Glennda Baker of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Georgia Properties once had the career scare of her life when, after writing up a contract and going through negotiations on an offer, she realized that she had accidentally sold the wrong house.
Planning to do a tear-down, the buyer had merely told Baker that he wanted the Buckhead Broker House on West Paces Ferry. He did not do any inspections or an appraisal as it was a cash sale, and he never did a walkthrough.
When the buyer and Baker met up face-to-face to see the house a day prior to closing, they realized there was a mix-up — both had a different house in mind.
Baker was physically ill, but being the super agent she is, she hopped out of the car like a jackrabbit and did the best sales job of her career.
“I flipped that car around and sped over to the actual house he purchased,” Baker, who was able to change the deal at the last minute, told Inman. “I popped out of the car and sold that thing like a Barker’s Beauty on The Price Is Right.”
He ended up thanking her for getting him a great deal on the better house, and they all lived happily ever after.
Maybe not as extreme as selling the wrong house, but miscommunications are pretty common in real estate. As a real estate agent, you are bound to encounter worse and probably far more than one uncomfortable situation.
We asked some agents for advice on what to do in some of the most common real estate misunderstandings, and here is the wisdom they shared.
Addressing unclear wants
Most problems, according to Baker, arise from a lack of communication. As her earlier example shows, even what feels like the most obvious element (which house the agent wants to buy) needs to be communicated clearly with the client.
The earlier you’ll establish common ground on the basics — which house the clients want to buy or sell, how much they can expect to get for it and what their timeline is — the more likely you are to avoid disappointment and misunderstandings further down the line.
Honoring strange requests
North Carolina RE/MAX agent Leigh Brown has seen a number of strange requests — including clients requesting super-strong toilets and a buyer storming out because his wife’s name listed first on the mortgage papers rather than his.
As an agent, you need to be prepared for eccentricities on the part of the buyer and seller.
Put those judgey eyes away, and stay neutral. And, if the request is fair and doable, accommodate. (If it’s something inappropriate, remain polite as you explain why it cannot be done.)
“Remember that none of this is about you!” Brown told Inman. “They are allowing you to be with them in their most intimate financial moments, and that means that when they come unglued, it’s because they trust you.”
Seeing something dirty, untoward or illegal
Agents will often encounter the most unusual situations in their daily work — from catching two colleagues having sex in a vacant property to finding drugs, guns and, yes, vibrators inside the home they need to sell. (Some might even include in their marketing.)
While closing the door, backing away quietly and being discreet are usually the best moves in most cases, things like illegal drugs need to be reported to the police right away.
“Discovering drugs or drug-making paraphernalia can be common with [foreclosed and abandoned] properties,” Tracey Hawkins, a real estate safety expert, told Inman. “Agents are advised to immediately leave if they discover illegal drugs in a property.”
Flubbed a contract? Overestimated how much you would be able to get on the house? The key, according to Baker, is to take responsibility early. Fix what you can (most problems can be addressed if caught early) and, if you can’t, be honest with your client about where you went wrong.
“Effective communication contains honesty and transparency,” she said. “It also includes listening to understand not just to reply. L.A.S.T. – listen, apologize, satisfy and thank.”
In certain cases, you will be the one who has to pull the plug on both clients and brokerages — as regular Inman contributor Bernice Ross wrote for Inman, this could be caused by anything from unrealistic buyer expectations to failure to disclose key facts about the property and other unethical behavior. Sometimes you just have to say no, even if it costs you business.
Don’t be afraid to turn down work offers from those who refuse to work with you exclusively, lie or conceal facts about the property, gossip about other agents, or otherwise engage in shady behavior, Ross advises.
But the list does not end there! You can (and probably should) also say no when the commission offered is too low or you are not confident that a property will sell.
“Your inability to say ‘no’ can cost you tens of thousands of dollars every year,” Ross writes. “The reason many real estate agents struggle with this simple word is that they have a strong need to please others, even if it comes at their own personal expense.”
Clearly, when your job entails meeting with strangers and visiting unfamiliar homes, there are risks. But preventative measures can be taken to hedge your bets.
Common prevention steps include not hosting open houses alone, keeping a clear view of the exits and having a phone alarm within easy access at all times.
There are also a plethora of safety apps to help agents keep their peers in the know of their whereabouts. And more and more, brokerages are training their agents to prevent dangerous situations before they occur.
Most agents will work with a client whose mortgage application is denied at least once. Such situations are embarrassing for the client and disappointing for the agent.
Help guide buyers to the best outcome before the application is even made by connecting with excellent loan officers in your market.
“Agents and loan officers should recommend attorneys, title agents, contractors and other useful connections,” writes loan adviser Tim Coutis.
Having a roster of loan experts ready to help clients get their credit in order is another way to provide next-level service for future lifetime clients.
Losing the deal
Even if you do everything right, misunderstandings in real estate are bound to arise — sometimes deals can fall through for reasons outside of one’s control.
A bad inspection, undisclosed problems and clients’ cold feet can sink what otherwise seemed like an open-and-shut deal, Scott Beaudry wrote for Inman earlier this year.
The best advice is to try to catch any potential problems early, but if you can’t, don’t get too hung up on it or take anything personally. You are there to be the guide in your clients’ transaction — keep doing your job. One bad deal won’t break your career.
“Realtors go through a bunch of no’s before they make it to that yes,” Beaudry said. “These are disciplined and dedicated independent business owners who know the meaning of perseverance.”
And you just might find that the deal falling through was the best thing that could’ve happened — for both parties.