Asking “what could go wrong?” can help agents and brokers prepare for the worst and make sure things go right.

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.

I’ll bet no one told you before you became a real estate agent or a broker or started a business that things will go wrong. Maybe there was some fear of failure in the beginning, but no understanding of all of the things that can, and will, go wrong.

Friends, family and clients don’t always understand my favorite question: What could possibly go wrong? I ask that question at least once a day as I make decisions.

I have learned to look at the world through the lens of “What could possibly go wrong?” I started doing this after working with real estate and people for many years — both are unpredictable, and no two are the same.

Prepare for what can go wrong to make things go right

With each house and each client, I am doing a risk assessment in my head: What am I missing? What could go wrong?

Working with homebuyers is always risky. Will they actually make an offer when we find the right house? Will, that offer be accepted? Will the lender’s appraisal support the amount the price? Things go wrong.

Once they do buy the house, will they forever blame me for ruining their lives? Or will they sing my praises and recommend my company to friends and family? It can go either way.

Will the owner of the overpriced run-down house accept a fair offer in my lifetime? Or will I put in a lot of work for free before becoming the first in a string of agents who will list the property and work for free before the seller accepts an offer at the price I recommended in the first place?

I am always asking what could go wrong because I want everything to go right. I don’t want to work with buyers who make me look at 50 houses, and then decide they don’t want to buy one, yet I know that even getting out of bed in the morning involves risk.

Understand how things can go wrong

Taking risks every day is part of working. Theoretically, rewards come to those who are willing to take a risk. But I can totally understand why people like W-2-type jobs with employer-paid health insurance, why they are willing to give up so much of their time and freedom for both, and why they look forward to weekends and complain about their bosses.

Real estate agents sometimes prevaricate. I had one agent tell me some fantastical stories that she later admitted were made up as she felt she needed to “protect” her clients. Protecting clients seems to be a common reason for behaving badly. I am grateful that I only work with the best clients and none of them would expect me to lie for them.

Sometimes people are totally insane and emotionally incapable of homeownership or an appropriate relationship with a real estate professional. We never discuss that part of working with consumers. But it happens, and it is our job to avoid these people at all costs. No amount of commission is worth the stress and litigation they bring.

These types of clients have nothing but problems through every aspect of a home purchase and sale, from the loan officer to the movers. They purchase real estate that isn’t inhabitable or that is barely habitable and invested with vermin and toxic mold that doesn’t show up on inspections.

The agents they worked with are the worst kind of incompetent. They share every aspect of their experience with hundreds of people on social media.

Accept and learn when things do go wrong

If you are new to selling real estate, you need to know that something will go wrong, and it probably isn’t personal or your fault. It is important to keep communication open with aggrieved parties and to always be honest and a good listener.

Having a bad day or being threatened with legal action every now and then isn’t a reason to quit real estate. Wanting to quit is kind of normal, and it isn’t the same as quitting. Don’t quit. Come up with a plan, and manage a graceful exit.

Sure, there have been days when I have felt like quitting — it happens to everyone. But I am not going to give a deranged client, incompetent lender or a misguided real estate agent that kind of power over me.

When the stress gets to be too much, and some days it does, it’s alright to walk away for a while. Take at least an hour off to engage in some non-work type activities. I don’t believe living a stress-free life is possible; I am not even sure it is desirable.

There are times when we need to yell and swear and maybe even mourn a little before moving on, but it is best to keep the wallowing and self-pity to a minimum.

Over the years I have developed a thick skin. What used to bother, me I hardly notice now, and I have become so good at letting go that I have forgotten about things that went wrong and had to read notes and go through files to refresh my memory.

I learned a long time ago to plan for the future, but not to spend too much time thinking about things that could or might happen — especially if I don’t have any control over them. Things will go wrong, no matter how much planning you do.

Teresa Boardman is a Realtor and broker/owner of Boardman Realty in St. Paul. She is also the founder of

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