If you haven’t heard of snow plow parents, they are defined as parents who clear away obstacles — similar to how a plow clears snow off the street — to ensure that their children don’t have to deal with frustrations or failures. Here’s what I’ve learned from working with these parents.
Teresa Boardman is a long-time columnist with 400-plus Inman columns under her belt. She writes about her real estate observations and experiences as an officeless indie broker in Minnesota.
If you haven’t heard of snow plow parents, they are defined as parents who clear away obstacles to ensure that their children don’t have to deal with frustrations or failures. The parent clears the path ahead similar to how a plow clears snow off the street.
Have you ever worked with clients who have snow plow parents? I have. Here’s what I’ve learned.
The children of ‘snow plow’ parents
The children are well into adulthood, at least chronologically speaking. They rely heavily on their parents for advice and seem to honestly believe that their parents know more about almost everything than anyone else does (or maybe it is easier to just let the parents take charge instead of learning something new).
They have gotten used to letting their parents take charge and seem to be comfortable with it. When they go off to college, they are electronically tethered to their parents who can help them remember important deadlines and make sure that they get to classes on time.
When the children are old enough to buy or sell real estate, the parents can get very involved in the process, forcing our clients to decide if they want to take advice from their real estate agent or from them.
Parental involvement isn’t necessarily a problem, but it can be if the agent doesn’t know upfront that the parents will be calling the shots. It is important to ask our clients early on in the process if anyone else will be involved in the decision-making process and ask if we can bring them along when we go house hunting.
It is much easier to deal with the parents if they are involved in the process and are being educated about the market along with their children. Otherwise, parents can quickly derail the purchase of the only house out of the last 50 the kids looked at that is in their price range, with a working heating plant, indoor plumbing, a finished basement and a fenced in yard.
Different ‘snow plow’ parent scenarios
Parents of real estate agents can also be snow plow parents. I was totally caught off guard when the parent of a real estate agent contacted me and gave me trouble because her son did not get his referral fee. In this case, she was looking for the equivalent of a participation trophy to honor her son’s attempt to secure clients.
The parents of homesellers can also be an unexpected challenge. I remember listing a house, and when I went to the house to put on a lockbox and go over a few things with the owners, the mother came out of nowhere and started giving me advice and asking questions in that tone that I use as a mother but not as a broker.
She said that she told the kids what needed to be cleaned and painted and then commented that her daughter-in-law wasn’t much of a housekeeper. She told me that I needed to do open houses every week and asked me questions about my marketing program, the same program I discussed with the homeowners the night we signed the contracts.
We have all had the client who chooses the house and then has dad come along on the inspection. Dad might not know anything about houses but will give all sorts of advice. I have learned that it is best to keep quiet and not to contradict what dad says, especially in front of dad. There is usually some better way to educate the buyer.
I can send articles written by inspectors or from various consumer information websites to my clients and suggest that they share the information with their parents if they find it useful.
The bigger challenges come when the parent insists that the buyers need to ask to have all of the windows replaced because they are not energy efficient or are just plain old; or when the parents talk to the neighbors and decide that the neighborhood isn’t safe for their children.
Crossing the line?
I have a habit of giving everyone I meet a business card. I shouldn’t be surprised when the parents call me directly and ask me questions about the house the kids want to buy.
As the real estate agent, I owe my clients confidentiality. Recently one of my clients more or less told his children to work with me on the purchase of their first home.
Once we found the home, the parent client kept asking me questions. I had to keep explaining to him that he had to ask his son. I even had to explain to the son why I couldn’t answer his father’s questions. The son was in his mid-30s.
When I work with younger buyers and have to meet the parents, I have learned to size them up and assess the situation quickly. Everything I touch professionally is a risk. I am either risking the loss of time from providing services that I will never get paid for, or I am putting myself at risk for a lawsuit.
I know that I am biased. I moved away from my parents when I was 17. We didn’t have cell phones for text messaging or the internet for Skype and emails. We wrote letters and sent them via snail mail or used the one phone that was shared by 50 people to make the long-distance calls home. I learned many things quickly, and I turned out just fine.
There are people who are unreasonable and a little too high-maintenance, and sometimes those people are the parents of our clients. Learn to recognize the snow plow parent, and develop strategies for working with their children.