(Article taken from OREA EDGE Newsletter)
Dealing with difficult clients
Difficult clients can drain you of time and energy and compromise other transactions.
The longer you work in real estate, the more likely you will encounter a wide range of personalities – not all of them warm and sunny. People skills are crucial in this line of work, and knowing how to work with different personalities is vital to success.
The EDGE newsletter spoke with three experienced REALTORS® about dealing with difficult clients. They all say it’s important to treat people the way you would want to be treated from the start. Beyond that, they advise you to recognize different personality types and do your best to adapt to the client.
Demanding clients can be challenging. Some buyers will want to see every house on the market, which is not good time management, says Andy Rytkonen, a Thunder Bay salesperson. “Some people don’t know what they’re looking for, so it’s important to take time to ask questions and talk with them before you shuttle them from one property to another,” he says. In these situations, your role is to teach, he advises, so they can learn more about the market and make preliminary choices to narrow their search.
Get to know your clients and you will prevent problems, suggests Lois Willis, a Toronto broker with 25 years’ experience. “You must educate clients about what to look for in a home, what their price range is, and what will meet their needs,” says Willis, who is also an instructor with the Ontario Real Estate Association (OREA).
If clients are being difficult from the start, assess the situation immediately and weigh the benefits versus drawbacks, she advises. “A constantly-unhappy client may ultimately mean a lawsuit, and in those cases it may be better just to walk away, but if a client suddenly becomes difficult in the midst of a transaction, be patient, ask questions and find out what’s behind it. If you understand the problem, you may be able to resolve it.”
Don’t take it personally if a client is difficult, advises Susan Gucci, a Toronto salesperson. “Often the problem is not you — there’s another issue. I try to be understanding and compassionate with clients, which can sometimes be hard. They may be anxious that they’re making the wrong move, so you may need to comfort them by giving them more information about a neighbourhood or reassuring them that their home inspector is reputable.”
Unrealistic clients can also try your patience, the REALTORS® say, such as sellers who think their home is worth much more than it is. Rytkonen tries to guide sellers about pricing, but if they remain fixed on a number he feels is unrealistic, he is prepared to forfeit the listing. “I’ve see REALTORS® take these listings, work for months, and the properties still don’t sell because they’re so overpriced. My time is better spent working with clients who actually need my help. The others aren’t worth it.”
Buyers can also be unrealistic on prices. “A lowball offer may annoy the seller, and I tell my buyers that makes it harder for me to negotiate for them,” Willis says. “I advise them to offer something closer to the asking price.”
Managing expectations can also make situations easier, she adds. “It’s a mistake to show clients a house they can’t afford because then when you show them the one they can, they’re disappointed.”
Not all clients are good listeners, adds Gucci. “Some clients think they know more about the market than we do,” she says. This can cost them money or lead them to make poor choices. For instance, Gucci worked with apartment dwellers who were interested in buying a big corner lot. “It was a great house but I warned them there would be lots of snow to shovel. They said ‘fine.’ A year later, they called me to list their house.” Indeed, too much shoveling was required.
No-shows for appointments can also be a source of frustration for REALTORS®, and Willis found a remedy. “If you just ask them to meet you at a house at 7:00, they may not show up. Instead, I tell them ‘Your time is valuable and so is mine. If you can’t make it, please call and let me know.’ I also impress on them that we’re taking up the seller’s time. This approach seems to work.”
Language issues can also present problems. “Buying a property is a huge decision. If someone doesn’t understand what he’s getting into, the deal can backfire even if you do everything right,” says Gucci. “If your client lacks a good command of English, hire an interpreter.”
Messy homes are a problem, adds Rytkonen, who has been in real estate for 17 years. He has had clients ask him why he can’t sell their house. “People’s homes are their castles, and they can get offended if you’re too direct. I don’t like telling sellers their home is messy, so I’ve created a to-do list outlining ways to present the home at its best. This de-personalizes the dialogue and helps the sellers see things from a buyer’s perspective. Then they understand there are steps they can take to clean, de-clutter and make the place more attractive.”
Clutter and messiness are best tackled in a subtle way, Willis agrees. “Sellers want you to be enthusiastic about their home. If you point out the mess while you’re trying to build a rapport, it can have a negative effect on your relationship with the client.” Another option is to hire a home stager to enhance the home’s visual appeal, she suggests.
Unethical clients should be avoided, says Willis. A seller may not want you to disclose a property defect. “Walk away. It’s not worth the grief and aggravation,” she advises. Rytkonen once had a buyer who lied about having a mortgage. On closing day, Rytkonen discovered that the buyer did not qualify for a mortgage. Fortunately he was able to list the property again and it sold at a higher price. He now seeks written confirmation from lenders that the buyer qualifies.
Gut instincts and due diligence can help REALTORS® avoid difficult situations and reduce wasted time, Willis notes. She recalls meeting a consumer who wanted to view some properties. “Her mortgage broker said that we should make the purchase conditional on financing. As time passed, I felt something was off — things didn’t add up. I phoned the mortgage broker again to ask for a credit check and proof of income. It turned out that the woman didn’t qualify.”
Extended family members of clients can also pose challenges, says Willis. When she has taken young couples to several homes and they find one they love, they want their parents or Uncle Joe the construction expert to see it. “If the relatives see just one house, they feel their role is to tell the buyers what’s wrong with it, which can be negative. I find it’s better to show the other houses to the relatives first, and save ‘the one’ for the end. That way, they can come to the same conclusion as the couple.”
Divorcing couples can also be a minefield. One spouse may want to sell while the other refuses, or one may try to sabotage the deal by setting the price too high. During negotiations, Willis found herself with two clients who could not bear to be in the same room. “I put each of them in a separate office at my brokerage and I was the liaison between them. If they had been together, there might have been a shouting match. This approach worked and we completed the sale successfully.”
Overly analytical people are among the most difficult clients, say Gucci and Willis. “They never have enough information. You have to give them lots of data and justifications,” says Gucci. Willis supplied one of these types of clients with many statistics, trends and a direct comparison of properties with pros and cons. “I gave him lots of paper. He loved it. Then I stood back and let him decide.”
Gucci says her 20 years of sales and marketing experience before she worked in real estate helped immensely. She recommends sales training courses, especially those that focus on people skills. She advises other salespeople as follows: Be a good listener, come from a place of compassion, provide exceptional customer service, do your research and earn your client’s trust. “You don’t have to take disrespect or rudeness. Ultimately, it’s your business and if you encounter a client you don’t want to deal with, no-one is forcing you to do so.”