How Do You Fire a Referred Client, Without Burning Referral Bridges?

Services for Real Estate Pros with Classy Inbound

Every agent has been there - a client who raises your blood pressure by simply showing up on your Caller ID. They come in the form of an unreasonable seller who has lost all rationality, or a buyer who thinks you are a tour guide with no other clients, friends or family. It's never easy, but it really complicates things when the client was referred to you by a dear friend, family member or past client. Here are some tips on using old fashioned tact when telling a client 'You're Fired!' and still have a chance at referrals from the original source who referred them:

Firing Sellers:

  1. Don't tell everyone you want to meet to cancel the listing! You can call it a Market Summary Meeting.
  2. Make sure all parties who are involved are present. When you are trying to get a cancellation form signed, having one party present is never a good idea when two or more are involved. If the person who referred you is very, very close to the client, ask the seller if they mind if 'Mr. X' comes along as well, so everyone is there to hear the facts. 
  3. Bring documentation, records of EVERY move you have ever made on this property. ALL Internet ads, MLS info, every time your brain touched this file, you should have that activity recorded for all parties to see. Next, bring statistics. Your MLS is capable of much more than you realize, and your goal in this meeting is to show the sellers that THE MARKET is the reason their home is not selling, not YOU, the agent.
  4. Never, ever ever use 'I' statements to describe your opinions on pricing or condition of the home. Replace all 'I' statements with 'The Market'. Example: 'The Market shows that all homes sold in your area were priced $20,000 below where you are priced, and they took over six months to sell. The Market is showing us that we will not receive an offer while listed at ___'. Another example: 'The Market shows that homes with loud paint colors and outdated flooring don't attract offers from buyers right now'.
  5. Tell the truth, and use the truth as your exit strategy. After presenting them with the facts: Your marketing efforts, the price and condition of their home, you will need to be honest. "Mr and Mrs Seller, I offer top-notch real estate services in xyz town. When sellers hire me, they hire me to sell their home, not to have it for sale for months and months only to go through the disappointment of not selling. I would like to give you the opportunity to exit our listing agreement so that you can make the changes necessary to get your home sold, and if you feel you need to hire another agent, that is OK. I am not being honest with you if I tell you to sit and wait at this price (or sit and wait with the outdated flooring, etc. whatever the problem is, insert it here), that your home will sell. I follow the Code of Ethics as a Realtor, and your home is not going to sell at this price (or in this condition)."
  6. Be quiet now. Give them time to think. The silence will be uncomfortable, but have faith, you are 75% on your way to cancelling this energy-sucking listing and moving on to bigger and better things.
  7. Here them out. As they talk, get out the cancellation form. Mark an x next to the signature blocks as they talk. Unless they agree to fix the condition that is preventing their home to sell, or lower the price, get that signature. Just pass that form over, and say 'I honestly wish you the best of luck. If you feel you are ready to make changes in the future, please give me a call, I would love to help you again'. Give them info on when the sign will be removed, give them their key back, and leave. Smiling. Happy. Free to receive another listing that WILL sell because the seller listened to you on price and condition.

Firing Buyers:

