Working With the Difficult Ones

Real Estate Agent with GreatWest Realty DRE# 00827565

In my 37 years as a Realtor, I've known few real estate professionals, who at one time or another haven’t occasionally had a difficult or nearly impossible client to work with. The methods which agents have handled these situations have varied. 

(1) Some agents simply fire the client.  With a seller, they either forego listing the home, or cancel and give back the listing.  With buyers, they say something in the realm of "Hasta la vista, Baby," or "Don't let the door hit you on the A#% on the way out."

(2) Other real estate professionals will coddle, or try reasoning with an unreasonable client.  I remember a particular agent continually saying, "I think we are just having a communication problem."   

(3) A few agents will choose the avoidance method.  They delay following up with the client, or avoid having more contact than they hope is necessary, thinking they may duck and cover much of the flak.  Unfortunately, this is likely the worst avenue to navigate, and there is a cost to the agent's professionalism. 

There are a number of things that real estate professionals can do to insure a better experience with clients.  These methods will likely keep buyers and sellers more content in working relationships and transactions. No matter how demanding or intolerant, each consumer appears, a uniform level of personal service should be provided.  

The Knowledge and Skill of the real estate professional must be paramount.  Real Estate clients seem to have a radar for when agents are "winging it," if these two components are absent. 

A good real estate professional will discuss expectations early on.  Better yet, they provide a reasonable set of expectations - and then surpass them.  They tell clients how often they can expect to receive communication.   For example, when listing a home, they may tell the seller, they will call or email once a week.  Once the seller's property has entered escrow, communication can become more frequent.  Knowing when communication is likely to occur will assist in providing reasonable expectations at the beginning of the client relationship.

While the vast majority of clients are delightful and easy to deal with, there will always be those who will wish to attach an umbilical cord, as a security measure between the two of you.  
In today's real estate marketplace, timeframes have a life of their own.  This is especially true in the realm of bank owned properties.  And, it was especially true when the market was inundated with short-sales!  Banks can be woefully slow in communicating back, and then when they do, they often fire a volley of demands, which seems unreasonably short for response from your client.  Allow for the world of HURRY UP AND WAIT with today's transactions. Or WAIT AND HURRY UP!

It is beneficial to attempt to ascertain the "rhythm" of the client, and to mirror it.  What time are they usually up in the morning, or when do they retire to bed for the night.  You do not want to call during their "off" hours.

Are there times of the day when they seem cranky?  I had a memorable client who always seemed especially difficult and cantankerous to communicate with at certain times of the day.  His wife explained that he was on medication that he took at 10:00 - 2:00 and 6:00 each day, and if I avoided communicating with him 20 minutes before those times until 20 minutes after, I'd probably catch him in a more amenable spirit.  That vital tidbit of information changed the experience of the transaction tremendously.

Real Estate Professionals need to remember the importance of understanding that buying or selling a home is one of the more important and often stressful, events in client's lives.  However, we can significantly diminish the stress with methods, which will also translate to sanity for ourselves as well.

There has been a little pattern I have noticed.  It is often the high maintenance clients who seem to send the most referrals.

If you can go the extra measure to keep them content and happy, they will tell their friends and family and help you grow your business.  And, that is what it is all about!


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  1. Ron Barnes 02/08/2019 07:56 AM
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Tom Bailey
Margaret Rudd & Associates Inc. - Oak Island, NC

Great post! I am too old to deal with a real difficult client. My time can be spend  more efficiently, and more profitably somewhere else. 

Feb 09, 2019 07:02 AM #44
John Wiley
Fort Myers, FL
Lee County, FL, ECO Broker, GRI, SRES,GREEN,PSA

Very thought provoking post, thanks.

It is time for agents to realize we are independent business owners and it is time to run the business right.

I like your focus on establishing, upfront, expectations. This will help the consumer understand what we do and what we don't do.

You are so correct that Patience is required in this business.

Feb 09, 2019 08:35 AM #45
Bruce Kunz
C21 Solid Gold Realty, Brick, NJ, 732-920-2100 - Howell, NJ
REALTOR®, Brick & Howell NJ Homes for Sale

Great information, Myrl Jeffcoat. Setting expectations early and over-performing is excellent advice. Learning what both can about the others preferences can be a real game changer for the better.

