Open-ended Questions: the what’s and why’s

December 6, 2019 | Written by: Pam O'Bryant

The ‘what’ part is easy, here is what Wikipedia says: “An openended question is a question that cannot be answered with a “yes” or “no” response, or with a static response. 

Have you ever felt that you don’t really understand what your client wants, or that possibly, they don’t know what they want? Anyone that has worked in any sort of sales runs into this problem all the time, and it doesn’t need to be this way. The problem lies with the questions we ask.

Clients expect their Realtor® to ask them questions. Most have even considered what they want to tell us, or rather what they want in their new home. And this opens the door for us to do a professional need analysis, which requires asking questions that inform us- and often their spouse too. 

We get precious little information from questions such as: “Do you need a large kitchen?” or even, “Do you want a 3-bedroom or 4-bedroom home?” The reason is simple, the large kitchen in the client’s mind will be different from the large kitchen in your mind. And if they need 4 bedrooms, is this true or does she really need 3 and an office, or 3 for them and the kids and an in-law suite with a separate entrance because “mom” will be moving in when she sells her home in Springfield. However, if you ask these wrong questions you may well end up thinking, “they don’t know what they want!” 

Rich learned this the hard way some years ago. He showed several ‘perfect’ houses to this couple who wanted ‘a large third bedroom’. While containing his frustration, he listened to the comments they made to each other as they got back into the car. He heard the words “mom moves in…” Of course, his bell rang. After returning to the office, while the clients had lunch, he showed them two homes with good in-law suite floor plans and wrote a contract before cocktail time. We learned to ask, “who will be living in your new home?” Just because you see two kids with them, don’t think that’s the whole story.

Here are some examples of a closed and open-ended ones:

Closed: What size kitchen do you want?

Open: What does the kitchen look like in your new home?

Closed: Do you want a large yard or a normal size lot?

Open: How do you plan to use the yard in your new home, do you plan to garden, entertain there, or use it for a child play area or pets? 

The next level of questioning, ‘going three deep,’ allows you to get clarity on your client’s actual needs has another great advantage – it helps them. Here is how this works.

You ask the open-ended question, “what does the kitchen look like in your new home?” And you will get something like: “Oh, it’s a good size kitchen with modern appliances and island.” Now let’s go deeper, “That sounds like a nice kitchen, but tell me, what’s important about having an island?” or ask, “What does ‘good size’ look like to you?” or, “Describe what you think of when you say ‘modern appliances?” These next level questions let the client express what she or he will use the kitchen for. A great cooking kitchen is a bit different from an open floor plan with an island designed for big-time entertaining.  Knowing the kitchen must be ‘a nice size’ and have an ‘island’ only sounds like information. It isn’t. 

The other great benefit of open-ended questions and going three deep is the clarity it gives your clients. Don’t think for a minute that your clients have discussed the issues on our Needs Analysis before the come to their appointment with you! If the husband and wife are not on the same page, it’s easier to sort it out in the office rather than after you have shown five ‘no-go’ houses.

Here are a few more examples just to get you use to this idea:

Closed: Do you like to cook?

Open-end: How do you plan to use the kitchen in your new home?

Closed: Do you want a 3-bedroom home?

Open-ended: Who will be regularly living in your new home? What amenities will they need? (The amenities question gets more important every year. An 80-year-old needs stuff a growing family doesn’t.)

Closed: Do you want a ranch style house or more of a colonial look?

Open-end: What does your new how look like?

P.S. Use open-ended questions in all your conversations and people will think you’re a great conversationalist because they will do most of the talking.

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