We all have days where we find ourselves with our head in our hands, elbows on our desk, muttering, “How can they not know this? HOW?” Our clients—simultaneously our greatest source of motivation and frustration—are often bewilderingly uninformed when it comes to the basics of what we do for a living.
Here are the top 15 things we wish our clients knew about us—and about real estate in general.
1. We Make Less Money Than You Think
Whether your client is doing the math in their head during your listing appointment or gawking at the commission line on their closing statement, it’s pretty common for them to think, “Wait, I’m paying you HOW MUCH?!?”
We all know that even though you can make a great living in the real estate industry, the number your client is imagining isn’t anywhere close to the amount that hits your bank account.
Not only do we have brokers to pay, but we also cover expenses like marketing, lead generation, and technology. We’ve also got to pay for things like health insurance and taxes out of pocket—the sorts of things that most of our clients don’t even consider.
The reality is that as agents, we’re lucky to take home 25% of the commission bottom line.
2. Homeownership Isn’t for Everyone
Nobody wants to squash the American Dream, but let’s be honest, homeownership isn’t for everyone. We’ve all had clients who make us realize after spending a few days (or even a few minutes) in their company that working with them just isn’t a good idea.
Being a homeowner is a lot of responsibility. Homeowners have upkeep, regular maintenance, and improvements to cover. They’ll also be required to pay taxes, insurance, and utilities on top of their mortgage payment—all the while monitoring the health of their investment.
The fact of the matter is, some buyers simply aren’t aware of what it means to be a homeowner and the additional expenses involved—and once they find out all that it entails, they reconsider.
3. Our Contract Makes Us Exclusive—Stop Talking to Other Realtors
We’ve all been there—chatting with our client about plans to show them homes this upcoming weekend when they casually mention that their other agent already has showings scheduled.
When two (or, God forbid, more than two) agents discover they’re working for the same client, things get sticky very quickly. In some states, add to the mix that just the act of showing homes to a buyer creates implied agency—and suddenly you’ve got a real situation on your hands.
It sucks, but when this happens (and it will eventually), you’ve got to be professional, work with the other agent involved, and figure out a solution.
Pro Tip: Want Well-informed Clients? Do These Three Things
4. You Are Not Likely to Find Your Dream Home
HGTV has trained our real estate buyers to think that they’re going to find their dream home. In reality, we as real estate agents know that this is very unlikely to happen.
Even though our buyers see people with absolutely ridiculous criteria and a limited budget miraculously pluck a needle from a haystack on TV—getting exactly what they’re looking for in about 10 minutes—we understand from experience that buying a home is more about consistency and compromise.
Of course, if your client has listed absolute must-haves for their next home, we want to find them. But checking off absolutely everything on the list? Unlikely to happen.
5. Every Home Needs Staging, No Matter How Great Your Decorating Taste
It doesn’t matter whose house you’re selling—every single home needs some form of staging. Many of our clients fancy themselves the next Joanna Gaines, and while they may have legit interior decorating skills, they fail to realize that they’ve decorated their home to live in, not to sell.
Commonly used furnishing and decor strategies that are designed to maximize space and flow serve to give potential buyers a better window into what it would be like to have their stuff in the home.
These strategies are often counter to how people live in their own homes, so staging your client’s home is, more often than not, essential to success.
6. Buying a Home Requires Cash, Even if You’ve Secured a Mortgage
Yes, we all know buying a home is expensive, but that’s what the mortgage is for, right?
As agents, we know there’s more to every transaction than just the money the bank is giving you. When buying a home, your client needs to have cash reserved for a down payment, an inspection, an appraisal, and to cover closing costs from their mortgage and title companies—not to mention miscellaneous expenses that might pop up through the escrow process.
A savvy buyer has an additional 2% of their home’s purchase price in cash reserves to cover out-of-pocket expenses.
7. Selling Your Home Also Requires Cash
Some of the most challenging sellers to work with are the ones who are cash-poor. The fact of the matter is, even though the expenses are different for a seller than for a buyer, sellers still need to be aware of out-of-pocket costs.
Staging, curb appeal improvement, professional cleaning, some closing fees, and, of course, moving expenses often can’t be paid for using the proceeds of a client’s sale. Sellers should reserve 1% of their estimated sale price in cash to cover these potential expenses.
8. Your Zestimate Isn’t Accurate
I’ve honestly lost track of how many times I’ve had to explain to clients that their Zestimate is, at best, a starting point for the value conversation about their home. Sellers see a high number on their Zillow app and don’t stop to consider whether or not it’s accurate. They are too busy making plans for the money they think they’ll generate by selling their house for Zillow’s outsized and outrageous estimated value.
Pro tip: The more volatile the market, the less accurate automated home valuation tools like Zestimates can be. These tools work by conducting mini comparable market analyses (CMAs) based on very general data. So the faster a market is moving, the harder it is for those tools to yield accurate results. Make sure to offer your clients and prospects personalized CMAs. Share your process with them and let them know why your estimated valuation is accurate, and why the other guys’ aren’t.
