- In working with some elderly clients, agents should stay understanding, be in prime problem-solving mode and have unlimited patience.
- If clients are unhappy or being difficult, try to find out what is really bothering them.
The elderly man’s worldly belongings, laid out neatly on a sofa in his almost-empty house, were a heart-rending sight for Charlotte, North Carolina, Realtor/broker Lynne Cosper-Lainis.
She took in the quilt his mother had made for him, a slender wardrobe of clothing desperately in need of a wash. He was down to one pair of pants, one pair of shoes and an old-style 1960s briefcase, no doubt from his time as an IT professional.
You could argue that this cranky client, in the middle of a divorce with his estranged wife, had made Cosper-Lainis’s life extremely difficult for the past seven weeks. But they had developed a connection, and she was determined to help him get back home to his family.
Cosper-Lainis, in the real estate business for 10 years, said she drew from her life experience to present the calm face she showed on this occasion. The 51-year-old says, “as you get older, you learn how to handle people.”
This unusual transaction highlights how in all walks of life, including real estate, patience and empathy can steer a tricky situation in the right direction — even when it would be tempting to lash out or walk away — and the importance of being prepared for all eventualities.
When it comes working with difficult real estate clients, “You need to have some understanding of why they are angry, why their attitude is the way it is,” Cosper-Lainis said. “If you are positive, you can still get the work done in spite of the challenges.”
Help clients with their next step
With the client in delicate health, not eating and forgoing his medication, Cosper-Lainis’s predominant concern was whether he would still be alive by closing, she says.
“He wasn’t taking very good care of himself; he had lost his will to live in some way,” she said.
“He really wasn’t connecting with anyone, but I connected with him. He trusted me, he knew that I cared, that I was telling the truth, and trying to do the best for both of them.”
That is not to say that the client, who refused to leave the house for any showings, didn’t make things difficult for the Realtor.
Fortunately, the home in Plaza Midwood, a hot market in Charlotte, sold within hours to a remote investment buyer.
On the day of the closing, however, it looked as if the $200,000 deal might crumble.
The Dickens Mitchener agent arrived with the referring agent from her office, there to support the wife who had become afraid of her former husband when he was off his meds, and the boutique brokerage’s notary and office manager, Melanie Vise.
The client started the meeting in a bad temper, no surprise to Cosper-Lainis who saw how much food he had in the house and knew that, because the client had lost his cellphone, he hadn’t spoken to his sister in Alabama for a few weeks and didn’t have a plan for where he was going next.
When he complained, he had no choice but to sign, his broker answered his concerns, said Vise.
“Lynne really diffused the situation with her calm demeanor, her matter of fact manner,” Vise added. “She was not saying what anybody wanted to hear. She said: ‘You do have choices, but this is what’s going to happen if you make these choices.’”
Cosper-Lainis, who studied psychology in college, explained: “I told him: ‘You don’t have to sign the paperwork; if that’s not what you want to do, you don’t have to sign it.
“But it was like he wanted to but he was hesitant because he didn’t know what would happen afterward.”
One plan had the client moving into extended care in Charlotte, but Cosper-Lainis, almost playing the role of a daughter, put her foot down — that wasn’t going to work.
He was in much too fragile a state and needed to be with his brother and sister in Alabama. So they phoned his sister and made the arrangements for him to return to his hometown.
The day of the closing finished with the papers signed and Cosper-Lainis taking the wife out for dinner. She brought a meal back for the now ex-husband, including banana pudding by request.
A good real estate agent is always prepared
The day after closing, which marked the client’s last night in the home (with the new owner’s permission), Cosper-Lainis arrived to take him to the airport.
The broker was ready for anything. She knew all the flights that afternoon headed to Birmingham.
Noticing that the client had no luggage (the home’s belongings mainly went to his former wife, save the armchair he’d taken to sleeping in) the Realtor brought with her an old suitcase and a family backpack.
She checked her client’s pockets to make sure he wasn’t carrying a pocket knife or anything that would get him into trouble at the airport.
They took a trip to the bank to deposit his check, then to her house to get a clean shirt; he had spilled gravy on his remaining fresh one the night before.
Finally, the end was in sight. Cosper-Lainis got permission to take him to the gate, and when he was obviously in need of food, she bought him a turkey sandwich, a cookie and water for the plane.
She also phoned the sister to make sure she could pick him up at the other end.
His tearful words of thanks to her brought home how much he had needed someone to step in and manage this process with kindness.
Staying in touch
Many agents could be forgiven for running in the opposite direction after the client was safely handed off. Cosper-Lainis has followed up and spoken to his family in Alabama several times to see how he’s doing.
She reports that he is living with his brother, going for walks in the area he grew up in and back on the meds.
The ex-wife, meanwhile, is happily living near family in South Carolina.
“That’s why I enjoy my work; I feel like it can be about getting people out of a tough situation to a point where they are realizing a dream,” said Cosper-Lainis, who believes she was chosen to help this client.
This story of this transaction was submitted to Leading Real Estate Companies of the World’s annual awards.