Bad news is just part of the reality for real estate agents. Here’s how to deliver it effectively while ensuring clients are properly prepared and educated.

This post was updated Aug. 23, 2023.

This is the first in a two-part series on identifying common bad-news scenarios and communicating about them effectively. Read part 2 here.

As real estate agents, we are in the position of delivering some of the best news of our clients’ lives. Buying or selling a home is a major life event, one that our clients often remember alongside weddings, births and big promotions.

Yet, because it feels so good to deliver good news, agents often really dread delivering bad news. By preparing for bad news before it ever happens, and educating the client every step of the way, bad news does not have to derail the transaction — and your clients can have a better experience overall. 

Educate and set expectations before bad news ever happens

The most critical facet to delivering bad news is to first educate your clients on the possibility of bad news before it ever happens and expectation-set with them from the beginning.

  • Do you know that your sellers’ home has a 15-year-old HVAC? Make sure they understand that it’s likely to inspect poorly.
  • Did your buyers win a multiple-offer scenario and offer a price that current comparables can’t support? Make sure they understand that the appraisal will likely be a problem.

While it’s impossible to predict every possible problem that could occur (and it’s inadvisable to make your clients lose sleep over low-likelihood scenarios), it’s critical to educate your clients on common and likely problems and set their expectations as to how likely it is for those to occur.

Bad news doesn’t age well, so don’t delay

Because it’s no fun to deliver bad news, many agents will wait until the last minute hoping (against hope) that the bad news doesn’t materialize. This is counterproductive because it injects more stress into the situation for your clients. Now you’re delivering bad news under duress, creating a tight window for your clients to make a decision.

It’s much better to deliver bad news as soon as you know it might happen – no matter how small the likelihood. This allows your clients to start planning in case it does happen and thinking through their thoughts and feelings. And if it doesn’t happen? You’ve shown yourself to be a transparent and strategic agent and built further trust between you and your clients.

It’s also important to deliver bad news over the phone. Many clients prefer to schedule calls, so let them know the headline of what you’ll discuss when you set up a time to chat.

For instance, “I need to chat for 15-30 minutes. We have some bad news concerning the inspection.” 

Delivering a topline summary beforehand helps them prepare for the discussion and reduces anxiety. As well, it’s best not to be ambiguous in the discussion and tell it straight so that you can come to the best solution in a timely manner. Having empathy is critical for how this impacts their lives, but everyone is better served in the long run with all the facts on the table. 

Keep things in perspective 

It’s crucial for agents to shift their personal perspectives on bad news before they ever call their clients. This will help the agent stay calm and in control of the conversation while delivering the news with confidence. While your client may view bad news with devastation, you can be prepared to show sympathy and offer up next steps fast. 

Consider the workday of a cardiologist or oncologist: Every day, they deliver truly bad news to patients. Yet, in our line of work, everything is correctable; we can find another house, find another buyer or work through the problem in some other way with our clients.  

Act with confidence during common scenarios

While bad news happens sometimes — especially since many things are out of an agent’s control — there are common scenarios such as bad inspections, losing out on an offer, buyers terminating and delayed closings for which you can prepare due to their frequency. By committing to empathy, education and solid second and third options, you can ensure your clients feel confident in how you all proceed toward success. 

Next up, in part two, Eric Bramlett talks about some of the most common bad-news conversations and offers practical tips for communicating about them.

Eric Bramlett is the owner of Bramlett Residential, a mid-sized real estate brokerage in Austin, Texas. Connect with him on Instagram and LinkedIn.

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