Working With Difficult or Unique (but not Impossible) Clients

Working with difficult clients

We talked in a recent blog about handling clients who make unreasonable demands. There’s a closely related species that merits further discussion: the difficult or unique (but not Impossible) clients. They come in several varieties, including the wise guy, the queen bee, the perpetual looker, and the waffling wimp. Here’s our formula for success with each of these types.

  • The wise guy
  • The queen bee
  • The perpetual looker
  • The waffling wimp

The wise guy
This one knows more about real estate than you do. He’s gone online and researched the market. His brother is a broker in Hoboken. His neighbor just got an offer and he knows his house is worth more than that. How do you win over a wise guy? Make him your partner. All he really wants is respect. If you try to argue with him or discount his opinions, you’ll become his adversary and he’ll go on the defensive. That will create an impasse and nothing will get done.

Instead, acknowledge his initiative and know-how. Tell him he’s making a constructive contribution to the process. This sets him up to be more open to your suggestions. Above all, do your own homework. Show him properties and sales statistics to back up your recommendations. Treat him as an equal and he may actually become one.

The queen bee
This client was born with a sense of entitlement, if not a silver spoon in her mouth. She may not say “Do you know who I am?” but the meaning is implied in every conversation. She’ll expect you to cancel other appointments to accommodate her schedule. She times her visits around noon so you’ll invite her to lunch, and we’re not talking McDonald’s here. She tries every trick in the book to get your attention.

The solution? Provide a lot of honey for the queen bee, and try hard to do it with a smile. Be cordial, friendly, and understanding. Verbal (if not actual) handholding is required. To be fair to yourself and your other clients, however, set your limits early in the relationship. Tell her what you’ll do and how you’ll communicate. Summarize every meeting–in writing, if possible, and confirm what your next steps will be. When you’re with her, give her your undivided attention. Just don’t let her take over your life.

The perpetual looker
This client might as well wear a sign that says “Just looking, thanks.” He (or she) will attend countless open houses, contact dozens of Realtors, and collect volumes of information. Nine times out of ten, however, he has no real intention of buying anything. If you spot this type, ask a few probing questions to determine his real level of interest.

  • What’s your timeline for getting into a new home?
  • Can we get together this week to discuss your specific needs?
  • May I send you my buyer representation agreement for your review?

If you get a negative reaction to any of these questions, give the client your contact information but don’t spend a lot of time researching potential properties—it is probably a waste of your time. Keep him on a follow-up list for future emails or phone calls– you never want to write off a potential client, of course. Just don’t waste a lot of energy chasing him down.

The waffling wimp
He may want to sell his house, but then again, he may not. He’s sticking a toe in the water, but he’s not about to take the plunge. He may ask you for a lot of information and then decide to go the FSBO route to save the commission. Or he may decide to wait until the market improves. Like the looker, the wimp sees you as a free resource. He’ll take all the help you offer and then go do his own thing, or do nothing at all.

Wimps are risky business because you never know if they’re committed until you’ve done an awful lot of work. If you think you have a wimpy seller on your hands, give him one good sales pitch, and then just schedule him for regular follow-ups. You want to stay on his radar so that if and when he does decide to sell, he’ll be calling you and not some other Realtor.

Here’s the bottom line. When it comes to dealing with difficult clients, the old Boy Scout motto applies: be prepared. Keep your observation skills sharp, so you’ll recognize these types before you waste a lot of valuable time pursuing them. Communicate candidly and thoroughly. And always leave the door open.


  1. says

    I am certain that all of us at one time or another has spent valuable time and resources on potential clients only to have them evaporate like the mist. Lessons learned, hopefully, but it will probably happen again. The advice given is very sound and we should all heed it.
    The one thing that I do after a few (2-3) viewings or meetings is to ask potential buyers to sign a Buyer Agenct Agreement. I inform them that the agreement legally binds ME to them and I will work on their behalf and protect their interests. If they do not agree this signals me to be very cautious about wasting my time and resources. We will all get burned again, but try not to let it turn you into a cynic

    • Richard M. Hartian says

      Freeman, you bing up a very good point on the Buyer Agency Agreement – I know that I have heard from many Realtors that some offices require it! FYI – sent you an email…

    • Michelle McCormack says

      My brother, who is a very successful realtor in Bergen County NJ has a wonderful way to work with potential buyers and sellers.

      He invites them to his office for a personal consultation, to go over exactly how he expects to work with the client and find out what their needs and wants are.

      This is pure genious, in that he takes immediate control by having them come to his office. If the potential client balks and does not want to come in, then this is not a serious client and my brother only wants to work with those buyers and sellers who are serious about getting it done.

      Perhaps more agents should handle their potential customers this way as well.

      • Richard M. Hartian says

        Your brother’s approach is also a very safe approach Michelle! Thanks for sharing this and I wish you both well.

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