What You Had to Say: 5 Ways to Deal With Difficult Clients

You've got your work cut out for you when a hard-to-please client comes along. Here are some solutions that real estate professionals have found for working with difficult customers.

January 1, 2011

1. Listen

“When I have a difficult client, my biggest priority is listening. I let them talk until they finish. This serves two purposes: One, they get their concerns off their chest and they know I care. Two, I find out if any of their concerns are legitimate. Many times the concerns have no ground, but if it's important to the client, I need to give them a place to express those concerns. Then once they're finished, I reassure them and get back to work! This method has served me well in previous occupations as well as in real estate.”
— Cynthia Nakaya, Tarbell, REALTORS®, Eastvale, Corona, Calif.

2. Prescreen for personality conflicts

“Prior to working with any clients, I like to conduct a pre-client interview with each potential client to ensure that we can work well together. As we all know, each individual has different needs and wants, and it's important to know that theirs are in line with yours. After our interview and determination by both parties that it's a good fit, we then proceed.

“Nowadays — as we all know — we can't always pick and choose our clients or the other parties involved in the transactions. When situations like that come up, I always try to put myself in the shoes of the party with whom I am working with. What are their struggles? What are their challenges? And how can I help?”
— Jessica Tindell, Tindell & Co., Portland, Ore.

3. Educate

“Now, more than ever because of the failing economy, real estate professionals are more inclined to put up with difficult buyers. But really all real estate professionals should put their foot down and educate the difficult buyers as to how the interactions should go between the agent and buyer. For this to work, all real estate professionals need to do this, so the difficult buyer has to change his or her behavior and not be able to go and manipulate the next real estate professional they seek out.”
— Mary Robinson, Lenders Realty Inc., San Diego

“As real estate professionals, we need to be proactive rather than reactive. We continue to further our education in the fields of our practices so that we can properly address the concerns of our clients and give them the confidence they need to proceed. I think once clients have a clear understanding and appreciation of all the efforts put forth by their real estate agent, they will then be much less difficult to work with and a pleasant transaction for all parties.”
— Jessica Tindell, Tindell & Co., Portland, Ore.

4. Find creative solutions

“I recently had a client who wanted to do nothing to render her condo purchase move-in ready. No painting, no repairs, and nothing beyond the most basic cleaning. She wanted to replace the stove because the oven needed cleaning!

“I persuaded her to use my favorite handyman and his wife's cleaning service. I said that with the stress of moving, she ‘deserved’ a little pampering. I also bought her a home warranty as a closing gift. The entire transaction required a lot of listening, hand-holding, and reassuring. I just always tried to put myself in her place, and tried to envision what would make me feel better at any given point in the transaction.”
— Kathie Rost, Positive Real Estate, Murrieta, Calif.

5. Put yourself in their shoes

“Often, when we’re not able to connect with a client, it’s because we are trying to convince them to see things our way, from our perspective. Unfortunately, this attempt is futile. In fact, it works just the opposite. You need to communicate your position through their perspective.

“What do I mean? Understand what the client’s challenge is — by asking. Repeat the concern. If you don’t understand why it’s a concern, ask again.”
— Diane Donnelly, Keller Williams Crossroads, Annapolis, Md. 

Diane Donnelly offers an example of her emotion-logic approach with the following scenario:

AGENT: “Mr. Jones, you seem very agitated over this offer. Tell me what you are thinking.”

MR. JONES: “It’s an insult. What are they, crazy?”

[Donnelly suggests letting him vent then so he can release his frustrations. She notes that Mr. Jones is looking at it from an emotional standpoint. (It’s his house, and he thinks it’s worth much more.) On the other hand, you are looking at it from a business perspective — the comparables aren’t far off. And here’s where you have to be careful, she cautions. Instead of jumping in with all of the data to support your position (logic), come at it from his perspective (emotional).]

AGENT: “You know, Mr. Jones, I can certainly appreciate that this number is really bothering you. A few years ago you would have gotten quite a bit more for the home. You and your family have really put a lot into the home and you have tons of memories here. Is this part of what is frustrating you?”

[Let him respond. Then, use an emotion-logic response again.]

AGENT: “I can see that. You aren’t the only one to be frustrated by this market. There are quite a few sellers who wish the market were different — in fact, I think all sellers do! We (agents) don’t set the market; we can just help you evaluate it. When we do that, we look at the nuts and bolts and review what the buyers were willing to pay for a home most similar to yours in this area — through sold comparables.”

[Pull them out and review.]

AGENT: “Now I think what most sellers get excited about is the deal they can make on the buying side. Let’s take a look again at the home you are considering and see if we can make that work with the numbers we received today.”

Donnelly notes that by using such an approach, you’ll ultimately shift the conversation from the negative to the positive. “You then leave them with a focus on what they will be receiving and not what they are losing,” she says.

Stay Tuned! Relationship Management is a new column at Realtor Magazine Online that focuses on how you can improve your customer and business relationships. Real estate is a relationship business, and the quality of your relationships often determines how successful you will be. Have a business relationship gripe or a recent “a ha!” moment in improving your business relationships? E-mail your story ideas to Relationship Management columnist Melissa Dittmann Tracey at mtracey@realtors.org.