Thanks for sharing,


Feb 09, 2019 08:38 AM #46
Brian Burke
Kenna Real Estate - Englewood, CO
Broker & Advising Expert-Denver Luxury Real Estate

Great Stuuf! It feels like folks are more high strung these days and the requirements the loan underwriters seem to have an effect on many buyers.

Feb 09, 2019 11:44 AM #47
Kathy Streib
Room Service Home Staging - Delray Beach, FL
Home Stager - Palm Beach County,FL -561-914-6224


Feb 09, 2019 07:14 PM #48
Kat Palmiotti
406-270-3667,, Broker, Blackstone Realty Group - brokered by eXp Realty - Kalispell, MT
The House Kat

It's funny how the clients who seem a bit more difficult are the ones that give great reviews!


Feb 10, 2019 05:16 AM #49
Debb Janes EcoBroker and Bernie Stea JD
ViewHomes of Clark County - Nature As Neighbors - Camas, WA
REALTORS® in Clark County, WA

Ha. Been there a few times. Our most difficult clients are often the most loyal. Go figure. The best part, after it's all said and done, most apologize and thank us for putting up with their mood. Real estate transactions can be very stressful, unless someone is way over the line, I cut them slack. Bernie is less patient and gives me the job of cajoling or hand-holding. Lucky me. Hahaha. 

Feb 10, 2019 07:01 AM #50
Kristin Johnston - REALTOR®
RE/MAX Realty Center - Waukesha, WI
Giving Back With Each Home Sold!

I can see why Kathy chose to highlight your post...well deserved!

Feb 10, 2019 07:51 AM #51
Ron and Alexandra Seigel
Napa Consultants - Carpinteria, CA
Luxury Real Estate Branding, Marketing & Strategy


What a great post, and I think you made an excellent point on medication.  Some of the side effects are definitely something to know about.   I missed your post when it was featured, and I am so happy that  Kathy Streib shared it will all of us.  There also people like us who get cranky when they are hungry and tired.  Happy Sunday.  A

Feb 10, 2019 07:59 AM #52
Mary Hutchison, SRES, ABR
Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate-Kansas City Homes - Kansas City, MO
Experienced Agent in Kansas City Metro area

I had an extremely difficult transaction last year with a buyer, and I think it was due to cultural differences.  His negotiating style was to keep changing his mind and going lower and lower on the price offered...he would tell me one thing, say the deal was over, then would not sign cancellation paperwork. It was so bad I did not list his house--I could not go through that again. Fortunatly that does not happen often.

Feb 10, 2019 10:02 AM #53
Sharon Tara
Sharon Tara Transformations - Portsmouth, NH
New Hampshire Home Stager

Congratulations on the well deserved feature!

This is excellent information and a great reminder that the real estate business is an emotional one.

Feb 10, 2019 01:42 PM #54
Patricia Feager, MBA, CRS, GRI,MRP
Selling Homes Changing Lives

Myrl Jeffcoat - Congratulations on your FEATURE!

When it comes to other people's money, money is always taken personally. You just never know how people will react, especially when it comes to money and their financial gains and losses. Of course, nobody wants to lose, but the reality is, it's all about giving and taking and it is hard to know what others will or won't do. 

Feb 10, 2019 02:36 PM #55
Jane Chaulklin-Schott
TEAMCONNECT REALTY - (407) 394-9766 - Orlando, FL
TeamConnect Luxury Homes - Orlando, Florida, 32836

Dear Myrl Jeffcoat, I found hidden wealth in your post which I will use.  Thank you! I have been dealing with a difficult client for over 3 years...Think you gave me some good moves to help both my client and myself. 

Feb 10, 2019 06:21 PM #56
John Juarez
The Medford Real Estate Team - Fremont, CA

Bottom line, Myrl Jeffcoat, is that we sometimes must put on our “customer service” smile and attitude and realize that “the customer is always right, even when wrong”. Sometimes, that is the biggest challenge we face in a transaction.

