The Dreaded Phone call – James Smith

This case relates to an individual who was concerned about making a phone call to an estate agent in order to get them to re-negotiate a purchase price with a vendor based on a RICS (Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors) down valuation. It highlights the benefits of the planning, preparation and particularly the practising stages of the model. 

I was facilitating a group of attendees on a training course in which James described his current challenge to those present so that ideas could be shared to help him deal with it.

James had put an offer in on a house which had been accepted. After valuation the RICS valuer stated that it needed about £7,000 of work on the roof. Taking  this extra spend in to account on top of the purchase price, the deal would not now ‘stack up’ – work for an investor in respect of a good return on their investment – so he had to go back to the estate agent for them to re-negotiate the purchase price/deal. 

His words were “So I now have to think all weekend about making ‘The Dreaded Phone Call’.”  

What did he mean by this?  Well, some people do not like putting the estate agent in the position of having to ring the seller to ask them to drop the price. In fact, they are projecting their own discomfort at the thought of doing the call themselves, and this has a negative effect on how they approach the conversation with the agent. 

Our workshop was being held on a Saturday morning with a Bank Holiday on the Monday (in the UK) so this meant that he had three days to worry about making the call to the agent.

I suggested we role play the phone call, giving him a chance to practise what he would say. Another member of the group would play the agent and he would make the call (i.e. the ‘Practise’ stage of the model; I agree there had been no Planning or Preparation at this stage for the role play, but sometimes the best way to plan is to practise first and reflect on what happens to then refine what you do).

So, the role play began with both pretending they are talking on the phone. It always feels a little awkward when you start role playing but the learning is fast-tracked and can be very powerful. 

 James began with the introduction “Hi, it’s James Smith regarding the house at  123 High Street. I have a problem.”

Less than five seconds into the role play I interjected and stopped them.

I asked the group to think about what an estate agent would now be thinking after having heard the words ‘problem’. 

The answers ranged from being, ‘switched off,’ or ‘deflated,’ or ‘frustrated.’

Potentially all those negative emotions could lead to a negative and unproductive call which would not get the estate agent on James’ side when the agent needed to call the vendor. It’s useful to remember that although the estate agent represents the seller and that can mean achieving the best price, it also means getting the best deal which is not always based around price. Sometimes it’s with a buyer who can complete quickly and with the minimum of hassle. 

I prompted the group to place themselves in the position of the estate agent and posed the question, “What would you like to hear at the start of the call?’ (Planning and Preparation – put yourself in the position of the other person – what is their view of the world, what are their drivers, needs and concerns?)

As expected, the responses were in essence, “They want to hear that you are still looking to buy the house.”

I added “….and you have the deposit ready with a mortgage-in-principle in place, the solicitor is ready to proceed, and we just need to resolve the issue raised by the valuation.”

After that short discussion, we started the role play again. This time James opened with words along the lines of “Hi it’s James Smith here, regarding 123 High Street. I’m still very much interested in buying the property, and I have all the funds in place to proceed and want to move on it, but the valuer has been to the property and his report states that there is £7,000 worth of work that needs to be done on the roof. I now need to look at the purchase price agreed to take that extra work in to account.”

This introduction was far more positive; as a result of taking this approach, an agent is likely to be is far more receptive to having a discussion with the vendor. You have now helped the estate agent with their opening with the vendor too, enabling them to sell the positives first as well.

James practised the opening twice more, just to help him feel more natural in saying it – practise makes you sound more professional, confident and credible – taking care not to sound like a robot! James now felt far more relaxed about making the call because he had planned, prepared and practised. However, would it work?

We still had the issue of the whole weekend including Monday to wait and worry – or did we?

Agents are open on a Saturday so although we were in a live workshop James was prompted to make to call on speaker phone to the agent concerned.

He made that call despite being on speaker phone and live in a large group – no added pressure there then! However, he sounded confident and relaxed as he spoke to the agent, and at the end of his opening spiel the agent replied, “Ok James, so you’d like me to ring the vendor and ask them to knock £7,000 off the purchase price? No problem.”

It was as easy as that!!!

James’ dreaded phone call had taken less than 3 minutes and the agent was on his side. 

Even at that stage I considered the fact that James had made the call in such a fashion a positive result – irrespective of the outcome with the seller – as everyone in the workshop had learned the power of planning, preparation and practise when faced with a challenging call or conversation.

The workshop continued.  

The real ‘icing on the cake’ though was when the agent called James back only an hour later to say the vendor was prepared to accept £7,000 less on the purchase price.  

Who would have thought that a ten-minute role play could save three days of worrying and result in £7,000 off the previously agreed purchase price? Well, that group now recognise it and you can too if you implement the model.