How to be Honest without Offending Your Real Estate Clients

By Tips & Strategies

If you have any listing experience, you can probably recall this exact scenario: You show up to a listing appointment and begin to tour the home with the potential sellers. As you move from room to room they boast about the paint colors—especially the faux-painted walls that took them weeks to complete—the dining room light fixture which couldn’t be more specific in taste, and the flooring which, according to the sellers, is a style that’s finally coming back around, thank goodness they never changed them!

They’re beaming ear to ear with pride and you…well, you’re cringing on the inside but nodding your head on the outside. You take your places at the dining table to go over what they’ve called you into their home to discuss. Before you can even open your CMA, they continue to gush about the love, sweat and equity they put into the home and how they know it’ll all pay off. We bought that microwave four years ago, someone will certainly appreciate that! When you get to the comparable sales and start to talk numbers they begin justifying their home’s value based on the emotion they have to the home—the sales data is irrelevant to them.

Here’s where two choices are typically made: horribly offend the hopeful sellers or lie to them for the sake of saving their feelings. Both are wrong.

It’s our fiduciary duty to treat all parties honestly, let’s put that right up front. You must be honest and the best form of honesty comes through communication and education. Honesty is why they are hiring you and how real estate continues to hold its longevity as a valued and needed profession. Education is the bonus you are bringing to the table. Most agents garner the ability to educate their clients from their own experiences in the industry. The more experience an agent has and the more confident they are with integrating their experience into the education they provide their clients, the more value an agent can bring to the table. Rookie agents don’t need to fret if they lack perceived experience—they may have personal experience with buying and selling real estate prior to becoming an agent, or they can work closely with mentors and piggyback off of their experiences.

You can effectively apply honesty through communication and education without offending your clients. Refrain from blurting out the first thing that comes to your mind and stick to the facts instead.

Don’t: “Ugh, those drapes are hideous.”

Do: “The homes priced in the higher end of the market analysis all had drapery from Restoration Hardware or Pottery Barn with simple or solid patterns. If we look at the homes priced lower in the CMA, we see that they all had custom drapery, much like yours, with less universal patterns. Eyes are drawn to drapery in the photos online, and you should consider removing or replacing your drapery if you want to compete with the higher-priced homes.”

And, remember, selling a home is usually an emotional time for sellers. If you show aversion to their belongings, they will take offense. But, if you show them how the market reacts to the style of their home, it isn’t your personal preference at play, it’s you educating them on the best way to sell their home.

The same applies when you are working with buyers. When you tour a home with buyers, let them take the lead on describing the home. You provide no value by walking ahead of them and calling out the seller’s bad decorating taste. This is your time to listen. Don’t learn to listen only after your foot is in your mouth—you never know when your buyer actually loves the cheetah print wallpaper covering every wall in the master bedroom, including the ceiling. But that was my favorite part of the house is a hard line to recover from.

Offer your buyers education over opinion. “You may love the green shag carpet, but do understand that when you call me in five years to sell, I will sit across from you and show you homes in this area tend to sell for a higher price if they have wood floors installed.” Education, not opinion. Honesty, not lying or concealing. It’s important to communicate these things so they aren’t mad at you when they turn around to sell the home and hear the bad news about the home from you for the first time.

When working with sellers and buyers remember that you must build trust and rapport with them to earn their business. If you come in swinging with negative comments about a house, they are going to become guarded around you, making it harder for you to gain that trust and rapport. Be sensitive to their emotions so you can communicate to them what it takes to sell their home or find the home of their dreams. Ask questions and listen. Reading your clients’ emotions, asking the right questions and listening are all characteristics of a great salesperson.

And, don’t confuse bluntness with being offensive. I’m a blunt person. I just see no way around it—if my mouth isn’t saying it, the expression on my face is! Bluntness is best used when it’s surrounded by honesty, communication and education. It shouldn’t be confused with speaking without a filter. If what you are about to say doesn’t help someone or couldn’t be used as a learning tool, keep it to yourself. People are stressed out enough as it is during the home selling/buying process, don’t turn up the heat by offering opinions “just because”.

Finally, my biggest trick to deliver bad news about a seller’s design choices is to not do it at all…I let my stager handle this part of the process! The stager is the design professional after all and I rely heavily on my team rather than trying to be the be-all for my clients. When the design choice does not affect the pricing decision, I am confident that the news does not need to come from me, but from the stager I hire to speak with the sellers. Find yourself an amazing stager who will walk your sellers through the psychology of selling a home so they understand why they need to make the necessary changes—this person will be a crucial member of your team and takes the burden of offending your sellers from your shoulders (make sure you find one that can do this delicately as well, or you’ll have an offended seller on your hands anyway!).

And, remember the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you. If you were selling your home, you’d want an agent who was honest, communicative and willing to keep you educated on the process. You’d build a wall between you and an agent who spoke offensively instead of offering helpful advice that spoke of the market’s reactions. Be the agent you’d most want to work with and you’ll find it easier to build trust and rapport with your clients.

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