Feb 11, 2019 04:23 PM #57
Margaret Rome, Baltimore Maryland
HomeRome Realty 410-530-2400 - Pikesville, MD
Sell Your Home With Margaret Rome

Myrl Jeffcoat Anyone who has not had a difficult or toxic client is definitely not working hard enough. The longer in the business...the easier to identify who might not be a good fit.

  Love how you found out about the medication schedule and then avoided those times. Congratulations on the well-deserved feature.

Feb 11, 2019 06:34 PM #58
Janey Bishop
Gold Star Realty - Calabasas, CA
SFV CA Senior & Probate RE Specialist

I have the most troub le when client's friends want to give them advice. It is hard work to be diplomatic about the advice and yet be sure they understand this business is very local and that's what we do best. 

Thanks for the great post!

Feb 11, 2019 07:55 PM #59
Endre Barath, Jr.
Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices - Beverly Hills, CA
Realtor - Los Angeles Home Sales 310.486.1002

Myrl loved this post and indeed I have done all three, fired, coddled and then figured out the method to their madness:) Endre

Feb 11, 2019 11:28 PM #60
Laura Cerrano
Feng Shui Manhattan Long Island - Locust Valley, NY
Certified Feng Shui Expert, Speaker & Researcher

You really do learn a lot from difficult people were difficult situations and there’s always something good that can come out of a lot of things like that. There’s a saying that says, when you lose, don’t lose the lesson.

Feb 13, 2019 10:55 PM #61
Terry Naber
Colorado Springs, CO
REMAX Lifetime Achievement & Hall of Fame Award

In 28 years of selling real estate, I have had my share of difficult clients.  Let's face it-some people are just that way and cannot be pleased, no matter what you do.  But then there are those that are down-right dangerous and fly into a murderous rage when for no reason at all.  Case-in-point:  I took a listing, and at first had no clue that my "know-it-all" client would turn into one of the most hateful people I have ever met, until we received a cash offer on her home that was only $2500 less than her full price, with other terms that were a seller's dream-in a buyer's market.  When I called her to present the offer, she could not come to my office and I could not come to her because of a previous obligation.  So she agreed that I could email the offer.  When I suggested that we go over it on the phone, she rudely advised me that she didn't need me to explain the offer since she had already bought and sold several properties, so there was nothing I could tell her.

She and her husband signed the contract on Friday, and then on Monday the buyer's agent called to set the appointment for their inspection on Tuesday.  When I called the seller to set it up, she asked me in a very mean tone  "What do you mean, they want to inspect my house?"  I explained that the contract she signed had an inspection provision in the preprinted language provided by the Colorado Real Estate Commission, giving the buyer that right. She flew into a rage "You are supposed to be representing ME, the Seller!  How could you let such a horrible phrase be put in the contract!"  I told her that it had been in the contract for at least 20 years, and that this was  standard procedure and that any buyer would insist on it, but that did not molllify her.  She ended the conversation wtih me by saying "I am so furious with you I could KILL you!" and hung up on me.

I went straight to my broker who advised me to cancel the listing agreement immediately and get a restraining order on her.  But I needed that commission!  Besides, I felt that she probably was not a real threat because she was probably 200 pounds overweight and found it very hard to even get out her front door-I knew I could out-run her!

I never responded in kind, and maintained a professional demeanor despite the unjust judgement and insults she heaped on me but She remained difficult and bitterly angry with me through the transaction and beyond closing, despite my efforts to explain to her husband that the offer we received was excellant and basically a seller's dream.  Apparently he had long ago given up trying to reason with her.  She received top level service but never realized it.  

Someone like this is a very unhappy person, creating problems for themselves in all their dealings, always seeing the glass as half-empty.  

I would love to hear from other agents about their worst clients!



Feb 15, 2019 11:48 AM #62
Dave Rosenmarkle
Highland Realty - Arlington, VA
32 years of providing fully satisfying service!

Thanks for the thought-provoking post. Clients aren't the only ones who get cranky. 

Mar 25, 2019 04:39 PM #63
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Myrl Jeffcoat

Greater Sacramento Real Estate Agent
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