Fatal Flaws---Dealing with Difficult Personalities or Less Than Ideal Clients

Real Estate Agent with John L Scott Market Center 700512026

In our recent ActiveRain MeetUp, it was discussed that Google looks for articles that are now longer. When I wrote this eons ago, it was long then, it's long now. BUT. It spells out some of the people we are all forced to deal with and HOW to deal with them (after you understand them). 

So...go grab a cup of coffee (or two) and read on, friend! 

My apologies for making this long...in looking at breaking it up into two parts, it just didn't flow. Hopefully it's worth the time. Or come back to it!

Part of being good at selling is "reading" your client. Studying people is one of the most fascinating subjects around and if you continue to grow in your knowledge and understanding of people as well as listen to your gut, you'll be successful in a people-oriented business like real estate.

Marilyn Ellis, author of How To Succeed in Your First Year as an Entrepeneur (and dear friend who has been a real estate client of mine) has this definition for an ideal client:

An ideal client is someone who:

1. Has the money to pay you.

2. Already knows and appreciates the value of your goods and services.

3. You like them.

She goes on to say further: "Don't discount number three. Trust your gut when choosing a client. Remember, they are already on their best behavior!"

Whatever your definition of what The Ideal Client is, below is my short list of Fatal Flaws  (my term for difficult personality traits)  or not-so-ideal clients: The Control Freak, The Know it All, The Cheapskate, The User, The Liar

 The Control Freak: (one of my least favorites)

They control the conversation, they control the pocketbook, they control their spouse (if they have one, who is often quite meek or literally and figuratively "taking a back seat") and basically tell you what THEY want and they don't care about anyone else. It can often be paired with The Know it All and they will even try to control how you drive! They will tell you how to do the entire transaction, start-to-finish. Often they are not good listeners and will readily give you their opinion as if no one else's matters.

The secret to dealing with them is getting a handle on why  they are like this and simply allowing them to be in the lead, but guiding them along the way (often gently). It can be based in insecurity and if they can control every aspect of their lives then no one can hurt them or see how really vulnerable they are. An adult child of an alcoholic parent can certainly fall into this category, or someone who's been abused as a young person. There could easily be some trust issues here. Sharing every detail with them, letting them make the decisions, keeping the door open for them to go through without pushing them allows them to feel that they are in control. (Leave your ego at the door with these people).

The Know it All:

This person often interrupts in conversation or competes with you about how much they know and will even prove to you ad nauseum how many DIFFERENT things they know and that they know more about anything than you do--even if it's your specialty! This person may have been told growing up that they were stupid by a parent, or they may have always been overshadowed by an older sibling who was always better at everything than them (or that was their perception). Often used as a defense mechanism it is to show people, "See, I AM smart!"  Truly learning from these folks helps them establish a camaraderie with you and makes them feel like they're making a difference in your world. Saying something like, "Wow, I didn't know that!" will soothe their egos and allow them to "help" you because they feel safe with you and you are acknowledging their intention and it could (or could not) allay some of their need to constantly prove their "worth".  They usually mean well, they just go about it in an annoying way!

Don't try to out-do them, as they usually are good at arguing, debating, what-have-you and you will either be out-talked, outwitted or both of you will simply end up getting pissed off and then no one WINS.

The Cheapskate:

Obviously money is going to be a BIG topic of conversation with this person, usually with the first contact! From negotiating the offer price to nit-picking with a whole laundry list of credits or To Do Lists after the inspection it can be a looooooong ride with this personality. They are almost ALWAYS in control of the money and have a long relationship with money that (possibly) wasn't good. They may work in a finance field and can be smart about money but clutch onto it like a pitbull. Every penny counts with these folks, and they WILL hold you accountable (no pun intended!) if you aren't on top of the details, receipts and costs for everything. Copious amounts of notes with numbers are good, just like any accountant would look for. Don't wash over it or try the Big Picture aspect with them, as they like details, how you came up with the numbers and what are they going to get for their almighty dollar.

Sometimes this person doesn't care one iota if the seller/buyer gets screwed, they are in it for themselves and can be giant negotiators. They also have a good memory for numbers, so be on top of your game regarding this part of the transaction!  I try to be very detail-oriented with this type of client.

Marilyn Ellis also describes what she calls a "tire kicker" in her book when defining a type of Less Than Ideal Client and further explains:

"If a client first asks about your fees, they have already disqualified themselves as ideal clients."

Which reminds me of:

The User:

When this person needs you for anything, you are like their new best friend!  They want all of the information, time and focus that you can give them RIGHT NOW. They will bolster your ego in the beginning because they let you feel like you are VERY IMPORTANT until they get what they need from you and then they're on their way to use the next person because it's all about them.  They are quite self-centered, and what I call "drama divas". It is usually a one-way relationship, "What can you do for ME?" They will suck you dry. These transactions seem to take forever, because you start saying to yourself, "I just want this person out of my life!"

