You've Never Fired a Client? Really?

Real Estate Agent with Realty ONE Group

Last week I had the opportunity to interview with Redfin for their referral program. Though I thought the interview went well - my past interview experience was when I worked for Schwab and I was wholely invested in the decision, versus this where whatever happened would be fine - I didn't end up getting accepted into the program.

C'est la vie.

As I look back at the interview, there are questions that still are ringing in my ears, questions where I'm certain I didn't provide the answer the interviewer wanted to hear.

One was about my use of Active Rain, which I'm not going to get into again. Suffice it to say, I've been gone for a while.

Another was whether I'd ever fired a client.

My guess, at least now, is the answer was supposed to be no. Given Redfin's focus on customer satisfaction, it seems now obvious that the honest answer - that of course I have - wasn't the correct answer.

Again, c'est la vie.

Ending the business relationship with a client actually can be a benefit to customer satisfaction, inasmuch as if the client and I aren't on the same page, there's no point in working together. I don't expect clients to behave in a certain manner but they need to have a certain understanding of market conditions, or at least be open to being educated about the market.

If a client's goals are unrealistic and if they repeatedly have zero interest in my advice, why would we continue working together? Far better for them to find an agent who will satisfy their emotional need, even if that satisfaction comes with the price of never purchasing or selling a property.

Too many years were spent handling relocation clients for my former Century 21 office, where the emphasis on "the big picture" caused me to work with clients who wanted a yes man, not a true real estate professional. As an independent contractor, it was an incredible waste of time and resources.

And so, my question now is who among you - us - hasn't fired a client? And if you haven't, how have you avoided it?


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Comments (57)

Barbara-Jo Roberts Berberi, MA, PSA, TRC - Greater Clearwater Florida Residential Real Estate Professional
Charles Rutenberg Realty - Clearwater, FL
Palm Harbor, Dunedin, Clearwater, Safety Harbor

Geez, I sure have and more than one! The world has too many really NICE people to put up with those that attempt to make life difficult because they are not happy with themselves!

Jul 02, 2011 01:45 AM
Bryant Tutas
Tutas Towne Realty, Inc and Garden Views Realty, LLC - Winter Garden, FL
Selling Florida one home at a time

Good to see you Jonathan. Firing customer/clients can be a very good freeing thing to do. Hopefully the longer we are in the business and the more we learn the less this will happen because we have weeded them out prior to agreeing to work with them.

Jul 02, 2011 02:02 AM
Michael Setunsky
Woodbridge, VA
Your Commercial Real Estate Link to Northern VA

Jonathan, I've never fired a client, but I have declined business with people who I didn't think would be a good fit.

Jul 02, 2011 02:04 AM
Bryant Tutas
Tutas Towne Realty, Inc and Garden Views Realty, LLC - Winter Garden, FL
Selling Florida one home at a time

By the way, curious whatthe ActiveRain question was and how it pertained to what they were doing?

Jul 02, 2011 02:04 AM
Keith Lawrence
Christie's International - Mahwah, NJ

I have declined business with clients.

Last week I declined working with a client that had a FICO score below 500. It just was not going to happen for them.

Jul 02, 2011 02:41 AM
Tamara Inzunza
Realty One Group Capital - Alexandria, VA
Close-In Alexandria and Arlington Living

It's important to know how to exit gracefully with clients who are not a good fit. It frees you up to dedicate your time to the 5-star buyers and sellers, and not to mention your past clients who already love you!

Jul 02, 2011 02:43 AM
Chuck Carstensen
RE/MAX Results - Elk River, MN
Minnesota/Wisconsin Real Estate Expert

There are some clients you either have to fire or choose not to work with if you are going to stay sane.

Jul 02, 2011 02:48 AM
Richie Alan Naggar
people first...then business Ran Right Realty - Riverside, CA
agent & author

The thought never crossed my mine until questionable ethics came into play. Then, I had questions which would go unanswered. That would never do, so I had to separate my self from the source of the controversy which was a greedy, win at all costs client of mine who just became money focused with people getting in the way beliefs...Best thing I ever did......

Jul 02, 2011 03:20 AM
Bryan Robertson
Los Altos, CA

The expectation that an agent hasn't severed a relationship with a client is unrealistic.  If Redfin is only interested in working with people who haven't "fired" a client, they'll never get the best agents.  Every agent I know who is a top producer has fired at least one client.

Jul 02, 2011 03:44 AM
Lina Robertson
AMAX Real Estate - Springfield, MO
REALTORĀ® Serving Springfield, Nixa and Ozark, MO

You bet I have fired a client, and I wasn't sorry for it.  It was a builder who took up way too much of my time and didn't want to pay even CLOSE to full commission, and was verbally abusive as well.  If we don't set standards for ourselves, we can't expect clients to honor them.

Jul 02, 2011 03:57 AM
Stephen Howell
Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage - Annapolis, MD
Annapolis MD Homes For Sale 443-994-8043

Yes, occasionally, not often, in over ten years only a very few clients and I have parted company.  Once or twice at their initiation and one or twice at my initiation.  You see, I really only want to work with clients that want to work with me.  So, when one client hits the highway, it opens a path through the traffic jam of business to work with new/other clients, whether we saw eye-to-eye or not.

