By Riki Markowitz
Real estate can be a rough industry. You can’t say it’s like playing chess compared to the other checkers-playing careers in the service industry because in chess, there’s no emotional body slamming. RealtyLine has spoken with industry insiders who say the career is not exactly “worse” than other service jobs. “Abusive is the word I’m looking for,” says Eunice Garza, an agent with Resident Realty.
“It’s an industry that is universally not respected,” she explains. So like any self-respecting real estate agent, she’s had to fire a few clients over the course of her career. On average, Garza has only fired less than one client a year, which is a pretty standard number for experienced agent/brokers. Those starting out in the business, however, don’t know when it’s time to fire a client, or how to do it. At the start of their career, no less, many agents allow bad behaviors to go on entirely too long. After spending dozens of hours on schooling and training, and maybe even working more than one job until real estate can pay the bills, firing every client who has said something rude or made you feel like an Uber driver/tour guide doesn’t always seem very judicious. It’s hard to fire a client after you’ve invested so much time in them.
There are a few ways of looking at this situation. On the one hand, you can keep investing your time. But with each hour you spend driving around town showing properties, giving frequent updates on your work, plus the cost of gas and wear and tear on your car, even if the relationship ends in a closing, your fee actually gets smaller and smaller. Some clients have no problem pulling the rug out from under an agent’s feet and deciding to go with someone different, regardless of how much time or money you’ve invested in working together. It’s really important for your career and your mental health to know when to fire a client and cut your losses.
Earlier in her career, Garza was helping her best friend look for a home. Whenever the friend called, Garza answered. When the friend finally settled on a property, Garza was excited to start on the contract. “And then she says, ‘My cousin is going to write the contract.’ Needless to say, I told her it’s over. Our business and friendship are over,” said Garza.
One thing that can be confusing is that in training, aspiring REALTORS are told all the time to tap their personal network. Some of the first clients for many agents are friends and family members. Garza said she didn’t see this coming with her best friend. She was deeply hurt and very angry. Garza says that sometimes the person you have to fire is a good a friend. Hopefully you find out your friend’s intentions long before making a large time investment.
Bonnie Neel is a mortgage agent. She too has dealt with the phone tag, procrastinators and dishonest clients. More than a few times, she’s had customers attempt to lie about their income. “I could lose my license,” Neel says. “They’re basically committing a crime.”
There’s a saying that Garza really likes, “Friends don’t ask friends to commit felonies.” And what about all those clients who aren’t your friends? “Sellers don’t always feel compelled to tell the truth on disclosures,” Garza says. “They may want to hide things so they can show their property in the best light. So we no longer write disclosures for them.”
The good news is that most clients won’t ask you to commit a crime. But you do need to be able to recognize if a client is doing something illegal — intentionally or not. And then promptly fire any felonious client.
As far as toxic clients are concerned, the most common issue you will encounter are those who can’t be pleased. These are the clients who will have a direct link to your headaches, anxiety, insomnia and fear of a ringing telephone. These are also the clients who are going to help you build up your emotional armor.
Lorrie Westberry, a broker/owner at Classic Realty, was at a friend’s house for game night and met a man who told her he had 10 acres on a major highway adjacent to a subdivision and he was ready to sell. He believed the property was worth $1.4 million. So Westberry made an appointment to visit him on the property. “It was not on a major highway. It was behind the subdivision. He still felt it was worth all this money.” Westberry listed the property and had an expert look at the land. It turns out that eight of the acres were in a floodplain.
First the client balked that Westberry had the inspection, saying, “I didn’t give you permission to do that.” He also wanted her to give him weekly updates. She felt like she could sell the property for $450k if he put some work into it; he didn’t want to do the work. Then he upped his demands for telephone updates, wanted a daily list of 10 developers that she contacted and told her to have professional photos taken of all 10 acres.
Westberry finally went out to the client’s house. The client sulked and wouldn’t sit down at the table. When Westberry left the house she was holding a signed client-termination form.
This is a pretty typical story about the toxic real estate client. But even after finding out a client was dishonest about a property’s value and location, his increasing demands for more time and attention and sulking behavior, a lot of agents will still hold off on firing the client and instead, go to their professional network for advice. They’ll also Google “When should a REALTOR fire their client?” Here’s a shortcut: If you are Googling the keywords, REALTOR, fire and client, then you probably should have fired the client long ago.
So now you’re convinced that it’s time to fire the client who has been an evasive, demanding, rude, ridiculing micromanager. What’s the next step? The last thing you need is a difficult client leaving a scathing online review about you. So, if you’re feeling emotional, give yourself time to calm down. After a day or so, send a professional, polite letter sending them on their way.
Real estate professionals have to keep in mind that not all clients and agents will be a good match. One thing that newer agents can’t always get past is that it’s really hard to fire a client who could possibly provide a paycheck. It’s easy for experienced agents to say, “Just fire her,” because they have a roster of clients and can choose who to work with. But instead of trying to please someone who can’t be pleased, be kind to yourself by firing them. Then use your newfound free time to make yourself available to all those great clients who will still be with you when you’re an industry veteran. RL