  1. Schedule a meeting at your office. Starbucks or a local coffee shop won't work, this is BUSINESS.
  2. If their signature is on the buyer broker agreement, they need to be present for this meeting. (If you don't have a buyer broker agreement, stop reading this right now, and RUN to your nearest ABR course)
  3. Present the meeting to them as a 'review of their housing needs'. Buyers love when everything is all about them during the buying process, and this will ensure they show up, without the promise of seeing homes. Let them know 'We won't be looking at homes today, but this will help us narrow our focus'.
  4. Present them with a list of all their 'needs' and 'wants' and 'cannot have' separated in three lists - preferable on one sheet in columns. Make a copy for each party who is present so everyone can read everything easily.
  5. Print out a MLS sheet for every property you have shown them or answered questions on, even those emailed properties they found on Craigs List. It's OK if they share this list, it's probably extensive! (Don't have a record of all this? You should!)
  6. Ask them to go through the list and tell you exactly what it was about each home that prevented them from making an offer (or ruling it out during inspections). If the reason they give is not listed, add it to your copy of the list.
  7. After completing the entire list, and they have ruled out every home, show them your edited haves/wants/can't have list with the newest, latest objections.
  8. Explain solemnly that you are a top rate buyers agent, and you pride yourself on being able to find the perfect home for families. Unfortunately in their case, there is not a home that is going to match their needs; they have too many objections for their price range. Explain that there are agents who will drive them around for months in hopes for that sale, but you are not into wasting anyone's time, as time is valuable. Suggest they re-evaluate their list, and when they do, you will be ready to help them. As you are talking, slide that cancellation addendum to cancel the Buyer Broker agreement over, and give them a serious look.

What if either party refuses to sign, or hems and haws?? GOOD!! You may have a more reasonable client on your hands!! These methods are not only meant to help you out of a situation that is hopeless! Your client may recognize and acknowledge how unreasonable they have been, and change their tune! You are presenting them with a choice: Change or move on. There is no reason you have to wait for your client to get frustrated and look elsewhere for service. You have a reputation of integrity, be sure to uphold it, even in an unpleasant situation.

If you lack the records that show how much work you have done for a buyer or a seller, a Real Estate Virtual Assistant can help you track and document this information, painlessly. Please visit our web site for more information on assistant packages, we have plans for every budget.

Comments (39)

Tonya Stephens
Keller Williams Atlanta North - Marietta, GA

Great post. Every tidbit of information is key.

Jul 02, 2010 12:17 PM
Betsy Schuman Dodek
Washington Fine Properties - Washington DC Area Real Estate - Potomac, MD

This is a really great post. I am going to check out your website this week!

Sep 19, 2010 03:36 AM
Tori Toth
Tori Toth, International - Howard Beach, NY
888.667.6643 NYC & Beyond, HSR, SAR, RESA, LIBOR

Thanks for sharing...I will keep this in mind for when it comes up and I'm sure one day it will come up.

Sep 22, 2010 05:02 AM
Rose Osman
John Aaroe Group - Sherman Oaks, CA

Great information.  I have an unbelievable but true story about a client I fired:  Long story short, the client was driving crazy, e-mailing me constantly and calling 10 times a day to the point where I'd have an anxiety attack each time I saw "Private Caller" on my cell phone.  Her criteria for a new home was unrealistic and I had her (over-priced) home listed for sale with no interest.  I finally plucked up the courage to tell her very kindly that I wasn't the right agent for her and wouldn't be able to help her.  She was disappointed but moved on and ... when she finally sold her home and found a house she liked through another agent, I received a $10,000 referral fee!  Yes, it really happened!  Methinks she felt a little guilty ..

Oct 09, 2010 03:14 PM
Chris Smith
Re/Max Chay Realty Inc., Brokerage - New Tecumseth, ON
South Simcoe, Caledon, King, Orangeville Real Esta

I am learning that this is a good strategy.  However, it is much easier to do from a position of strength.

Oct 09, 2010 03:42 PM
Frank Harris
Keller Williams Realty Centre - Columbia, MD

Nice post. Even though some clients can drive us nuts, we must always be respectful. Rose a 10k fee! That is awesome

Nov 11, 2010 05:20 AM
Markelle Harden
Classy Inbound - Charlotte, NC
Digital Marketing Specialist

Thanks for the feedback everyone. December is a great time of year to go through your 'purge' list...which clients are dragging you down? Don't take them into 2011!! And if you're lucky, you'll end up in the same boat as Rose, and get a referral fee from the next agent in! (You could faciliate that; it would take some handywork, but it could be done!)

Nov 18, 2010 04:31 AM
Sharon Lancaster
Sage Executive Group Real Estate - Kelowna, BC
SRES, Realty Executives Okanagan

As with all relationships, clarity, honesty, and integrity rule... and a paper trail is never a bad idea either!