Jul 02, 2011 04:10 AM
Margaret Woda
Long & Foster Real Estate, Inc. - Crofton, MD
Maryland Real Estate & Military Relocation

Fired one last week, after she refused to accept my explanation that the state-mandated agency disclosure is required by law and obligates her to nothing, and that she didn't have to pay a penny to the broker because sellers pay it for muiltiple listed properties.  When she shot several emails my way clearly expressing that she felt like someone was trying to put something over on her, I suggested, in the most diplomatic way possible, that she check with other agents.  Who needs to spend their weekends with an adversarial untrusting buyer, when it could be spent with with one's family or garden or friends... or a client who wants and needs you!

Jul 02, 2011 05:01 AM
Natalie Tarrant
RE/MAX Little Oak Realty - Langley, BC

I have fired two clients in 15 years. There are times when its just best for everyone that you part ways. These have been buyer clients, and it was when our market was a very solid buyer's market. It seemed attitudes changed with some buyer clients and the idea of "being in control" meant to them that they were entitled to use and abuse sellers, lenders and Realtors. Everyone deserves to be treated with respect no matter what climate are market is in. 

Jul 02, 2011 05:04 AM
David A. Weaver
Peoples Bank & Trust Co. - Scottsdale, AZ
24 years helping folks finance their dreams.

Firing clients is not just within the realm of Realtors, loan orignators have to as well on occasion.  I recently had to "let go" a pre-qualified buyer client as the unreasonable demands to produce specific pre-qual letters within minutes of the request after hours and weekends, when if not met resulted in phone calls and email complaints to my supervisor for poor service.  Apparently the client thought that they were my only responsibility and I should be on call 24/7.  After three such episodes, I had enough and let them go.  In todays market we all need clients but we don't need abuse.

Jul 02, 2011 08:08 AM
Virginia (Ginger) Schott
Cabins & Canoes - Port Jervis, NY
Assoc. Broker, CBR, CHMS

I have twice now, the first was several years ago.  I have a policy of meeting all clients for the first time in the office, this one insisted and I made an exception. While dealing with him that day, he was arrogent,rude and very hostile.  When we were finished for the day I thanked him and asked if I could give his information to another agent in our office who I thought could work with his schedule. 
The second was just this week.  I had a new buyer and again I agreed to meet her at a central location as it was an evening appointment and I wanted to get in as many homes as possible and meeting 1/2 way would accomplish this.  I was running about 10minutes late as I got tied up on a phone call in the office.  She texted me several times on my way, I had to pull over to answer and saw that one said we are going to the house now, I'll call you and let you know if I want to get in.  When I did arrive at the house, she said she met the dog walker and they had let her in, so there was no need for me.  I knew at that moment there would be no controlling her and I would just increase my stress level working with her.

Jul 02, 2011 08:48 AM
Jonathan Dalton
Realty ONE Group - Glendale, AZ

If someone's arrogant, rude, hostile, imbecilic ... by all means, kick them out the door. That's common sense.

Maybe "firing" is a harsh term for "not wanting to work with them anymore." Comments above, at least some, seem defensive. Not sure why. We're independent contractors who work on a contingent basis. If someone's driving you nuts or isn't interested in the essence of your business - your knowledge, experience and advice - then on to the next one, on to the next one ...

Jul 02, 2011 08:52 AM
Eric Michael
Remerica Integrity, RealtorsĀ®, Northville, MI - Livonia, MI
Metro Detroit Real Estate Professional 734.564.1519

Like a lot of things, "firing" a client the first time is pretty difficult. Once you do it, you feel free and understand a little better the type of person you don't want to work with in the future. Plus, when you free up some time like that, another client usually fills in the gap. If not, go golfing.

Jul 02, 2011 12:49 PM
Justin Dibbs
Fairway Independent Mortgage - Ashburn, VA
Mortgage Advisor

Yep, been there done that.  Negative/difficult clients only attract more difficult clients.  Get rid of them and get the positive energy flowing.

Jul 03, 2011 04:52 PM
Matt Goyer
Redfin - Seattle, WA

Hi Jonathan,

Thanks for your interest in Redfin's referral program! I'm sorry to hear that things didn't work out. I asked our team about the question you were asked about firing clients and just wanted to let you know that there is no right or wrong answer. Redfin has parted ways with clients in the past, we understand that other agents do so as well. Of course we all hope that we can establish from the beginning whether a client will be a good fit for us, and vice-versa, but sometimes life doesn't work out as planned. 

Jul 05, 2011 07:33 AM
Jonathan Dalton
Realty ONE Group - Glendale, AZ

Much appreciated, Matt ... I didn't think it was that question, though I do think if there aren't right or wrong answers there likely are "better" and "not as good" answers. :-)

What I most appreciated about the interview is it got me thinking about some aspects of my business that I take for granted. The necessity of firing clients was one such item asked about that proved to be rather thought provoking. That it was asked, to my mind, also shed some light on Redfin as well. Having been a part of interview teams in my corporate life, it's always interesting to relate the questions asked to how the company behaves, especially given the focus the last decade on "tell me about a time" ...

Jul 05, 2011 10:41 AM