Whether you’re a rookie agent, a rising team leader or an established veteran broker, we can all benefit from sharpening our skills. Follow our “Back to Basics” series to learn fundamental strategies, tactics, philosophies and more from real estate pros across the industry.
Handed the pink slip. Made redundant. Being canned.
There aren’t a lot of positive ways to say “you’re fired.” Just because the vast majority of real estate agents are independent contractors doesn’t mean they are immune to getting fired. Clients can become unhappy, unpleasant and even downright disagreeable, but the absolute worst-case scenario is when a client concludes that the only way to resolve a dispute or difficult situation is to fire you.
To help you avoid this nightmare, we’ve compiled a list of tips on 10 commonly overlooked situations that can frustrate clients and lead them to sever your relationship.
1. Structure your availability
We all know that a large portion of an agent’s job involves a lot of back-and-forth negotiating, so being available is not only a positive thing — it’s imperative to get the job done. On the flip side, making yourself available 24/7 can lead to resentment and burnout.
So what should you do? Take control by setting your clients’ expectations. Rather than keeping your phone on and answering text messages, voicemails and emails as soon as they are received, consider setting up an “engagement schedule” whereby you set out specific times when clients can expect a response.
Why bother? To keep work for your clients on track, you need to prioritize. By establishing expectations with clients upfront, and setting aside blocks of time in your day to address non-urgent client needs and requests, you can reassure your clients that they’re not being ignored and keep your transactions on track.
For example, you might let clients know upfront that if they contact you after a certain time in the evening and it’s not an urgent matter, that you’ll return their call, email or text the following day. You can also let them know the best times to reach you. If you’re time-blocking two hours in the afternoon for “office hours” (follow-up, checking in, etc.), let them know that’s the best time to reach you.
Once this process becomes routine, you’ll feel more on top of things, which will result in less pressure and stress overall and help you to respond in a calm and rational manner no matter the situation. If there’s one thing agents understand, it’s the importance of keeping a cool head in times of stress.
2. Understand your clients’ needs
As an agent, you have to understand what your clients’ expectations are and how much you’re required to do for them. Some clients don’t like it when their agent makes decisions without first consulting them. Other clients will require a lot of hand-holding.
To help you serve each client to the best of your abilities, make sure you take the time to find out what they expect and want from you. This isn’t as hard as it sounds.
Start off by asking them what they need, and listen. Follow up with questions after they’ve defined their request to make sure that you understand them correctly. Then explain your work process, with the emphasis on the part of your process that best addresses the current client’s needs.
For instance, if you’re working with a buyer who is unsure as to what they want in a property, explain in detail how you can help them narrow down that choice. The more you ask and the more you listen, the better your appreciation of what your client needs and the better able you’ll be to help them achieve exactly what they want.
3. Polish your negotiating skills
The No. 1 skill people look for in an agent is the ability to negotiate effectively. While we often think about negotiating in terms of the offer presentation, it also applies to many of the everyday, informal aspects of helping clients buy and sell a home.
Good negotiation skills will contribute heavily to your success, as these skills help you build better relationships, minimize future problems and conflicts, and establish lasting solutions.
Here are a few articles on honing your negotiating skills:
- 6 steps to unleashing your negotiation power in real estate
- 4 negotiating tricks you should always be prepared for
- How NOT to negotiate
- 5 negotiation strategies you need to close the deal right
- 4 top negotiating tactics most real estate agents don’t know
Remember, an agent with good negotiation skills understands that all transactions are about the give-and-take. Explain to your client that a successful deal can be defined as one where both sides of the party walk away happy and also where both have made a few concessions along the way.
4. Actively market the property
There’s nothing worse for sell-side clients than having a property sit on the market. While there are always situations where the client is the biggest obstacle (perhaps they expect too much for the property or refuse to accept current market conditions), there are also agents who just don’t do enough, period. Even in hotter markets, it’s really important to follow through on all your marketing efforts.
For example, if you hold an open house, make sure you have a guest sign-in sheet. While some agents only use this to attract other clients, smart agents will also use it as a marketing tool.
You achieve two important goals when you follow up with all the open house visitors on that list. First, you can develop a very clear picture of what the general public thinks and feels about the property. Second, you can engage potential buyers who may be on the fence.
Even if these clients don’t end up buying, just the activity they stimulate — through additional viewing appointments or a registered offer — can help generate a sense of urgency about the property that will prompt other potential fence-sitting clients to act.
