If you’re a real estate agent for long enough, odds are, you’ll deal with an aggravating or difficult client or two at some point. These difficult clients can suck up all your energy and steal your time from other clients who may be more profitable and enjoyable to work with.
The easiest way to work with difficult clients is actually not to work with them at all. Here, we’ll discuss both strategies for weeding them out of your client base in the first place, as well as dealing with them if you find yourself in a sticky situation.
Just as buyers and sellers are encouraged to interview several real estate agents to learn things from personality fit to commission rate prior to making their decision, so should agents interview potential clients. The goal is a win-win for both client and agent, and not all groupings are a great fit.
Just because a client asks for you to work on their behalf doesn’t mean you should immediately accept. First, sit down with any prospective clients and discuss their needs and challenges. You should be able to get a good feeling about whether personalities are a good fit and if you’ll help the client—or whether you should part ways before moving forward.
Some clients may not be serious, and if you’re a busy agent, this could mean wasting your time when you could be working with one who is ready to buy or sell now. Others may be too picky, have unrealistic expectations, or expect you to devote all of your time to their needs. With these types of clients, it is usually best to move on.
Set expectations early
If you’ve decided a potential client is a good fit, it’s time to have a frank discussion about what can be expected on both sides. Never oversell you or your services (or the market, for that matter), just to land a client.
Instead, explain exactly what you’ll provide, when you’ll be available to them, and what you expect to be paid in return. Be sure to also clue them in on what you’ll need from them in order for you to do your job well and do your best at buying or selling their home. Here’s where you can also educate them on the process of buying or selling their home so there will be no surprises. Briefly review the steps they’ll go through and how you’ll help them along the way. This can go a long way in avoiding a difficult client!
Also, set expectations about the housing market and what prices and time frame they can expect when buying or selling. If you’re working with a buyer in a seller’s market, share this with them and let them know they may need to be willing to offer above asking price with few stipulations to win a home in this market.
In all these areas, it’s important to be upfront and transparent with the process. One of the more common reasons a difficult client is difficult is because they feel an agent didn’t hold up their end of the deal or they had unrealistic expectations of your services.
Listen and find solutions
Both in your screening and future meetings with a client, listen carefully to what they have to say. It can be easy to try to anticipate what they want or try to step in too soon with your expertise, but let them explain their needs in their own terms—then ask questions to clarify.
It can be easy to assume that someone who wants “a big yard” would be over the moon about an acreage, but maybe they’re from Chicago, where simply a plot with enough space for a garden would suffice. Also take a look at their life situation—a seller may be a difficult client because they’re going through a nasty divorce. You can help them by showing empathy and keeping the process quick.
If you’re working with a buyer, you may not be able to check off all the boxes on their wishlist. When meeting with them, listen to find which items are priorities and which would simply be nice to have. This can help you avoid unnecessary showings and reduce frustrations on their end of looking at homes they’re not remotely interested in. It’s also likely that a buyer’s wants will change as the search process goes on — as they say, “buyers are liars.” By listening closely, you may be able to tell when these wants have shifted and effectively reframe their search.
The same goes with a seller. A seller may say they want a certain price for their home that you think is too high. But — by listening closely — you may find they’re stressed and strapped for cash after purchasing their new home. Your job is to listen and find solutions. Instead of listing the home too high, you may get them to opt for selling their home as-is instead, saving them the upfront cost of repairs, while still getting a decent price for their home.
Breaking up is hard to do
Simply put, sometimes, a client isn’t worth the money you’d make as their agent.
If all else fails, it’s also okay to break up with your client and go your separate ways. Sometimes a difficult client can be unavoidable or unanticipated and you may not learn it’s not a good fit until later on in the process.
One of the most common reasons for a breakup is because a seller insists on listing their home at a higher asking price than the agent suggests. But, it could also be a client demanding too much of your time and not making any offers, or a buyer who is unable to accept the realities of a cut-throat seller’s market.
Although it may feel like a negative, ending a client-agent relationship may, in fact, be a win-win for both. If one side is unhappy, the other side probably is, too. If you do decide to stop working with a client, be honest and firm. You may even recommend agents who would better suit their needs.
Document any conversations in writing so parties have it as a point of reference. You have likely signed an exclusivity agreement of some form, so putting this termination of your relationship in writing will avoid any confusion on the issue in the future. At that point, the client may find an agent who is a better fit, and you’ll hopefully leave with your reputation intact.
Luke Babich is the Co-Founder and COO at Clever Real Estate, the nation’s leading real estate education platform for home buyers, sellers, and investors.