Quite often these folks don't finish things, so if your radar goes up and your gut says, "Should I work with this person?" I would think twice, because you may not be able to cut loose from them as they might make you feel guilty or plead with you; they are good manipulators. They see themselves as victims and you may be their savior. Beware that they won't get the message right off that you are DONE with them.  Even after the transaction is over, they might call you with some silly little thing just to reel you back into their lives.

The Liar: 

This personality can really fool you because they throw in charisma, maybe good looks and a giant dose of ENTHUSIASM and you get swept away before you realize that everything they're telling you is what they think you want to hear and none of it is TRUE. Yikes. This personality has quite often been doing it for so long that they have themselves bamboozled and IF you try to call them on it, WHAM they come at you like a freight train. It can take awhile to sort out the truth especially if it is your seller and they are lying about problems with their home that you don't know about. OR the buyer who tells you in no uncertain terms that they HAVE the money, and how dare you even question that! (There is a certain agent who is like this and I've done my best to steer clear of any dealings with this person, it's just EASIER).

These people usually have a pretty solid memory, they have to to recall WHAT they said and to WHOM. Also, denial is another trait that goes hand-in-hand with the lying and they're quite adept at manipulation. I choose NOT to deal with this type of person and avoid them entirely.

If you have to work with these Less Than Ideal Clients you can take the following advice as my principal broker rather succinctly put it:


And by golly we all have them!  OR you can simply walk away.



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Joanna Cohlan
Fresh Eyes For Your Home - Chappaqua, NY
Designing, Decorating & Staging Westchester Homes

WOW! This post is exactly what I need, as I am now contemplating dealing with what I believe will be a very difficult client.  Right now, I think she fits the description of the Liar/Manipulator but that could change into something even worse in no time.  Thanks for sharing this wisdom Gayle.

Aug 15, 2014 01:28 PM #65
Gayle Rich-Boxman Fishhawk Lake Real Estate
John L Scott Market Center - Birkenfeld, OR
"Your Local Expert!" 503-755-2905

Joanna, liars can certainly manipulate and not feel the least bit guilty about doing it. Set your boundaries, GF!

Aug 15, 2014 02:03 PM #66
Patricia Feager, MBA, CRS, GRI,MRP
Selling Homes Changing Lives


I was glad to see your post Featured! Whew! It was a powerful read and well worth the time to ponder. Because of you, I learned a lot this evening! In this business, it may be easier to become a victim of any of these personalities, depending on how business is going at that moment in time and how much patience the business owner has. But the truth is, I am of the opinion that these characteristic traits are learned behaviors that become habits and the person doing them, is probably unaware because nobody tells them they have these annoying, bad habits or flaws.

If REALTORS were paid by the hour whether they closed a Transaction or not, like an Attorney gets paid, I would think the people you listed, i.e.,

  • Know It All
  • Control Freak,
  • Cheapskate
  • User
  • Liar

wouldn't go as far as they can as you described in each category. Once again, I am so thankful you posted this post and you definitely deserved the gold star on this one! Thank you dear Gayle!

Aug 15, 2014 03:08 PM #67
Gary Woltal
Keller Williams Realty - Flower Mound, TX
Assoc. Broker Realtor SFR Dallas Ft. Worth

I like your five characterizations of fatal flaw people. Another one is the type do they know themselves? The one who does not is all over the map with their decisions. Should I move? Is this too expensive? Should I work with you? I call them the CONFUSED client.

Aug 16, 2014 01:18 AM #68
Elyse Berman, PA
Best Connections Realty, Inc. - Boca Raton, FL
Boca Raton FL (561) 716-7824 CRS, ABR, GRI,ePR

Gail,  Very interesting post.  It has made me rethink certain clients and they do fall into your categories.  Thank you.

Aug 16, 2014 01:05 PM #69
William Johnson
Retired - La Jolla, CA
Retired Real Estate Professional

Hi Gayle, As I was reading this, I was beginning to feel like I must be living under a rock or that I have just been blessed. I have had so few of these types of clients over my career and I am very thankful. But I did recognise the traits in some of counterparts in the business, 

Aug 16, 2014 02:38 PM #70
Debb Janes EcoBroker and Bernie Stea JD
ViewHomes of Clark County - Nature As Neighbors - Camas, WA
REALTORS® in Clark County, WA

You're on a roll with the features, Gayle. Congratulations - I remember reading about these characters in a book about dating. Lol.  I guess real estate and dating are similar ( someone suggested this recently in a comment on my post)?  Fortunately, I've had mostly great dates in the last several years - guess I'm lucky. 

Aug 17, 2014 01:45 AM #71
Gayle Rich-Boxman Fishhawk Lake Real Estate
John L Scott Market Center - Birkenfeld, OR
"Your Local Expert!" 503-755-2905

Gary, thankfully, I haven't had many of these.

