7:00pm, and you wake up at 7:00am.  Nobody in your office meeting is going through the same experience as you.  They can’t get in your head and feel what you’re feeling.  They don’t understand why you’re so quiet at lunch, and so on edge for the rest of the day.

At 6:30pm, you get the call from your Realtor, telling you that there are nine offers, and you finalize a price to submit.  At 7:00pm, the waiting starts.

You’re absolutely, positively, on edge.  You can’t do anything, or think about anything else.

You try to watch TV, but you find yourself swearing at the doctor from Prison Break, and accusing her of sticking her nose into Michael’s business.  You curse Netflix.  You’re so incredibly tense.

At 9:45pm, the phone rings, and it’s your Realtor.

You pick up the phone, say “hello,” and….

And that’s where many Realtors do many different things, and proceed in many different ways.

My style?

I get it over with as fast as possible.  The client is so full of hope and promise, and their mind is going through a million different scenarios all at once.  One single syllable out of your mouth can cause them to think one thing or another.

I don’t sugar-coat it.

“Hi Elaine, unfortunately we didn’t get the property.”  I don’t let them do, say, or think anything.  I just tell them, right away.

There’s no “Hi, how are you?” or any of that nonsense.  How do you THINK she is?

None of that “Listen, Nancy….” stuff.  Don’t bother.

Yes, or No.  That’s what they want.

And over the years, I’ve gone through many different techniques, and I honestly think that it’s best to get it over with as fast as possible.  The last thing you want is for them to think they got the property, based on the first words out of your mouth, only for you to tell them it’s not so.

We Realtors get “the call” as well.

When a listing agent calls us to tell us whether our buyer clients were successful or not, we go through the same thing.

An experienced Realtor knows right away.

You can just tell in their tone of voice.

When I get a “Hiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii David…..,” I know I lost.  That’s the sad, patronizing, “hiiiiiii” that is about to slowly, slowly let me down.

When I get a “hidavidhowryou,” I know the listing agent isn’t actually interested in how I am, but rather is trying to get through nine or ten phone calls to the agents who didn’t win.

When I get a “David……buddy……” I know the agent feels for me, and wants to let me down easy.

And whenever I hear the word “Listen,” I know I’m about to be told something I really don’t want to listen to.

Earlier this week, I got a call from the listing agent’s assistant, which told me right away that I didn’t get the deal.  I don’t blame the listing agent for using this method when there are a couple dozen offers.  I can hear “you didn’t get it” from a recorded message; it’s all the same.

I once received a text message that said, “No go, bro,” from a listing agent who clearly lacked interpersonal skills, and basic professionalism.

There’s all kinds of ways to let buyer agents know that they didn’t get the property, but in my mind, there’s only one way, and it’s over the phone, and goes something like:

“Hi David, thanks so much for your offer, but unfortunately we’re going to work with another offer.  I really appreciate your offer, and I hope your clients find something soon.  It was a pleasure working with you, and I hope we get to connect on the next one.”

Or, maybe you just send a text message with the word “ur” instead of “you’re.”  To each, their own.

We Realtors aren’t crying about anything.  It’s the job, and an active buyer agent can expect to lose in multiple offers 50 times per year.  I figure that I sell twenty freehold properties per year to buyers, and that takes 50-60 offers in today’s market.

That’s a LOT of losing.

And it’s a lot of phone calls to buyers to let them down easy.

Some buyers just want to get off the phone as quickly as possible.  Some don’t want to hear your “We’ll get ’em next time” pep talk, and they’re in no mood to listen to your sales pitch.

Some buyers cry.

Some buyers drop the phone and let their partner pick it up and finish the conversation.

Some buyers swear.  Most buyers swear.

And if you tell them what the property actually sold for, most buyers say, “That’s ridiculous.”  But I guess it’s better than “We would have gone that high had we known!”

In ten years in this business, I have never seen a market as red-hot as January, February, and March of 2014.  Prices for freehold properties are setting new benchmarks every day, and being a buyer isn’t easy.

Earlier this week, houses on Langford, Lamb, and Parkfield took offers on the same night, and between the three of them, there were 37 offers.

That means that 3 buyers celebrated.  Three.

And 34 buyers got “the call” from their Realtor…


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  1. honeyoak says:

    David, why do you even bother submitting an offer? In my company we have a policy of avoiding RFP’s with too many competitors. Why not just limit the search to houses with 4 or less other offers?

  2. Mike James says:

    Paully, you are absolutely correct and that’s the problem with this ridiculous market.

  3. Paully says:

    If all of these “buy now or be priced-out forever” people would take a step back from the ledge, you wouldn’t have to make the call at all. Every multiple offer gong-show that they join in ultimately raises the final price that they do pay when they finally “win” one.

  4. hylo says:

    hi Dave, thanks for this post – kinda feels comforting to have my pain acknowledged. I didn’t think I would be an emotional first-time buyer – but its really hard not to be. I’m not sure how someone can think of it as just a business transaction, when its the biggest purchase most people will make. Where you live affects so much of your daily life – how long it takes for you to get to work, where your children go to school, are you able to host friends in your home or backyard, etc. I guess I just have to keep faith that our time will come. Then I’ll get to spend my time on blogs that talk about the difficulties of homeownership.

  5. Ed says:

    Hi David,
    I was under the belief that buyers were on the ready on offer night in case some offers were sent back.
    Has this changed?

  6. hoob says:

    I know I’m probably at the opposite end of the spectrum to most people, but I read the comments about buyers being anxious all day, on edge, crying when their bid is rejected, etc, and I laugh.. Are people really that doughy soft in this day and age? I just don’t get it.

    When I bought my properties, I outlined my offer price, told my agent what leeway they had on price if any, and to contact me by phone is any other information is needed. No tenterhooks. Either I got the place, or I didn’t. No worries about it, offer day is just like any other.

    I guess a lot of people really buy into the “dream home” and emotional side of things, but I have to believe that for a good chunk of buyers it’s just another financial transaction and you just have to play the game; strictly business, never personal, never emotional; emotional costs you money. I’m definitely in the latter category.

    1. hoob says:

      And for the record, I was notified (as per request) of results, by SMS, for either outcome. When I did final get the property I hadn’t even checked my phone for a few hours so ended up calling the agent in the morning.

  7. George says:

    I think your forthright approach is the best tactic. When my last agent called me to tell me that my offer to purchase a home had been accepted, he started off the call with a random joke, then leading into the announcement with, “I’m sorry to tell you…that your offer was accepted!” I hated everything about that fake out, so much so that I will never again do business with him.

  8. moonbeam! says:

    David before I bought my current house, I actually offered on another house, which I lost, and yes, I cried when the agent phoned to tell me… so I know the pain. But things have a way of working out, (as I tell my children) and I ended up very happy with this house.

  9. Schmidtz says:

    The good news is that if Chow is elected mayor, there will be a LOT of properties for sale.

    We’ve all read Atlas Shrugged..

    1. Paully says:

      Awww, c’mon…if Olivia Chow gets elected mayor, every homeless person in Toronto will be given a diamond crusted unicorn…

  10. Chuck says:

    I’ve learned that you give yourself 24 hours to bitch, moan, complain, kick stuff, cry or do whatever you need to do. Then you set an alarm on your clock and you move on.

    Lots of clients have benefitted from that piece of advice.

    Unfortunately it’s the game they chose to play.

    Also fun to lighten the mood by saying, “Well at least it’s better than being beheaded.” But you can’t say that right away… usually the day after. 🙂