Dec 12, 2010 01:37 PM
Cece Blase
Paragon Real Estate Group - San Francisco, CA

Markelle: You offer a nice, professional alternative to doing the "disappearing act' (which I used to pull when I was younger and far more thoughtless). You also make a good point on how these appointments can serve as a means to 'test' the clients level of seriousness and commitment. I've done sessions similar to this that have wound up in an accepted offer just two weeks later.

Dec 18, 2010 04:57 PM
Kate Reilly Lund
RE/MAX Diamond, Realtors - Edison, NJ

This post proves that good advice is timeless. No one has responded to you yet in 2011 and it is just as pertinent as ever.

Katie the Real Estate Lady


Jan 23, 2011 03:06 PM
Janet McCarthy
San Diego Homes Guide - San Diego, CA
Broker Associate

I have never done this and I know I should have.  Being a newer agent I often get myself in situation because I really need a client.  It I could just stop thinking about the money and remember that I don't have to tolerate unreasonable behavior. 

Thank you for the clear strategies and words.

Feb 02, 2011 07:49 AM
Anne Lok
Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Toronto Realty - Toronto, ON
Toronto Modern Real Estate

This is definitely an all time relevant blog. I have fired a referred buyer once, simply because a couple just won't agree on their purchase decision after viewing more than 30 homes, and I kept reviewing their housing needs only to realize we go back to square one. The experience is kind of like dating and dumping someone in a relationship - " it's not you, it's me...I am having a disruption in my professional life... " In my mind I am really saying "you are an investment with no return."

Mar 19, 2011 02:37 AM
Jean Marie Ragus
American Dream Realty - Santa Cruz, CA

Great post! When I was coached by Brian Buffini, he would refer it as introducing them to the market again.

Mar 31, 2011 05:22 PM
Lise Howe
Keller Williams Capital Properties - Washington, DC
Assoc. Broker in DC, MD, VA and attorney in DC

I love the list of ideas - I am in fact going to print it out and keep it in a file for future reference. I recently fired a buyer and it was wonderful! 

Oct 06, 2011 03:52 AM
Joanna Cohlan
Fresh Eyes For Your Home - Chappaqua, NY
Designing, Decorating & Staging Westchester Homes

Sometimes you really have to trust your instincts and go this route-it's important to know you boundaries and your limits.  Thanks for this-very supportive post!

Oct 11, 2011 02:27 PM
Jark Krysinski *PREC (Personal Real Estate Corporation)

Great post! I think "right" friends can help you a lot and make your life more beautiful and easier. But the "wrong" friends~~~, just fire them! Wise decision! Good and right friends are our estate forever. Thank you for sharing with us this great post and so many good points!

Have a nice day!

Jan 30, 2012 08:50 AM
Mike Crosby
Mike Crosby Realty - Placentia, CA
Placentia- Yorba Linda Real Estate - 714-742-2897

Thank you for the very detailed post.  Yes I have fired and not taken clients, but to fire a referred calient can be hard.

May 16, 2013 04:34 AM
Tanya Van Blake-Coleman
Van Blake-Coleman Realty, St. Thomas/ - St Thomas, VI
Improving the Quality of Your Life

Grat post. These can be very awkward times and to be able to get out of a listing that will never sell or not work with a buyer who will never be satisfied  and do it gracefully in an art.

Feb 11, 2014 11:18 PM
Sybil Campbell
Fernandina Beach, FL
Referral Agent Amelia Island Florida

Great advice, most every experienced agent has found themself in a situation of needing to fire a buyer or seller.

Jun 17, 2014 02:29 PM
Eileen Begley
Coldwell Banker, DelMonte - Carmel, CA
Monterey Real Estate

Really good advice and on how to do it gracefully! Hard but you will end up making more money and living longer!

Sep 13, 2016 03:34 PM