If you’re feeling worn down, discouraged or pushed to the edge by your clients, it’s probably not you. Sometimes people are just tough to work with, and you have to figure out what is worth it for the commission. Here are 33 signs it’s time to part ways, must-dos before taking that step, and the dos and don’ts of firing clients.

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In a down market, it can be tough to say no to any opportunity that comes your way, but some clients simply aren’t worth the time, energy and resources that a bad apple is sure to drain from you, and it’s best to fire those clients to free yourself to take on new ones.

“If you’re feeling worn down and discouraged by clients who don’t appreciate you, don’t honor your time, who are unrealistic, have an attitude problem or any of a number of annoying characteristics, it’s time to go through your current client list and clean house,” Bernice Ross wrote.

Sometimes people are just tough to work with, and you have to figure out what is worth it for that commission check and what isn’t. It can be tough to sniff out bad behavior from nightmare clients in the moment.

To help give you a little guidance, we sifted through the pages of contributor advice and found there are 33 signals that it’s time to say goodbye and move on to the next one. After that, you’ll find the must-take steps for terminating a client as well as the dos and don’ts for saying goodbye.

“A solid working relationship is built on trust, loyalty and honesty. When even one of those elements is broken, the relationship is in jeopardy.” – John Giffen.

33 telltale signs it’s time to break up with your client

Here are 33 signs it’s time to fire, delete or refer that annoying or agonizing client.

  • Lies
  • Is mentally or physically abusive
  • Makes unreasonable demands
  • Has financing issues
  • Is constantly in a state of indecision
  • Ignores advice and lays blame
  • Nickle-and-dimes everything
  • Backs you into a corner
  • Asks for something illegal or unethical
  • Has out-of-control expectations
  • Lacks (or refuses to use) communication skills
  • Monopolizes your time
  • The seller wants to “test the market” and has been doing so for six months with no offers.
  • After being on the market for a year, your seller turns down a great offer and tells you, “I know we can do better.”
  • The seller wants you to spend a lot of money on print and online advertising, even though they are priced $25,000 higher than any other home in the area and the property is in poor good condition.
  • The cat box odor is overwhelming, and the seller refuses to do anything about it.
  • The sellers forget to tell you that they got into a dispute and didn’t pay their contractor for work performed. There now are multiple mechanic liens on their property.
  • The IRS just filed a lien on your sellers’ property for non-payment of income taxes.
  • The seller refuses to deal with the uncooperative tenant who won’t let anyone show the property.
  • The seller doesn’t tell you that the beautiful view you featured in all your advertising will be completely obstructed by the people who plan to add a second story to the house across the street.
  • The seller refuses to disclose a recent inspection report showing that there is a serious problem with the foundation.
  • The seller has done work to the house without the necessary permits and tells you, “What difference does that make? I don’t have to disclose that.”
  • The sellers lie about the real reason they’re moving — the neighbors next door work swing shift, and they blast their music every night after work until 3 a.m.
  • The sellers refuse to restrain their very protective pit bull who is especially aggressive toward children during showings.
  • Your buyer stands you up for appointments repeatedly without contacting you or apologizing.
  • Your buyer loves to look at houses but never gets around to bringing his or her spouse to see any of the properties you show.
  • The husband wants a certain style of house, and the wife wants something entirely different. Every time you take them out to look at property they fight about it. Now both are angry because you wouldn’t take either side of the argument.
  • Your buyer who committed to work with you exclusively is out viewing homes with another agent.
  • A buyer who has refused to sign a buyer’s agreement just happens to mention during a showing, “This is a great area. My sister works right around the corner at ABC Real Estate.”
  • After 50 showings, the buyer still hasn’t found the right property and shows no signs of writing on anything any time soon.
  • The buyers want to make an offer, but they don’t have enough money in their account to cover the deposit check. They tell you, “Don’t worry, we’ll get the money in soon — just don’t tell the seller.”
  • The buyer lies on the loan application.
  • The buyer uses abusive language with you or with someone else in the transaction and feels no remorse for doing so.

This list above comes from Giffen’s “9 telltale signs it’s time to fire your client,” Luke Babich’s “That’s it, I’m done! How to break up with a client,” and Bernice Ross’ “21 signs it’s time to fire that annoying client.”

What next?

Once you’ve decided to let go of that client, be sure to do the following three steps, writes Babich.

  1. Review your contract
  2. Raise your rates
  3. Be honest

The dos and don’ts of firing a client

Also, keep in mind the dos and don’ts from real estate veteran Jay Thompson’s “Rude buyers? Toxic sellers? Here are the do’s and don’ts of firing clients.”

Don’ts

  • Don’t do it via text or email (though a follow-up email after the separation may be a good idea to have a written record of the discussion). In person, though more challenging, is the best way.
  • Don’t make personal attacks. Although that might make you feel better, in the end, it does no good.
  • Don’t leave the client hanging. Offer to help them find an agent. Don’t do this for the referral, though that can ease the pain of the short-term financial loss, do it for the client. An exception to this may be if the client is the aforementioned jackass. Make sure the agent you’re referring to is aware of why and how you let the client go.
  • Don’t lie. Although it’s OK to go down the, “It’s not you, it’s me,” path, don’t ever lie to the client. Lies have a way of coming back and biting you. If you Google something like, “how to fire a client,” you’ll find some articles saying: “Tell them you’re taking your business in a new direction.” That’s the easy way out. Nothing about firing a client is easy. Lying will only further complicate things.

Do

Flip all those “don’ts” above.

  • Do it in person, keep it professional, help them find someone else, and tell the truth. 
  • Have your supporting data. If you’re letting someone go because they never keep appointments, show them your calendar. “You’ve no-showed three times.” “You’ve been late to six showings.” “You’ve never replied to five emails.” “Despite our conversation about timeliness, on May 5, you were late to two appointments.” Facts matter, opinion can be challenged.
  • Don’t let them sway your decision. All the “I’m sorry’s” and “it won’t happen again” gyrations should not change your decision to fire a client. Odds are overwhelming that it will happen again. And you’ll be right back in the uncomfortable firing chair. You’ve thought through this, stick to your decision.
  • To reiterate, always involve your broker. Always. No exceptions.
  • Be direct. Most real estate client firings center around the need to remove stress or a giant time suck. So don’t draw out the firing process and create a whole new stress or waste of time. Drawn-out client firings often devolve into finger-pointing, assigning blame and damaged egos.
  • To head all that off, keep the firing short and simple. Inform your clients that you will no longer be able to work with them. Say it as simply as possible without being rude. You don’t want to leave any room for misunderstanding here. Again, you’ve made the decision. Provide the reasons, offer to help, and move on.

Email Dani Vanderboegh

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