Success in real estate depends on establishing relationships with people of all sorts. Deals proceed smoothly when REALTORS® and their clients are working towards a common goal, but occasionally the road gets bumpy. The Edge newsletter spoke with three Ontario Realtors to get an understanding of how they handle challenging clients.
When it comes to clients, it’s essential to remember that “one size does not fit all.” That’s the conclusion of Maureen O’Neill, past president of the Toronto Real Estate Board and a former OREA director.
The clients who often pose challenges are those who are unfamiliar or inexperienced with real estate transactions, says O’Neill, who has 27 years of experience in real estate. She believes that helping them to better understand the process can smooth over many problems.
“We need to establish a relationship with these clients so that they trust our judgment,” O’Neill says. “It’s a matter of helping to educate them so that they will trust us.”
A difficult seller is one who insists on micromanaging the sale of the property and wants to see all the potential buyers, according to O’Neill. However, buyers generally aren’t comfortable when the owner is home, she says. Buyers want the privacy to explore and to confer with their own Realtor.
“Sometimes, too, people are not really motivated to sell,” O’Neill says. “They put their home on the market as more of a fishing expedition and then the Realtor puts a lot of time and effort into a job that is going nowhere.”
When it comes to buyers, she finds it frustrating to deal with people who have no respect for the Realtor’s time, consistently cancelling appointments at the last minute. Those who consult their friends and family about their concerns, to the exclusion of their Realtor, also try her patience.
“Buyers can sometimes be fickle,” O’ Neill says. “They don’t know what they want, so they ask for advice from many people from their own sphere of influence rather than from their Realtor.”
Difficult clients are often just people who are inexperienced with real estate, says Rich Gordon, an Ajax Realtor who has worked in the industry for 10 years. It’s the Realtor’s role to teach consumers about the buying and selling process and to demonstrate the service and value that a Realtor provides, he adds.
“In our business, we see a lot of different personality types,” says Gordon. “It’s our job to work with people and help them out as best we can. Adaptability is a key trait in this line of work. A salesperson must be able to adapt to various people and situations in order to maintain relationships.
“A home is usually a person’s largest single investment, buyers have the right to be picky and to demand nothing but the best.”
“That being said, my brother and I work as a team, so we meet the clients together and we can usually tell if they’re gravitating toward one of us or the other. That person will then take the lead with that client.”
Of course, clients who are verbally or physically abusive are another matter altogether, he says. “If they’re abusive, that’s grounds for terminating the relationship,” says Gordon. “I’ve heard those stories and it’s something that should not be tolerated.
“We’re professionals who take our jobs seriously, and if we’re building a relationship with a client, we expect certain things from them at the same time. Mutual respect is a must. If trust is broken, that’s a reason not to go forward.”
Like all Realtors, Gordon has come up against challenges that couldn’t be resolved. He tells of working with a client to sell a higher-end home. “We did a market evaluation and had a significant difference of opinion with the seller about the property’s value,” he says. “We took the listing with the understanding that we’d try their price and, if it didn’t work, we’d alter the price.
“There was no activity on the property and the client blamed us, even though we had spent thousands on marketing. We tried to get them to adjust the price to where it should be and they said they would only do that if we adjusted our commission, even though they were locked into a contract. We terminated the relationship because their expectations were unrealistic; we felt that they would be better off working with someone else.”
Collingwood Realtor Sherry Rioux, who has been in the business for 10 years, defines a difficult client as “one who monopolizes your time, doesn’t treat you or your staff with respect, and makes unreasonable demands.”
However, Rioux doesn’t shy away from dealing with demanding buyers whom some of her colleagues might find too difficult to handle.
“A home is usually a person’s largest single investment, so in my opinion, buyers have the right to be picky and to demand nothing but the best in terms of service and attention,” Rioux says. “Each of your clients should be made to feel like they are your only client, even though deep down they realize that they are not.”
“I take pride in assisting clients with items, queries or concerns that may not have anything to do with the actual purchase or sale of their property.”
In dealing with challenging clients, Rioux draws on her 20-plus years of teaching experience. “I’ve learned that attentive listening is the key, and I aim to keep clients calm by using a firm, yet gentle tone with my voice,” she says. “Being confrontational does not work, so I listen, learn and then speak.”
Nonetheless, there have been occasions when Rioux has turned down a client at an early stage of discussion because of misgivings. “When a potential client keeps talking about commission and nothing else, that’s a red flag for me,” Rioux says. “I find it difficult when people want the benefits of my marketing, expertise and negotiating skills but don’t want to pay for those services.
“You have to know when to walk away. Not every deal is worth the effort. I have walked away when someone wants me to cut commission right from the get-go or when I feel that we have a personality clash. Also, you may want to consider referring close friends and relatives to other Realtors so as to not put a rift in your personal relationships.”
Tips for Working with Challenging Clients
- Adapt to your clients, rather than expecting them to adapt to you.
- Do your homework about your client’s financial situation; you need to know enough about them to deal with them fairly.
- Be prepared for all kinds of situations. Some homes are sold for unhappy reasons such as a job loss, divorce or death in the family. Develop the psychological wherewithal to stickhandle around anything that comes up.
- Patience, good listening skills and the odd apology are important. And don’t forget, a sense of humour always helps.
Story by Elaine Smith
Sources: Rich Gordon, Maureen O’Neill, Sherry Rioux
Editorial Policy: The REALTOR® EDGE newsletter is produced 11 times a year by the Ontario Real Estate Association. The newsletter aims to provide practical and useful news and information about the real estate industry to members of the association. The opinions expressed in the newsletter are not necessarily those of the publisher. The newsletter welcomes submissions from the real estate community, including letters to the editor, opinion pieces, events and news. The newsletter reserves the right to edit, based on space restrictions and/or suitability, and/or to refuse submitted material for inclusion in the newsletter without reason. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without the express written permission of the publisher, OREA, is prohibited. Contents are copyright of the Ontario Real Estate Association.
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Contributors to this issue: Elaine Smith, Merv Burgard, Heather Fuller, Mary Ann Gratton
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