3 great ways to handle high-maintenance clients

The majority of them can be pleased -- it just takes a lot of time and hand-holding

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By TARA-NICHOLLE NELSON

We’ve all had them. You might have one now. That seller who takes your comps, cross-references them, adds in seven more, and builds out a spreadsheet — complete with formulas — then wants you to get them into each of the properties so she can point out the comps’ outdated paint colors, inferior appliance brands or other reasons she thinks she should get double the price for her home. The buyer who sees 45 houses before deciding he wants to see a condo, then sees 50 of those before revealing that his palm reader and rabbit jointly hold final decision-making power.

OK, I might be exaggerating the factual scenarios (a tad). But in the life of an agent, three things are inevitable: death, taxes and high-maintenance clients. Some are both high-maintenance and unreasonable, and these folks can become a massive hemorrhage of time, gas and energy. It’s also demotivating and frustrating to work with high-maintenance clients who are beyond pleasing.

That said, the majority of high-maintenance clients can be pleased — it just takes a lot of time and hand-holding. These folks often know that they are high-maintenance and will rave for a lifetime about the agent who can deal with their demands, and therefore represent a great way to improve your online reviews and reputation if you serve them well.

In either event, it’s helpful to have some perspective and tools for understanding and handling high-maintenance buyers and sellers. Here are a few I’ve used:

1. Scrum ‘em — Schedule short, regular meetings

Many high-maintenance clients demand attention for reasons more emotional than transactional, as they are typically very anxious about the prospect of buying or selling. They worry they will make the wrong decision if they don’t ask every question that comes to mind, among other emotional mistakes clients are prone to making.

In the tech world, software developers often work on and manage projects via a series of intensive work sprints they call “scrums.” As good ol’ Wikipedia says: “A key principle of Scrum is its recognition that during a project the customers can change their minds about what they want and need (often called requirements churn), and that unpredicted challenges cannot be easily addressed in a traditional predictive or planned manner.”

Sound like any project you’ve ever managed? Well, one of the primary tactical elements that make scrums successful is a daily meeting, time-blocked to run no longer than 15 minutes. I’m not suggesting you talk with every client every day, but if you have a high-maintenance buyer or seller, you can head off random, anxious calls at the pass by setting a regular time for 15-minute check-in calls.

Let your high-maintenance client know you’ll be doing a quick call at a certain time every other day or every week, or whatever makes sense, and that the format will always be as follows: Each of you will explain what you’ve done since the last check-in to move things forward; each of you will brief the other on what you’re planning to do; and each of you will surface any concerns or stumbling blocks you’re encountering.

This helps create predictability around your communications and will also help surface things your client might be doing to unwittingly sabotage themselves (e.g., not giving buyer’s brokers access to the property), so you can help course-correct them or plan for deeper conversations as needed.

2. “Yes, and …” your clients

When your high-maintenance client gives you bizarro objections to whatever advice you’ve given, use “Yes, and. …” Acknowledging their concerns is just plain old respectful, and it also helps them feel heard. Many people hear “No, that’s not right” or “I guess, but …” as defensive or negating the way they feel. The feeling that their own agent isn’t hearing them is at the root of quite a lot of bad client behavior, and demands for time, attention and debates about what to do next.

What comes after “Yes, and …” should be your experience, the facts they are failing to account for or your strategic advice on the matter.

Here’s an example of how to use “Yes, and …” to demonstrate the dangers of overpricing: “Yes, you absolutely do have the final say about what to offer on this property. And I know that you love the place, and would be frustrated if you lose another place. I also know that there are seven other offers on the property, and that the successful buyers on the last four properties on that street paid right around 110 percent of asking. That’s why I’m suggesting you come up to this price point, if you want to be successful.”

3. Get out in front of their questions — then speak their language

Much of what can be irritating about a high-maintenance client arises from feeling exasperated at their requirement of an inordinate amount of time and energy to go through questions, properties or details as compared to other buyers and sellers you’ve worked with. But here’s the truth: Unless you’re prepared not to work with them at all, or to refer them out to another agent who has more time, there’s probably not much you can do to change someone’s decision-making style or process.

In fact, the most deliberate buyers and sellers, the ones who put you through the most intense of wringers, are often the ones who leave the happiest with their transactions and with you, because they lack the nagging questions, lingering doubts and “what ifs” that more decisive clients often develop after closing.

So, if you know someone is going to want to dissect every comp in excruciating detail and that they feel their design and decor make their home more valuable than the others, go in offering your knowledge of the comparable listings and brief them on what value local buyers assign to design and decor. When a new home comes onto the market in their area, send them the listing and encourage them to attend the open house so you can compare and contrast it with them.

If you’re working with a buyer who made their own comps spreadsheet before making an offer, when you get the inspection reports in, send them over with your own spreadsheet listing out the repair line items and categorizing them by report, by urgency of action, etc. — and use that to drive your conversation with them about contingency removals.

Some of your high-maintenance clients will relax and become much less demanding when they feel that you care about what they care about and are willing to speak their language in terms of resolving their questions and concerns throughout the transaction. Is this time-consuming? Yes. But the level of trust it builds is often well worth the time, and if you attempt to anticipate these sorts of questions in earnest, you’ll be in position to build out your answers when it’s convenient to you, instead of in fire-drill fashion the day the contingency removal is due.

This post was originally published on the Trulia Pro Blog. Follow Trulia Pro on Twitter: @TruliaPro.