Dealing with know-it-all real estate clients? If so, don't write these difficult clients off. If you deal with their underlying worries with patience and empathy, you could turn them into happy clients for life.
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You’re walking your clients through a spacious, well-lit living room. It’s the centrepiece of a gorgeous one-story home nestled in a quiet neighborhood’s cul de sac.
It’s a quaint town. There’s a grocery store within walking distance, and it’s home to neighbors that bring you a lovely fruit cake every time December rolls around.
This is it. This is the home for your soft-spoken, downsizing elderly couple that has been with you for about 6 months now.
They look happy. They sound excited. This is a home run, you just know it. In fact, the neighbors are already sharpening their knives (you know, for the fruit cake).
But as you pull out the documents to make an official offer, the lovely elderly couple drops a bombshell: “Let me just call our son. He knows a lot about this real estate stuff. Did you know that he helped his uncle sell their apartment this one time? He would have made such a great agent if I.T. didn’t work out for him.”
Before you can open your mouth and say anything, you’re handed the phone. Next thing you know, a voice on the other end suddenly comes alive, assaulting you with a barrage of unrelated questions, anecdotes and a thinly-veiled insult somewhere.
Looks like you’ll be adding them to the list of difficult real estate clients.
Your ethics are called into question. And why in the world aren’t you allowed to tell them if there’s a church in the area? “Some service there, buddy. I knew my parents should have just hired a lawyer for the paperwork. We could have done your job just fine without giving you a free lunch.
Sounds familiar? Did I just hear a collective “Only in real estate” sigh?
The real estate industry isn’t the only one working with difficult backseat drivers. Let me tell you a little story about the Business to Business (B2B) furniture industry and how they successfully manage similar challenges every time they sit down with a prospect.
Before you run away in terror, don’t worry, we won’t just focus on furniture. Take this metaphor as an example of real estate agents can smoothly turn a frustrating situation into a satisfied customer.
“I already know what I need. Just do your job and give it to me.”
Business to business (B2B) furniture companies are typically in charge of both manufacturing and design. They have to carefully consider the costs of raw materials, manufacturing efficiency, marketing, research and development (R&D).
Their designers’ job is to find inspiration in global trends, tweak them to fit the local market and execute their designs in the most cost-effective way possible. All of this while trying to keep difficult clients happy.
This last one though is typically the most frustrating part.
All too often, designers sit across procurement officers or busy CEOs that walk in with their minds already made up. Because they’re used to comparing generic, mass-produced office furniture (the kind you see in big-box office supply stores) their decision-making ultimately comes down to price. “Who can make me spend the least amount of money?”
It’s a bidding war where the strongest undercut wins. How then, can designers present that innovative, ergonomic furniture design without undervaluing their product?
“Before anything else, you listen to their needs. Don’t just hear what they say—listen to what their words imply. Most of the time, these guys [CEOs] are thinking budget and longevity. They’re okay with mediocre quality since it’s cheap and easy to replace when expansion comes around.
Then you can gently remind them that happy, back pain-free employees positively affect ROI, and if you can present a solution that evolves alongside expansion like lego blocks then you’ve out-innovated your competition. They realize they’ll save more in the long run and can cultivate employee loyalty at the same time.” – Lorenzo, Tryone, Outboxed Solutions Inc.
As the old adage goes: sell them what they want, give them what they need.
How can you apply this to real estate buyers and sellers?
Let’s look at this in a nice step-by-step format.
1. Practice Active Listening
Take a minute (or 60) to sit down with your client. This may feel like a long time, but it definitely beats driving your clients from property to property for days without a good idea of what they’re actually looking for.
Talk about their motivation behind their move, the kind of lifestyle they wish to have in their new home, and why. This talk shouldn’t feel like an interrogation. Listen intently and make it into an honest-to-goodness conversation, and soon you’ll have a clearer understanding of the needs of your client.
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There’s probably an emotional major life event that’s prompting their decision, so show some empathy. Think about how you would feel if you were in their situation, and try to see things from their point of view.
Not only will you be doing your part in fulfilling their emotional need to be heard and cared for, but you’ll also have a better idea of the kind of home they need, and you’ll come across as a real person, not just someone trying to earn a commission.
2. Educate Clients Upfront and Along the Way
Before you launch into the home search process, share relevant resources with your clients like your blog, area guides and real estate resources by your recommendation.
If your client is a first-time buyer, you may want to go into more detail explaining each step of the buying or selling process.
Providing detailed explanations and outlining what to expect will do wonders to relieve your first-timer’s anxiety. If possible, refer them to other relevant experts that can go into more detail about their area of concern. For example, your client’s insecurity and indecision may stem from financial worries. A financial advisor or lender they are working with can do a better job of going into detail about the financial process and ironing out any residual finance concerns.
Educated clients are easier to work with and less likely to argue with you about real estate market facts. Plus, they’ll be informed enough to not go looking for second opinions from less-than-experts. When incidents happen that are out of your control, they are more likely to be understanding and take the ups and downs with grace.
3. Show Empathy
The general public is distrustful of salesmen, lawyers, and real estate agents. And unfortunately, there are enough horror stories of shady real estate agents that warrant that level of suspicion.
That means that one of the first barriers you need to overcome is that level of suspicion that buyers will inevitably have for you at first. It will be your job to prove that you’re a trustworthy person who has their best interests in mind.
At the same time, the majority of buyers start their property search online. And you know what else is online? Countless articles about home buyers who managed to get the home of their dreams without an agent, thanks to this one weird trick they don’t want you to know about.
Understand that the internet can make anyone feel like an “expert.” Even if (especially if) those articles are written with the specific intent of confirming their readers’ biases.
Homebuyers who consume this content don’t want to be seen as suckers that are less savvy than their peers.