Elyse, it's always a learning curve with this human element, huh?!

William, you ARE very blessed and lucky. Actually, I wrote this years ago. I don't have too many like this often, either.

Debb, haha--that's hysterical! Well, thank God you and I have terrific husbands, so we don't have to deal with all of THAT. 

Aug 17, 2014 04:21 AM #72
Anna Hatridge
Goodson Realty - Farmington, MO
Missouri Realtor with Goodson Realty

I think you have got it down to about the best list I have seen.  Thanks for sharing your insights and thanks for sharing something from your pass writings.

Aug 17, 2014 09:07 AM #73
Gayle Rich-Boxman Fishhawk Lake Real Estate
John L Scott Market Center - Birkenfeld, OR
"Your Local Expert!" 503-755-2905

Anna, I sure appreciate the comment. 

Aug 17, 2014 09:55 AM #74
Karen Feltman
Cedar Rapids/Iowa City, IA KW Legacy Group - Cedar Rapids, IA
Relocation Specialist in Cedar Rapids, Iowa

I have learned who to avoid from the first consultation.   If they are one of these types, I carefully weigh whether I have the time and energy to deal with all of the things that they bring to the table.  If not, referring them might be best.  Better to get some than none!

Aug 18, 2014 08:24 AM #75
Gayle Rich-Boxman Fishhawk Lake Real Estate
John L Scott Market Center - Birkenfeld, OR
"Your Local Expert!" 503-755-2905

Karen, my niche is small andis also  where I live. I don't want to refer anything out if I can help it!

Aug 18, 2014 08:38 AM #76
Claude Labbe
Real Living | At Home - Washington, DC
Realty for Your Busy Life

I just went through a purchase, and the buyer agent was a controlling sort.  I can dance with that, but I noticed very quickly and I asked him if he was aware of that.  Perhaps it was because he felt I wasn't in charge or had some other misgivings about me.

Nope, I was his 2nd buyer agent. The 1st buyer agent had fully dropped the ball and was missing in action.  When I then asked if he had a release from the prior agent before he and I could start working our buyer agreement, the buyer didn't know what I was asking about.  Soon enough, when he noticed I was handling things as he expected, the release grip lessenned.

Aug 18, 2014 02:47 PM #77
Bill Reddington
Re/max Southern Realty - Destin, FL
Destin Florida Real Estate

Sad but true. I think thru a real estate career we seem to deal with all your types at some point. Just a question of how long.

Aug 18, 2014 02:47 PM #78
Roy Kelley
Realty Group Referrals - Gaithersburg, MD

These are great example of clients that we should consider referring to other agents. Life is too short for some of these issues.

On the other hand, you may gain much satisfaction after the settlement with a difficult client. Real estate professionals can handle almost any kind of clients, regardless of their personalities.

Aug 20, 2014 12:25 AM #79
Gayle Rich-Boxman Fishhawk Lake Real Estate
John L Scott Market Center - Birkenfeld, OR
"Your Local Expert!" 503-755-2905

Claude, good for you! He obviously ended up with the right agent.

Bill, yes, I just let go of one of these as the deal terminated. Bye bye!

Roy, I think this is my most favorite comment of yours ever. 

Aug 20, 2014 01:58 AM #80
Brian Force
Dallas, TX
Work With the Best!

Undoubtedly the most important factor in overcoming most of these types of clients is setting clear and concise expectations upfront, although that never seems to thwart the liars! 

Aug 20, 2014 05:22 AM #81
Kathleen Luiten
Resort and Second-Home Specialist - Princeville, HI
Kauai Luxury Ocean Home Sales

Great blog Gayle and NOT too long. I like Gary's addition to this list. "Confused" clients can be very difficult and I've had a few of them. My best tip when dealing with "Users" is to set clear boundaries with your time, otherwise you'll find yourself acting like their upaid personal assistant. ;-)

Aug 20, 2014 06:48 AM #82
Gayle Rich-Boxman Fishhawk Lake Real Estate
John L Scott Market Center - Birkenfeld, OR
"Your Local Expert!" 503-755-2905

Brian, you made me laugh!

Kathleen, how kind of you! Also, the users tend to hang around and want to become friends. I've had to cut some ties, as they definitely are drama divas and never seem to want to change their behavior. 


Aug 20, 2014 12:16 PM #83
Bob Crane
Woodland Management Service / Woodland Real Estate, Keller Williams Fox Cities - Stevens Point, WI
Forestland Experts! 715-204-9671

Enjoyed your long article Gayle, though not too long, the pictures make it easier to follow.

I learned a long time ago, sometimes you just need to encourage a few clients to go work with one of your competators, they may be happier, you will be happier, and your competator may thank you for a while for the referral.


Aug 26, 2014 04:38 PM #84
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Gayle Rich-Boxman Fishhawk Lake Real Estate

"Your Local Expert!" 503-755-2905
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