We often talk about how building relationships is a must-have skill for new agents, but being able to navigate relationships (sometimes other people’s relationships) and any conflicts that arise is even more crucial.

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Real estate agents take on many titles regarding their relationships with clients: agent, adviser, coach, fiduciary, mentor — the list is long and varied.

For new agents looking to get into the swing of things and effectively represent their clients, titles are very real and can help identify potential areas for training. Because we represent clients with what is usually their most significant financial investment, it is essential to be at our best. However, there is one title that seldom comes up, yet it might be one of the most critical to long-term success: Relationship counselor.

Along with death and marriage, a real estate transaction is one of life’s most stressful events. A recent Harris poll confirms what many have known all along. It’s not only a taxing experience, but it can also produce conflict.

The survey, using data culled from real estate transactions over 10 years, reveals that 77 percent of homebuyers and 71 percent of sellers have argued with a loved one as a result of the buying or selling process.

The poll also underscores specific issues causing tension while looking for homes: 

  • 54 percent of couples disagreed over the style or size of a property 
  • 47 percent clashed over what constituted “must haves” or “deal breakers”
  • 42 percent argued over location and neighborhood 
  • 37 percent quarreled over budget issues
  • 29 percent sparred over the condition of the home they were willing to buy

As a Realtor who has, over the years, worked with hundreds of couples buying or selling homes, I have seen firsthand how nerve-wracking the homebuying process can indeed be. I have observed couples come close to blows, overheard substantive verbal combat, and witnessed shaming tactics and relational sabotage.

Honesty builds relationships 

In one extreme case, I recommended that a couple stop looking at homes and start seeking qualified marriage counseling. They took my advice. It would have been a tragedy to help them purchase a house only to sell it a short while later due to a divorce. 

Ironically, my willingness to put aside potential personal gain to help them mitigate their relational issues had a happy ending. After a year in counseling, they contacted me again and, over the next few years, we did four real estate transactions together.

Not all clients have been so lucky: I have seen other couples, unable to agree, come to the realization through their attempts at buying a home that their relationship had effectively come to an end.

When it comes to sellers 

The survey showed that the highest percentage of disagreements on the listing side of the equation was no surprise at all: 69 percent of couples disagreed over the list price. 

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve sat through those “animated discussions,” not only during the listing process but also while reviewing offers. Frequently, one partner wants to sell and be done with it while the other holds out for the moon.

The survey showed that age is also a significant factor in selling, with millennials topping the “Willing to Argue” leader board at a whopping 85 percent. 

The numbers are significantly lower for older couples. Whether a “cultural” unwillingness to air feelings in public, better negotiation skills developed over time or previous selling experiences that had ironed out differences in expectations, couples over 55 saw a much lower 54 percent.

The toughest transactions

People often ask me which transactions have the most disagreements and tension. The answer: Couples negotiating divorces. Selling a home due to the death of a marriage is always a lose-lose proposition: frequently, one party either does not want the divorce or doesn’t want to leave the family home. 

Although some couples manage to keep it civil, others use the selling process to “get back” at the other party. In some cases, both sellers, totally frustrated with each other, turn and vent their frustrations at their Realtor, moving it from lose-lose to lose-lose-lose.

Buying or selling will always be stressful to some degree. As an agent, recognizing conflict is a critical skill that needs to be developed and honed. Although conflict is sometimes out in full view, it can often be very discreet but destructive, nonetheless. Skilled agents can intervene and mitigate as necessary.

“There may be trouble ahead … let’s face the music and dance.” – Nat King Cole

Carl Medford is the CEO of The Medford Team.

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