Successful DIY home buying begets admiration and imitation. And the dopamine-driven part of our subconscious mind loves to tell us “Don’t listen to that so-called expert. You know better. Didn’t that top ten list at DIYhomebuyer.biz basically confirm everything you already knew about real estate?? Ohhhh, you’re going to look so intelligent when you show that fancy realtor you don’t need him/her!”
Don’t take these kind comments as personal attacks. These comments come from a place of bias, misinformation, and even fear.
You know better than anyone that buying a home is a milestone, a major life event. You also know that it’s probably one of the, if not the most, emotion-fuelled decision your client will make in their lifetime.
Gently remind them that you have a fiduciary (and legal) relationship to act in their best interest at all times during business. And if you took the time to listen to their story and are able to provide options that resonate, you’ll be leveraging your valuable knowledge (which is what they pay you for) without outright bragging about it.
4. Screen Clients Before Taking Them On
At the beginning, most real estate clients appear to be friendly and optimistic – it may not be until something doesn’t go their way that you get a glimpse of their not-so-sweet side.
Real estate technology such as Trust Smart is designed to provide thorough real estate client background checks before real estate agents find themselves in a tense situation. You can choose to simply verify a piece of their ID or go ask far as to ask for a photo that will then be saved to their profile and used to access information and verify their identity as long as you work with them.
Then, you can move on to preliminary interviews to screen clients and get a better feel for their needs, priorities and natural personality.
5. Focus on Clear Communication
Get familiar with your client’s communication style from the beginning. For example, you may notice that your client responds to direct, business-oriented communication or a more empathetic, soft tone. It also helps to know which type of difficult client they are and work from there.
Negative or aggressive real estate clients believe that their own needs should come before anyone else’s and are not open to suggestions or different perspectives. Know-it-alls are convinced that they (or their righteous son) know more about real estate than you. Then there are the “do nothing” clients: those who expect you to determine their needs without their solid feedback and clear communication regarding their desires.
Communicating with clients in a way that works with their natural style of communication and addresses their biggest concerns will help them feel understood and develop trust quickly.
The medium of your communication is just as important. Ever heard the saying, “the medium is the message”? It means that the tool you use to convey a message is just as important as what is being communicated. For example, you may want to call clients to let them know that they lost out on their dream house; an email with the same message can be perceived as cold and impersonal (demonstrating your lack of care).
Finally, be clear about how you like to communicate with clients and establish clear boundaries that won’t be confused or taken personally. It is more than fair to ask not to be contacted after 9 pm unless it’s urgent or to establish that you won’t do showings on Sundays, for example.
6. Get Ready for Emotions
Selling a house is a very personal decision. So it’s no surprise that clients get emotional and attached quickly. In fact, they often go through the same stages of excitement and grief multiple times throughout the buying and selling process. Real Estate influencer and leading agent, Ryan Serhant, refers to the seven stages of grief you’ll notice repetitively with most clients and that you should understand to seal the deal:
Stage 1: Excitement
At this stage, clients are super excited about the process and the future they imagine for themselves.
Stage 2: Frustration
The buying experience may be a bit more difficult than your client imagined. This is when you’ll usually start receiving those anxious phone calls and middle-of-the-night emails.
Stage 3: Fear
What was once a fleeting worry, can easily become a full-on panic. Clients may start wondering if they made the wrong decision on a property and get frustrated with you for not delivering a “higher standard”.
Stage 4: Disappointment
This stage is when your client finally receives the keys to their new property and they should be ecstatic. Yet, they focus on all the minuscule negative parts (or find ones that don’t exist) and struggle with the part of their brain that pressures them in to second-guessing.
Stage 5: Acceptance
Finally, the pressure eases up. They finally accept that the deal is done and they’ve entered the new phase of their lives they were previously aching for. Instead of worry about small things, they let go and start to enjoy the feeling of being new property owners.
Stage 6: Happiness
Now clients remember why they made the big purchase in the first place. They can finally celebrated having what they wanted and reaching the next goal in their lives.
Stage 7: Relief
The last stage is relief. The entire process is done and they can fully relax and enjoy their new home – and you can get ready for the payout you so badly deserve.
7. Show, Don’t Tell
Sometimes, the only way to spar with the emotional brain is to appeal to logic. Cold, hard facts.
If the buyer is adamant about knowing who lives in the area, which places of worship are nearby, and other demographic information that could attract the Fair Housing Act’s hammer of moral judgment, make sure you tell your clients. But if they insist on finding out that information, tell them they easily find it online.
If they want to see who lives in the neighborhood, ask them to visit it at different times of the day.
This helps them feel like they took an active part in the process and it becomes a source of validation.
If they feel that their grandson – who’s a total wiz with computers – can do a better job than you, show them case studies of how you’ve helped other clients get amazing deals.
In other words, “Show, not tell.”
Here’s an anecdote for this from the B2B furniture space:
The designer was trying to convince a company’s CEO to invest in their staff chairs since he didn’t believe that they should have the same comfort as an executive chair.
“I told him to sit in the staff chair and accomplish the same responsibilities as his employees staff did on a typical day: sit for hours on end, reach for files in surrounding cabinets, roll himself over to the landline as quickly as possible, etc. He found that the whole ordeal was very inefficient, not to mention uncomfortable.” – Lorenzo, Tryone. Outboxed Solutions Inc.
In the end, the equation is as simple as:
Listen actively + understand their point of view + provide evidence = experience a satisfied client.
The first step to a pleased client understanding what is driving your clients to buy. What pain point are they trying to fix?
Then, leverage your hard-earned expertise and use that knowledge to help foster the picture of their happy life. Prepare an offer that resonates with them personally and present them with (semi) self-procured evidence. They may want to argue up and down with you, but they won’t argue with hard, cold facts.
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