Help Emotional Clients Keep Their Cool

Panic, regret, frustration, fear. As real estate practitioners, we get to witness it all. Here's how to keep your clients' emotions (and your own) under control.

September 1, 2008

Real estate would be the easiest profession in the world—if only we didn’t have to deal with clients!

I'm being facetious, of course. I really do love my clients, and the main reason I went into the real estate field is because I enjoy working with people.

But no one told me that being a real estate agent is often synonymous with being a therapist. I guess I should have known. After all, when helping people through a process as life-changing as buying and selling a home, you would expect emotions to come into play.

I never got training on how to deal with clients' high emotions, and you probably haven't either. That's why I want to share some tips that I've learned through experience.

1. Expect Emotions

The first step to handling emotions properly is to fully expect them from your clients. As real estate agents (especially those of us who focus on residential real estate), we deal with people during one of the most stressful times in their life.

2. Know the Triggers

Try to understand why your clients feel the way they do. There are a variety of reasons why clients could get upset, frustrated, and overwhelmed during a real estate transaction. Here are some triggers:

  • Things are happening differently than they expected.
  • Feeling like they don't have control over the process.
  • Not fully understanding the process. 
  • Not feeling respected (by spouse or real estate practitioner).
  • Too many options from which to choose.
  • Afraid to make commitment to buy a home.
  • Panic about making the wrong decision/ not being able to find home in tight timeframe.
  • Not finding the "perfect" home they had envisioned.
  • Financial worries.
  • Lack of trust in real estate practitioner/mortgage broker/home inspector, etc. 

As you can see, it's a long list. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Before meeting with clients, prepare yourself by anticipating their concerns and coming up with solutions.

3. Make Sure Their Expectations are in Line.

We can never eliminate all of the emotional responses that clients will have, and some clients will be more emotional than others. But there are actions we can take as their real estate agent to keep things on a more even keel. Perhaps the most important thing you can do is to make sure their expectations are realistic. Did they expect to find their dream home in three weeks, and it's already taken two months? Did they expect to find a great deal, only to discover homes in their favorite neighborhood are still too expensive? Did they expect more buyers to show up at their open house? During your initial conversations with clients, help them understand that they might have to make compromises. Ask them what their expectations are and help bring them closer to reality using market statistics, your knowledge of the community, and your personal experiences. This is your job, after all, and you are the expert.

4. Help Them Remain in Control.

It's so unsettling to feel like a situation has spiraled out of your control, especially when it's something as important as purchasing or selling a home. Good communication can ensure this doesn't happen. Make sure your clients know what is going on every step of the way. At each phase of the process, clearly explain what they can expect, and what is expected of them. Keep them in the loop with phone calls, e-mails, or transaction management software (of course, be sure you're using their preferred method of communication).

5. R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

Aretha Franklin had it right when she said “All I need is a little respect.” Imagine that all of your clients are singing that song to you everyday. Respect that your clients do not understand real estate jargon or even the most basic details of a standard transaction. In most cases, this is new to them. When we are feeling a little burned out, or dealing with demanding clients, it’s even easier to fail to treat our clients with all of the respect they deserve. If you find yourself in this position, take a step back, take a day off, and take some time to breathe before you speak to your clients again.

6. Don't Overwhelm Them.

It’s easy for our clients to get overwhelmed. There are so many details to worry about! And so many decisions to make!  This is especially true for buyers. With over 100 houses in any given price range in most areas, and buyers thinking they need to see every house before they can purchase, it’s easy to see how things can start crashing in on them. As agents, it’s our job to help them get back in control. The cure for overwhelm is to get people out of the big picture and bring them in to working on a single piece of the puzzle at a time. Help them focus their search, and remind them of the progress that they've made.

7. Make a 'Don't Panic' Rule.

Oddly, panic is the easiest to handle of all the emotional triggers. Start by programming your clients not to panic in the beginning of the transaction before anything has happened. Here's a strategy I use with first-time buyers: I tell them “You’re not allowed to panic until I tell you it’s time. I promise I will tell you when it’s time, but until then you’re not allowed, OK?”  This gives them a chance to laugh and they always agree. By setting this rule up front, we accomplish two goals— We’re telling them that we're in control and have everything handled, which builds trust; and we’re giving ourselves something to refer back to that will break the cycle later when they start panicking.

What do I mean by this?  By setting up the Don’t Panic rule at the start of the transaction, you can, when a person begins to panic, ask them “What’s the rule?” This causes them to stop thinking about whatever it is that they’re panicking about and start trying to remember what the rule was. When it looks like they have changed their focus sufficiently, you can remind them that the rule was that they weren’t allowed panic until you told them to. This gives them a chance to laugh at themselves while still breaking the cycle of panic.

8. Give Them a Reason to Trust You.

When a client decides to hire you, they’ve decided to trust you. You’ve already put their trust in place, but you have to maintain it. If you follow the rules above, you are 90 percent on the way to keeping your clients happy. The other 10 percent is simply this: Keep your word; don’t promise what you can’t deliver.

9. Don't Take it Personally, Yet Take Responsibility.

Nothing can protect you from all emotional outbursts. Some clients are dealing with issues they have not shared with us but which cause them to behave emotionally. Some need more attention than others. The best we can do is to have compassion and to stay grounded, centered, and calm in the face of whatever they may throw at us. When emotions do fly, don't take it personal, because rarely it is personal (even if it seems like it is). When anything goes wrong in a transaction, we are the easiest person to blame because we are there. But don't try to pass the blame. Just as you hate it when a server at a restaurant blames the kitchen for poor service, clients don't want to hear excuses. Make it your job to keep the transaction running as smoothly as possible and prepare clients for delays from lenders, sellers, inspectors, appraisers, and other third parties. Your open communication with these third parties is required for smooth dealings. 

10. When You Need a Break, Take it!

Bad days will happen. Clients will get mad. Emotions will fly. But on the flip side, you will see some wonderful emotions too. Buying a home often evokes tears of happiness and pride. Remember to cherish the good days and not feel too hurt about the bad days. You have your own emotions too, and dealing with intense transactions can be draining. It's important to take a break once in a while to recharge your batteries and get motivated for the next transaction. You have to take care of yourself first, or you will have nothing left to offer your clients.

Kelle Sparta is the author ofThe Consultative Real Estate Agent: Building Relationships that Create Loyal Clients, Get More Referrals, and Increase Your Sales(AMACOM, 2005). She is also the founder of Sparta Success Systems , a real estate training company.