November 20th - 2014

Breaking up is hard to do: Dumping a client

Dumping a client does not happen often, but over the course of your real estate career a breakup or two is bound to occur.

Man in Pain

Man in PainWhy break up with a client after working so hard to build your client base?

Dumping a client does not happen often, but over the course of your real estate career a breakup or two is bound to occur. Three REALTORS® with more than 90 years’ experience among them say that there are a few deal-breakers that have caused them to ditch a client: unethical behaviour, unrealistic expectations and a lack of respect.

Shady Dealings

“Although some clients can be annoying, most transactions end well,” says Rita Auciello, a Toronto REALTOR® with 25 years of experience. “However, if they ask me to do something that will ethically compromise me, they won’t remain with me.”

She recalls being approached by a new buyer about a property that had been on the market for a while. “He probably thought I was a vulnerable REALTOR®,” she says. “He told me he was looking at properties for a colleague coming in from another country, and he asked how much I’d pay him if he brought in a buyer.”

“He wanted money under the table,” says Auciello. “I told him there was no way I’d approach the seller about that. That kind of client is not worth my time.”

Sale Price

When REALTORS® advise sellers on a likely price that a property will fetch in the marketplace, they expect that their informed opinion will be respected. If the seller refuses to listen or compromise, it’s time to walk away, she says.

“Be confident in your own abilities and be prepared to say no from the start,” says Auciello, an instructor at the Ontario Real Estate Association (OREA). “If you don’t believe in the price you’re quoting, you won’t sell that property anyway. If the voice in your head tells you the sellers’ price is a mistake, listen to that voice.”

A seller who is fixated on an unrealistic price is not worth keeping, adds Dan Grimes, an Ottawa REALTOR® of 30 years. “If a seller won’t reduce the price to what you feel the market will accept, most strong REALTORS® will walk away, depending on the client’s reason for selling. There are physical, emotional and time costs that won’t be worth it. At the beginning, I give my sellers a letter of opinion including what I think the property value is and I ask them to sign it.”

Respectful Attitude

With 40 years of real estate experience, Ottawa REALTOR® Linda McCallum believes she has earned her clients’ respect. She believes it is about mutual respect. “If clients can’t be respectful and completely honest, it’s not going to work.”

“If people are respectful and honest, I have all the patience in the world,” she says. “I get along with people and I’m good at adapting, but if their expectations are unrealistic or they become dismissive and abusive, then that relationship no longer works for me.”

McCallum says she makes allowances for clients who are having a bad day, but she is prepared to bail if unacceptable behaviour becomes a pattern. “I’m relieved to end a relationship like that because they’ll drain all the goodness out of me. Having no client is better than having a bad client.”

Respect must be shown for a REALTORS®’ time, adds Grimes. “How many times do you let a buyer cancel an appointment half an hour before a showing? Both of us must make an effort.”

Sticking to the Bargain

When REALTORS® agree to represent a seller, they often supply a list of tasks that each party must accomplish before showing the house. If an owner repeatedly fails to follow through, that can be a reason to end the relationship, says McCallum.

“I typically educate the sellers on what we both need to do. If the photographer is coming but the dishes are still in the sink, the sellers haven’t invested the time. I want them to succeed, so I’ll review the promises they made when we listed the property.” If they keep failing to comply, she may end the relationship.

Shock and Awe

Ending a client relationship is tough because most REALTORS® focus on success and want to add to, rather than subtract from, their client base. Client breakups should be handled in a professional way, says Auciello. “I try to avoid burning bridges because I might be dealing with this person again someday. If you have to end it, live with the decision and keep moving forward.”

Even if it is done diplomatically, clients are generally surprised when a REALTOR® terminates their agreement, says Grimes. “I’ll tell them I think we need a parting of the ways, but I’m honest and direct about it. Sellers are usually stunned.”

One polite approach is to tell clients they are not the best fit, says McCallum. She usually offers to refer them to another REALTOR® “who might be a better fit for you. Their feelings are sometimes hurt, even when I’m nice and gentle about it. Most say ‘never mind’ when I offer to refer them. In these cases, I don’t usually regret the loss of potential business. I often wish I had ended it sooner.”

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Ontario Real Estate Association

Jean-Adrien Delicano

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