The phone rings, and when you glance at the screen, your stomach clenches. It’s time to make that split-second decision whether to answer the call or send it to voicemail. You take a deep breath and put on your best “client voice,” but your gut is in knots.

  • Trust your body's "gut reaction" when you're stressed out by a client.
  • Don't keep a toxic client simply because of the fear of losing a commission.
  • There will be other buyers and sellers who are a good fit for you.

The phone rings, and when you glance at the screen, your stomach clenches.

It’s time to make that split-second decision whether to answer the call or send it to voicemail. You take a deep breath and put on your best “client voice,” but your gut is in knots.

You dread talking to this particular person, and you brace yourself for the discussion. Does a potential deal in the future justify your discomfort?

Recently, I’ve been reading threads on social media that ask: “When is it OK to dump a client?”

This topic comes up regularly in both online and offline discussions.

I wrote earlier this year about “3 signs it’s time to fire your real estate client,” which covered issues of mutual respect and your value as a professional. The issue deserves deeper thought, so I sought out the opinions of other agents and brokers in some of these online groups.

Body talk

A strong physical reaction is your first clue that you and the client might not be best suited for each other, said Berkeley, California, agent Ira Serkes.

His tell-tale sign? “My jaw twinges.”

You can deny that there is anything wrong or believe you can handle a difficult client, but your body won’t like it.

Look for signs of your body telling you that you’re off balance. A bad business relationship (or any relationship in your life) might be the source. Watch for:

  • Headaches
  • Back aches, muscle aches
  • Upset stomach
  • Heightened anxiety
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Changed appetite
  • High blood pressure
  • Lack of energy or motivation
  • Increased sickness, colds

Should I stay, or should I go?

An agent-client relationship might last months or years — and can be a lot like a marriage.

For example, with buyers, at first you’re just dating. You show them a few houses and decide if you want to take the relationship to the next level.

The analogy follows through from dating to marriage and commitment; in areas where you use buyer agency agreements, you might ask them to sign a buyer’s agency and commit to using you to buy the home.

There, now you’re married. Between signing that buyer agreement and the date of closing, there’s lots of decisions to make and emotions to navigate. Just as not all marriages work out, not all real estate relationships make it to the end.

So when should you break up with a client?

“The second time it crosses your mind,” said Rochester, Michigan, associate broker Gwen Daubenmeyer.

If you’re already asking the questions, it’s probably time to leave.

Many agents stay with clients who cause them excessive stress just as many spouses will stay in an unhappy marriage.

Frequently, this happens when the agent feels he or she has already sunk so much time and effort into this buyer or seller client that he or she doesn’t want to lose a potential sale — even if it causes them stress and anguish.

Agents will complain to anyone who will listen — other agents in their office, the broker, their spouse — but they won’t drop the client because there’s the nagging thought that if this does make it to closing, then they’ll finally be rewarded with a paycheck.

Is it worth the hassle?

Maybe, in some situations. But if you’re constantly complaining about a buyer or seller, perhaps you need to just move on.

Deal breakers

Every agent has different core values and varying tolerance levels for client behavior.

“Any client that does something or asks them to do something that is against their core values will give that ‘off’ feeling, and agents should consider dumping them,” said Canadian real estate management consultant Stefanie Hostetter.

But there are certain behaviors where agents should draw the line:

  • Emotional or verbal abuse
  • A client who wants you to do something unethical or illegal
  • A client who accuses you of not working in their best interest
  • A client refusing to listen to your advice

There are consumers who will berate or belittle anyone who they think they can.

As a broker, I’ve had to terminate a client relationship due to just plain mean behavior. One of my agents was bullied by a client to the point she couldn’t bear to answer the phone if he called.

After listening to several angry and escalating voicemails he left her, I terminated our agreement in writing, and we never heard from him again. We have no tolerance for bullying.

Similarly, no broker should allow a client to persuade an agent to do anything unethical or illegal, even if the client believes it will benefit him or her in the end.

A client who doesn’t trust you might seem “not that bad” on the surface, but it’s a train wreck waiting to happen.

Although you might be able to push a deal through with clients who won’t listen to your advice or accuse you of not working in their best interest, this is a dangerous situation.

Why would you want to work with someone who questions your loyalty or professional opinion? If something goes askew in the transaction, who do you think will bear the blame?

Breaking up is hard to do

Ending any relationship is hard. Watch for clues that you are not meant to work with someone and listen to your body.

No real estate transaction goes perfectly smoothly, and very few relationships will be without their bumps. Sometimes you need to fight to keep it together, but other times the smarter move is to just let it go.

“All money is not ‘good money.’ Know your limits and be OK with them,” advises Texas real estate manager and trainer Marion Napoleon.

Move on to the next buyer. Find another seller. There’s always another client around the bend.

And know that no client — no amount of money — is worth sleepless nights or a stomach filled with knots.

Erica Ramus, MRE, is the broker/owner of RAMUS Real Estate. You can follow her on Twitter or LinkedIn.

Email Erica Ramus

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