Once realtors find out I have a doctorate in psychology, the stories start to flow. One thing that comes up almost like clockwork? They almost always ask me how to deal with their toxic clients.
Since it’s such a common question, I decided to put together this guide on how to recognize and deal with toxic buyers and sellers.
You can’t always spot them right away, but with a little practice, the red flags become quickly apparent.
Here are some horror stories, tips and tricks to recognizing and dealing with toxic clients as an agent.
The 5 Types of Toxic Clients You’ll Get as a Realtor & How to Deal with Them
I’m sure you’d agree that there are likely far more than five types of toxic clients you’ll come across, but these are the most prevalent that seem to show themselves in the market.
Type One: They Know Best
These clients believe they know it all, distrust your expertise, disregard your advice, and it often leads to their great frustration.
These are clients who believe they simply know best how real estate works, and most assuredly don’t.
Some great examples of the “they know best” client is the seller who wants to set the price of their own home, or the low-balling buyer who thinks they’ll even get a response bidding so far below the asking price it’s embarrassing.
The seller ends up with a home that sits on the market, and the low-balling client is without one completely while continuing to waste your time.
How To Deal with They Know Best Clients
Educate, give them stats, and include them in the process. These are people who want to score a great deal or somehow work the system, they just don’t know how negotiating, or other areas, truly work.
Be honest with sellers about pricing and why it matters. Start talking to these low-balling buyers before bidding how every home around their dream house has sold for 5% over list price, and ask why their situation would be different.
Be patient, and they’ll often come around. You might lose a couple of offers before they come around, but through education you’ll close the deal.
Type Two: The Impossible Negative
These clients are unreasonable, pessimistic, and resistant to consultation. They want a house on the beach in Miami for a price that would be a fixer upper in a flyover state, and complain that every listing you show them isn’t good enough.
Even worse, they will likely even continue to ask for showings of properties that you are certain will not result in a sale. Whether on the buy or sell side, these clients can be exasperating and stay with you for a very long time until they finally give up or give in.
How To Deal with The Impossible Negative Client
Avoid them. When you sense from your first meeting that they’re unreasonable, ask to set up an informal “expectations meeting” to get a better handle on what they’re looking for.
This is a great situation when, for the price of a cup of coffee and an hour of your time, you can save yourself unlimited hassle.
Let them speak about what they’re looking for, don’t interrupt them, look for red flags, and politely state that you don’t feel like you’ll be able to get them what they’re looking for.
Truth is, no one will.
Type Three: Relentlessly Demanding
These are clients that have a feel to them. Unlike the impossible negatives, these individuals might have perfectly reasonable expectations.
They can be very nice people, but are terrible energy vampires who expect you to be on call to their every whim or idea. They may ask you to research building codes simply because they’re “curious,” or expect immediate answers on questions irrelevant to their search or sale.
How To Deal with Relentlessly Demanding Clients
Set boundaries. I know, we all want to go above and beyond for clients, but there comes a time when you just can’t continue to spend unlimited time on something irrelevant to the search.
Politely redirect them.
For example, if they want you to research building codes because of “curiosity,” state that you simply don’t have the time to do things outside of the search right now, and give them a name so that they can look into it on their own.
These clients can be initially put off and push you, but hold firm, and remind them of the importance of staying focused when you close the deal.
Type Four: Disrespectful
These are the worst kind of toxic clients. Sure, it’s okay for clients to have some valid frustrations because emotions run high…but this is different. It goes too far.
It’s not about the process or their disappointment, it’s a personal attack on you. They are not just inappropriate, they can be downright verbally abusive, venting their anger in inappropriate ways, and then still continue to want to use you.
Ultimately, these individuals don’t view you as a professional, but as a servant. They look down on you, are demanding of you, and treat you in ways you’d never put up with in any other circumstance.
How to Deal with Disrespectful Clients
Avoid them. Meeting a new agent is like a first date, and it should be when clients are on their best behavior.
Yes, people can be unlikeable or have a personality you just don’t click with, but this is beyond that.
If you already see that a client is speaking disrespectfully, in a way that is demeaning or offensive to you, walk away.
Type Five: The Ghost Client
They might seem incredibly interested in a property yet don’t respond to emails/texts, they may be nice to you in person but send biting or mean emails.
They may even seem to be completely satisfied with the course of the upcoming transaction and then have a “secret” plan for reducing the price that they don’t share with you and comes out of nowhere.
These are tough clients because they are unpredictable, can give you mixed messages, and can ultimately spoil great deals.
How to Deal with The Ghost Client
Call them out.
A lot of times, we hold back saying things to avoid uncomfortable discussions, and in this case it will end up spoiling deals at the end.
For example, if you find they are inconsistent in their communication, let them know that while you understand that we’re all busy, during the process and especially negotiations that it’s going to be essential that they’re at their phone and responsive so you can get the deal done.