Remember, it’s not enough to put up a sign or hold an open house. You must also make the effort and do the work to drum up the business for your client.
5. Pay attention to the details
People outside of the real estate industry don’t have intimate knowledge of the process or paperwork involved in a property transaction, so it’s your responsibility to explain the process clearly.
An agent who doesn’t know what documents to use might look like an inexperienced rookie, but an agent who forgets to explain critical components of a deal or neglects to fill out essential paperwork can prompt quick termination from a client.
To defend yourself against this situation, make sure you become familiar with each step of the process, including all the documentation required.
We realize that newer agents might not always be familiar with every part of a transaction — particularly those involving unusual situations or requests. As a result, our business model includes a growth manager, a licensed, familiar and successful Realtor who can guide each agent through every step of a real estate transaction.
Although not all brokerages will have this invaluable one-on-one coaching, most will have recruitment managers who you can turn to and ask for help, so be sure to take advantage of them.
6. You don’t need to be ‘Architectural Digest,’ but …
One big red flag for many clients is an agent who refuses to take good (even professional) photos for use in marketing materials and on the multiple listing service.
We’ve heard from clients who have fired their agents because the photos used on MLS were poorly lit, included family pets or focused on less-positive aspects of a home (who cares to see a standard bathroom vanity?)
To keep clients happy, make sure you take excellent photos. Even if you’re taking the photos yourself, consider investing in a good digital camera and allow yourself enough time to capture the property in the best possible light.
Cut corners on this powerful marketing tool, and you could find yourself with one less client.
7. Be frank
It goes without saying that stealing or lying is never a good decision. But there are other, less obvious ways you can come across as being dishonest.
For instance, if you promise to secure a certain selling price based on what you think will make your client happy, and all the offers come in well under the ask-price, then the client will (understandably) be upset and begin to suspect they can’t trust you. This is the point at which many seller clients end up replacing you.
To prevent this from happening, make sure you work to keep your client’s expectations reasonable. The idea is to remain positive, but also realistic about any possible outcome.
8. Integrity is key
In the past few years, stories of misconduct and negligence have plagued the real estate industry. Stories about price-fixing schemes for new-build properties to coordinated deception on property appraisals have tarnished the popular image of real estate professionals.
For that reason, it’s imperative that you go out of your way to uphold your integrity. Make sure you conduct yourself in accordance with your board’s rules and ethical regulations.
When in doubt, seek out the advice of your managing broker or the brokerage’s in-house lawyer. Remember, even the perception of misconduct can be enough to cost you a client.
9. Don’t put your interests ahead of your clients
One of my agents recently started working with a first-time buyer who came to her after a frustrating home search with another agent. During every property viewing, this former agent would ask whether or not he wanted to make an offer.
Shocked by this immediate jump to the offer stage, the client would point out problems with the property, at which point the former agent would discount their concerns and forcefully explain why, in their opinion, it was such a good deal.
Eventually, the buyer fired the agent because he just didn’t feel like his interests came first.
Remember: Not only do you have to work for your clients, but your clients also have to feel like you’re working for them. A home or property is one of the most expensive assets most people will ever buy or sell, and the last thing they need is to question whether or not the real estate professional tasked with helping them really has their back.
To help establish a relationship of trust and support with your client, make sure you ask questions and then make a concerted effort to listen to the answers.
By doing this, you’ll also cut down on the amount of extra work that you will have to put in to find them the right property, and to sell on the terms that are acceptable to them.
10. Don’t ghost your client once the deal is signed
One of the biggest pet peeves mentioned by buyers and sellers is that, once the purchase and sale agreement has been signed, the agent is nowhere to be found. This is a terrible way to do business, and while you might not lose this client on this deal, chances are good that they’ll never send you any repeat business or referrals.
Take the time to update your clients on what’s going on with the property, before they have reason to start getting worried. Selling and buying property can take months, so if you don’t contact them frequently, they can easily get the impression you’re not invested in the deal.
A very easy way to remedy this is to put reminders in your calendar to check in with the client. If the closing is three months away, schedule a quick email check-in for every two to three weeks.
You can even set up email templates to communicate closing day information, which goes a long way to alleviate that sense of the unknown that many clients experience between contract signing and closing day.
The more you’re able to put your clients’ minds at ease, the better they’ll feel about the services you offer and the higher the chance of repeat and referrals.