Most Realtors do their best to adapt to their clients no matter how demanding they are. If you want to make your deals flow more smoothly in 2011, it may be time to screen the clients you work with in an entirely different way.

"Working for" or "working with"

On a recent coaching call, Byron Van Arsdale, my husband and business partner, came up with a powerful strategy for screening whether someone is a good fit for your business. He asked a real estate professional to go through her current client list and to identify whether she was "working with" a particular client or if she was "working for" the client.

Byron then asked her to identify how easy or difficult each individual was in terms of the demands they made and how they treated her.

It became apparent immediately that the most demanding and unreasonable clients were those whom the agent was "working for" rather than "working with" in a more partnership-based approach. The "working for" clients were also the most likely to dump her for another broker or fail to close the transaction once they were under contract.

Who are you attracting?

In general, your clients reflect who you are. If you are difficult to deal with, chances are that you will attract difficult clients. Conversely, if you are easy and fun to work with, there’s a high probability that you will attract someone who is easy and fun as well.

The challenge occurs when we agree to work with a client who is not a good fit. In most cases, you will experience a little voice inside that says, "Don’t work with this person," or "This client is going to be unusually difficult."

When you experience that feeling, the best action that you can take is to either avoid working with that person at all or to refer them to another agent.

How to recognize a "working for" client

In some cases, "working for" clients are extremely easy to spot. They make huge demands on your time, fail to respond to your requests, and soon have you dreading any type of communication from them. They may yell at you or constantly criticize the job you are doing.

Other types of "working for" clients can be much more difficult to spot. A classic example on the seller side is the client whose house has been on the market for months and is unwilling to reduce their price or get rid of the purple carpets. Instead, they continue to demand that you hold more open houses, spend more money on newspaper advertising, and send out more fliers.

It’s your lack of marketing (at least the way they tell it) that has fallen short. The fact that their house hasn’t sold has nothing to do with them.

In terms of buyers, this story from the late Ray Haddad sums up the buyer version of the "working for" client:

"When I was first in the business, I met a buyer … (who) said he was eager to buy a house. We looked at over 100 houses before I finally gave up on him.

"I didn’t see (the buyer) for another 10 years. One day I ran into him and asked, ‘Did you ever buy a house?’ His answer: ‘I’m still looking — would you like to take me out to look at some houses?’ "

How to cope with a "working for" client

In each of the cases cited above, you could have probably spotted the "working for" client early in the process if you had conducted an adequate buyer or seller interview.

When working with buyers, get their agreement that you will show them the five best properties based upon your 20- to 30-minute buyer interview. If they don’t like any of the top five picks they see, agree to show them the second group of five based upon the criteria they gave you. 

If they still refuse to write an offer, be honest with yourself — did you actually show them the 10 top matches for their criteria? If the answer is yes, then these folks are probably not legitimate buyers. Like the perpetual buyer in Haddad’s example, they will continue to seek out agents who will work for them and possibly will never buy.

In terms of sellers, if their homes aren’t realistically priced at the beginning when you take the listing, ask them to agree to reduce their price when they have had 10 showings with no offer, or 200 online page views with two or fewer showings, for example.

Alternatively, you could ask them to lower their price at the end of 30 days. If they won’t agree to do this and you’re convinced that they have overpriced their home, the best approach is to walk away from the listing.

The best clients are those who are willing to partner with you throughout the purchase process. Your role is to provide them with the best possible information so that they can make the best possible decision about their purchase or sale.

An important point to remember: "It’s their house and it’s their decision." Nevertheless, there is no need to tolerate a situation where someone expects you to "work for them" rather than to "work with them."

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