People are usually pretty surprised when you call them out, but if done in a way that is professional and lays out the importance, you’ll find that often these clients will fall in line.
How to Spot Red Flags & Avoid Toxic Real Estate Clients in The First Place
When meeting with potential clients, we’re usually listening for real estate related questions we already have in our head, but not focusing too much on the details of what kind of client we’re taking on.
Perk up your ears and listen for these 7 potential red flags when screening your buyers and sellers.
7 Red Flag Client Behaviors to Watch Out For:
- They’re Overly Demanding.
They want urgent responses and they’re not even your client yet. While you might be an agent on your game, they are already attempting to manage you. Either you feel you can redirect these clients’ expectations, or let them go.
- They Lack Clarity.
They don’t know what they need or want and are generally unclear. This can either be a process of discovery, or a pattern of indecisiveness you don’t want.
- They Expect Free Work.
They expect you to work without a contract while they ‘test you out.’ You are not a car, don’t give test drives.
- They Lie.
They may have mentioned earlier that they are selling due to a pending divorce, but now say they just want to downsize. Lying to someone who has no skin in the game is a bad sign.
- They’re Inconsistent Communicators.
If they have difficulties even setting up or holding to initial appointments or calls, that isn’t a wonderful sign of things to come. Weigh whether they can be educated or if this is a persistent pattern.
- They Bad Mouth Several Previous Agents.
While there are certainly some ineffective agents out there, a pattern of problems with previous agents usually reflects on a problem with the client.
- They are Belittling or Rude.
Like a first date, this is when clients are usually on their best behavior. If they are rude now, just wait until they get comfortable.
Do you hear the future problems you may be facing or clients who seem like someone you can help?
Do they seem like they simply don’t know how to work with an agent and would respond to redirection, or do they have problems that just seem like part of who they are.
Listen carefully and if your gut is telling you to pass, you might be very glad you did.
While some might not have the luxury of passing on clients when they have bills to pay, consider this a preventative measure that saves you time, hassle, and a bit of sanity.
While everyone has to take on clients they might not always like, you can often avoid the worst of them by simply taking an extra moment to attend to things your normally don’t.
Red Flags But You Need The Client? Teach People How to Treat You
Once you have a toxic client, you can go a couple of ways.
Are they abusive? Ditch them.
There is never a reason to put up with verbal abuse to make a few bucks.
If you take these people on, or take their friends on, you’ll be swimming with weights on your back for a very long time just trying to keep your head above water and hold on to your dignity.
If they’re just difficult or demanding? You have to educate them.
“I often joke that we are real estate social workers, and to some extent that is true.” Sheryl English Realtor at Blackjack Realty
Educating clients is hard, but unless you want to suffer, you need to learn how.
It requires sometimes drawing firm boundaries, holding to them, keeping their expectations in check, and really showing them how you do business.
There is a pretty well known phrase in psychology that we all “teach people how to treat us” by what we put up with and what we tolerate both in our personal and professional lives.
Have confidence to know the value of what you offer, advocating for yourself, and politely begin the process from the very beginning of giving clients clear direction in how you operate and what they can expect.
Nightmare Clients and Lessons Learned…
David Welch is a broker associate from Re/Max 200 Realty, who, like most of us, has been burned by toxic clients.
Early in his career, he was contacted by buyers who had been looking for a home for two years with no luck.
Eager for a challenge, he took them on, but noticed the tell tale signs of a toxic client in their very first appointment together…
“He complained about my car, a one or two year old Honda Accord. ‘I thought successful Realtors drive Cadillacs?’ he said. I told him ‘smart ones drive Hondas.’ Today, I would tell them they should find another agent with a Cadillac, because I knew he would be trouble.”
It started a trajectory of pessimistic and rude behavior with clients who were impossible to please. The clients became overwhelming in their demands and were constantly complaining and changing their mind.
Their time together ended with the client spilling coffee all over his car, denying it, and then later blaming it on the agent’s driving. That was the braking point for David…
“I was on the expressway going about 65 miles an hour, when I slammed on the brakes, pulled over and told them I was done. I drove them back to their apartment in complete silence. When I got back to their place I asked for my card back, told them to never refer me to anyone, and take my phone number out of their phones…. I never wanted to hear from them again.”
How does it get to this? While David surmised that “life is their too short to work with jerks,” and moved along, he later became curious to see if the couple ever did buy a home.
They did, two years later. He wondered, “How many other agents had to put up with this guy, before they bought?”
My Takeaway: Don’t Allow Toxic Clients to Drive You From a Career You Love
While David decided to ditch his toxic clients, he didn’t let them scare him away from real estate. Today he is happily working as a broker in Florida, and still has passion for his career.
In order to make it as a Realtor you’re going to have to learn to deal with toxic people… FAST. Don’t let them drive you from a job you love.
Have a method that helps you deal with toxic clients? We’d love to hear about it.