There’s nothing worse than showing an awesome family 20 homes and having them find their dream home, only to have a relative parachute in like some evil saboteur, drop a bomb and blow it all up.
Let’s be honest, family members genuinely want to help with real estate transactions but often cause problems. On top of all that, it’s just plain awkward!
We all wish we could just tell them to butt out, but it’s much better for everyone if we can solve the problem and add value. So the question is: How do you do that?
In my 15-plus years of doing real estate, one key lesson I’ve learned is how to set expectations properly. When it comes to dealing with a client’s family, this is critical.
Writer’s note: Not every family has crazy people. The views I’m expressing are based on my own experience and family members.
When a family member inserts himself or herself into the real estate transaction and blows it up, salvaging the deal is usually out of the question, so you’re left with having to start all over. In this market, that might not be possible.
Warning: I’m about to suggest a few things that will really bring family members into the process. You must read past the next two paragraphs, or you’re going to think I’m crazy and misguided.
Do you remember the movie Speed? Keanu Reeves had to keep that bus above 50 mph, or it’d blow up. Let’s imagine for a second that you’re Keanu, the bus is your real estate deal, the passengers are your clients and the madman (played by Dennis Hopper) is the family member.
Your job is to keep the bus moving fast, but instead of mph, let’s use the word “value.” So in essence, as long as you make the family member feel valued, they won’t blow your bus up.
Expect to work with them
When it comes to setting expectations, you might need to set your own expectations. Just expect that there will be a family member who will want to be a part of the process.
A word of advice: don’t fight it, embrace it. The more you lean into this situation, in particular, the better off you will be.
Invite them along
When we would consult with new homebuyers, especially first-time homebuyers, we’d ask them upfront, “Who else in your family needs to be a part of this search?”
This did several things: it showed we cared, it allowed them to actually think about it so they weren’t blindsided, and it cleared the air of tension.
Once the conversation cleared, I’d always make sure I said this, “In my experience family can heighten the emotion of buying a home (or selling), and sometimes heighten the stress. If your family does decide to participate, I will do everything I can to make them feel valued. However, at no time will I ever elevate their opinion over yours. I’m your agent at the end of the day.”
Making sure you are always on the client’s side no matter what is an essential key to dealing with family, reminds Bob Anarumo of Florida Realty Marketplace in Davenport, Florida.
From there, I recommend offering to copy them on the emails you send with listings as well as invite them to the showings; 99 percent of the time, they will decline the showings. However, by inviting them upfront, you’ll be including them in the process and helping them feel valued.
Should they come to the showings, be sure to ask their opinions. Remember your goal is for them to feel valued. Keep in mind you have to value your client’s opinions over theirs.
Sometimes, I would joke around with family members, “I heard Aunt Sue say she likes it so much she wanted to pay the mortgage!” This brought laughter to an otherwise awkward situation.
To the inspection
Rarely would a family member come to the showings, but most of them would show up during the inspection (due diligence) process.
In this case, I’d default back to asking for their opinion on things, not so much to distract them from the clients or the home, but again to help them feel valued.
To the closing
Finally, a few family members may want to participate in negotiations and or the closing. I recommend consulting with your clients about what they want to do about that.
If they want to include them, then I suggest reminding them that the clients are your “point person.” This is the one time I recommend putting the responsibility on the clients and not looping the family in.
The big reason is that some family members like to win and want to play divide and conquer. Unfortunately, that’s a zero-sum game in a big real estate move.
Other ways to include the family of a real estate client
Give them homework
If you have family members who really want to be involved, then give them some responsibility. Suggest that they look up the school phone numbers or trip times to work. Suggest something that you really wish clients did, and give it to them.
Give them a role
Ask the family member to be the “documenter.” They could video the showings or the walkthrough. Keep copies of the documents, so that four years in, when the client wants to refinance, they don’t have to call you. Although you should be in touch with them.
Give them responsibility
Have them be the coordinator. The family member can help coordinate the contractors during due diligence or the later the move.
“Family members often say they want to help. Give them some responsibility, and they’ll either join you and help or exit,” said Stan Jones with Keller Williams Realty in Atlanta, Georgia. “Either way, it’s a win!”
Oftentimes, the clients are so consumed (often overwhelmed) with the move that the family member feels left out. This can be a problem if they are a close family member.
However, if you jump in there and try to be the listening ear, you can often save what could be at best a very tense transaction.
By making all parties feel valued, you can often have a client for life, and you might just be adopted into the family.