The Market Snapshot tool from Top Producer can help realtors by giving you what you need to easily send your clients accurate, up-to-date CMAs in a format that your clients will actually read and understand.
9. An Open House Is Likely to Benefit Me More Than You
Open houses are good for a lot of different parties in a real estate transaction. Buyers like them because they are a low-pressure way of independently looking at multiple properties in one day.
Agents like them because open houses provide an opportunity to get in front of a bunch of prospective clients, collect lead information, hand out business cards, and earn new business.
So, why do sellers like them? It’s not because they bring the best offers. Open houses may generate a lot of traffic, but the vast majority of qualified offers come from represented buyers through private showings.
Our theory is that sellers like open houses because they satisfy the client’s need to know that their agent is actively working to sell their home. Open houses are visible, public, and an event. Still, sellers build up the open house up in their mind as the “day their house gets sold.”
10. Once You’ve Applied for a Mortgage, Don’t Change Your Financial Situation
In general, most real estate agents report that the topic their buyers are least educated about is financing—specifically, qualifications, timelines, and processes. How many times have you helped buyers who’ve secured a mortgage pre-approval, but who don’t realize they don’t yet have a mortgage? What they do have is a budget to start shopping for a home.
The worst thing your buyer client can do during their mortgage approval process is to change their financials. Moving the needle (in the wrong direction) on the debt-to-income ratio by doing major credit card shopping, getting a small personal loan, or even buying a vehicle can completely submarine their mortgage approval.
11. I Can Fire You
It’s true. We can fire clients. Yes, even listing clients. If your buyer or seller client is toxic, abusive, or has proven themself to be unworthy of your time, emotional energy, or resources—feel free to release that client!
Should you choose this route, most buyers and sellers will leave with their tails between their legs. But clients who make a stink—especially those with whom you have a listing contract—need to be reminded that their listing contract is actually with the brokerage you work for, and not with you personally. If they want to remain listed with the brokerage, your broker can easily reassign their listing to another agent.
12. I Have a Life Outside My Job
A lot is expected of real estate professionals when it comes to scheduling and availability. Think about it. Nobody gets mad at their doctor or their accountant when they don’t pick up the phone to answer a question at 9:30 on a Sunday night. But when your phone goes to voicemail, your clients may react as though the world is coming to an end.
Look, we get it. There will be rare instances when time is of the essence and, to act in our client’s best interest, we need to be on call. But those occurrences are so few and far between, they’re almost not worth mentioning.
The truth is, our clients have outsized expectations regarding our availability. But that doesn’t mean you should stop living your life. Setting appropriate expectations and boundaries around your time and ensuring everyone in a transaction understands when and how they can reach you is critical to your success.
Pro tip: When it’s time to unplug for a little while, a virtual phone system is an excellent tool to help you. Grasshopper offers a simple solution, letting you easily switch between your personal and work cell number on the same device with just a few clicks—and you won’t need to carry two phones around. Check out how Grasshopper can help you create better work-life balance.
13. I Negotiate for a Living, Trust Me
“Let’s just put in a low-ball offer, see what they say.”
These 12 words have provided a steady stream of revenue for wine and liquor stores located next door to real estate brokerages for years. Whether it’s a buyer who wants to take a moonshot with a near-insult level, low-ball offer—or a seller who feels emboldened by their recent Zestimate to respond with an over-asking counter offer—our clients regularly feel like they should be the ones in the negotiation driver’s seat.
What buyers and sellers lack are perspective and experience. They don’t have your practiced negotiating skills, the transactions you’ve got under your belt, the tried-and-tested strategies that have helped you get ink on the dotted lines. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be open to new ideas or approaches, but when it comes to the nitty-gritty, back-and-forth of negotiations, our clients hired us for our experience.
14. Your Home Is Likely Worth Less Than You Think
Believe it or not, most sellers don’t walk through a thorough comparative analysis of their home when coming up with their desired selling price.
They hop on Zillow, see what the neighbor’s house is listed for, see what a couple of homes across the street sold for a couple of years ago. Then they run all that haphazard data through the filter of “this living room is where my kids took their first steps and the backyard is where we took their prom photos and oh-my-god-I-love-this-house”—and BAM!—their house is worth $88 million.
You can’t put a dollar value on emotions and memories, but you certainly can’t price a house based on them either.
15. You Need to Read Every Single Word of Any Contract You Sign
This advice feels like something we shouldn’t have to remind our clients about, but honestly, it is shocking how many clients don’t read the contracts that directly affect the most significant financial moments of their lives.
I even go as far as to read them out loud if I think it’s necessary to help them completely understand exactly what they’re committing to. The reality is, as a fiduciary for our clients, we have a responsibility to put their best interests front and center. That means getting creative (and staying persistent) in making sure they are entirely in the know, every step of the way.
What did we miss in our realtor-client reality check? What are some things you wish you could help your clients understand—that they currently don’t have a clue about? Tell us in the comments below.