You’ve heard it said that there’s no pleasing some people, and if you’ve been in the real estate business long, you know it’s true. However, it seems that if you were to turn away all the picky clients out there these days, you’d spend most days thumb-twiddling in your office. With so much internet research available at people’s fingertips, clients can simply afford to be picky. So, instead of seeking to please people who are easily pleased, I’d like to suggest ways to turn “picky” clients into satisfied customers.
Just Listen to Your Clients
Most of the time, “picky” clients aren’t really that picky. Instead, they’re worried. As well as sound, reliable internet research, there’s also a lot out there that is just plain garbage that can make fearful customers afraid to trust you, the economy, the market, and the whole world. Instead of pooh-poohing these fears, allow your clients to fully vent them to you. Offer to listen to their concerns with an open mind and heart. Likely, you’ll find it easy to persuade your clients that their fears about the buying process or the market aren’t valid. Then, if they do have valid fears, these are worth listening to and addressing. It’s okay if you don’t know the answers to all picky clients’ questions on the spot. But it’s not okay to sweep them under the rug in such a case. Merely let your clients know that you’ll help them find the answer in any way you can. Then, follow through! Even if you can’t solve their problems, clients simply want to be heard, know that you care, and know you’re willing to try.
Inform Your Clients
Again, picky clients are usually fearful clients, and nothing breeds insecurity like ignorance. This isn’t to say your clients are all raging imbeciles. Quite the contrary. Your clients care and are invested, so they attempt to educate themselves about market trends, buying processes, and what to look for in an honest agent. But at the end of the day, we are the experts. We know our business, and we can separate internet fact from fiction. In fact, that’s why our clients hired us. Thus, let’s pass this knowledge on to our clients. Far from losing our monopoly on expertise, we’ll actually seem more trustworthy and professional if we share our knowledge to allay our clients’ fears. Show them you know your stuff by educating them on what it takes to make a smart real estate purchase.
Interview Your Clients
The best way to understand if your clients go beyond picky all the way to implacable is to pre-screen them before you agree to work with them. It’s true that today’s client is pickier than before, so don’t let a long list of must-have property features scare you off. Nowadays, a long list merely means the client is a serious buyer. But when your client refuses to listen to you even after you’ve listened to them, or when they refuse to be educated when they need some sound knowledge of our business, well… this may be the time to assume that they won’t just be difficult to work with. It may be that this type of client makes themselves impossible to work with by refusing in any circumstance to work with you. In this case, be kind but firm. Tell them directly that your caseload will not allow you to take new clients, if this is true, or tell them you think a better fit for the market they’re interested in is represented by another agent. Then, don’t forget to refer them. This way, you’ve done them a favor without having to commit to their obstinance. Also, don’t think word will get out that you aren’t taking clients. Saving yourself from one bad client is sometimes the equivalent of two good clients. Don’t be willing to waste your time and energies on clients who’ll think of excuses not to take your advice!
Set Boundaries with Your Clients
If you do decide to take on picky clients, or if they get pickier as the days wear on (Who hasn’t been there?), then don’t fret. Instead, I recommend setting boundaries up front, before your clients have a chance to become too choosy. In your interview process, outline “rules” for acceptable behavior, including that clients must respect that you may know properties well enough to show them without their meeting every criterion on the “list.” Perhaps you could even suggest that clients must be willing to accept an agent “veto” on their unwillingness to look at a property you know would be perfect for them, and you can establish how many “vetoes” you have before clients can refuse to see houses.
Whatever rules you establish, make sure your client agrees before he or she formally becomes a client. It’s infinitely harder to establish play-fair rules once the game has begun! I highly recommend writing down these boundaries in the form of a written business contract that outlines your roles and expectations and the client’s role and expectations. Writing this together often lets you truly understand your client and helps you work together to establish the best working relationship on equal footing. Then, if your client breaks a rule or wishes for you to do more than you agreed to do, you can merely refer to the written contract.
Empathize with Your Clients
There’s something to be said for the Golden Rule that you should do unto others as you would have done unto you. After all, if you walked a mile in your client’s moccasins, you’d likely be as frustrated, confused, angry, or picky as they are. You are coming at the whole transaction from a business perspective, but your client has a lifetime of memories wrapped up in the house their selling, or the hope of a lifetime of memories wrapped up in the home they want to buy. They aren’t as worried about the facts and figures as they are about their dreams and desires. Thus, try to see things from their perspective. If they are presented with what they see as a ludicrously high counteroffer on their dream home, it’s likely because they’re started to see that dream drift out of reach. Instead of reminding them that the market demands a higher price, go back to listening. Let them vent their concerns, and then sympathize. Sure, it won’t change the seller’s number. But it might make your clients realize they have someone in their corner, and then they’ll be in a position to listen to your advice about what’s needed to close the deal.
Say No to Your Clients
Finally, after you’ve tried every imaginable solution, including listening, empathizing, and offering creative solutions, you may determine that your client has gone from picky to impossible. If this is the case, hopefully you have a timeline in your written contract to which you can refer. That way, you’re not stuck wasting your time on someone who never intended to buy (or sell). However, if not, it’s never too late to set such boundaries and then to cut ties when those lines are crossed. If your client isn’t working with you, offer them a time limit. Say to them, “I would like to help you find a buyer for your home, Mrs. X, but it seems I may not be the best agent to find precisely what you’re looking for. I will keep trying. If in another two weeks, your house is not sold, I would like to recommend my colleague Agent X as someone who may be able to better accommodate the kind of buyer you’d prefer.” This is not a cop-out, and it’s not admitting failure or mistakes.
Sometimes it’s true that you may not be the best agent for your client, and though it hurts to say it, someone else may be a better fit. More likely, however, the client knows they are being unreasonable and that they’re shifting blame for their reticence onto you. If you present your desire to offer another agent as being in their best interests and shoulder some (undue) blame, it’s likely that your client will either ask you to stay and be willing to negotiate terms or that you’ll simply get out from under a toxic working relationship. Either is preferable to continuing to waste your time and effort!