5 Communication Tips for "Difficult" Sellers
You’ve got the listing, and now comes the hard part: actually selling the house. But then, you discover you have clients who make that job even more difficult.
They want weekly open houses. They don’t see their clutter (or their pet-stained 20-year-old carpet, or their wildlife-refuge approach to yard and home maintenance, or the unfolded laundry on the bed, etc., etc.) as a barrier to a sale. They want to be present at all showings and open houses so they can talk up the house’s idiosyncratic charms.
They take negative feedback on the property as a personal affront. They demand daily updates on your activity and seem to believe you only have a single listing — theirs. They refuse to entertain reasonable offers below their idea of what the home should sell for.
In short, they think they know more about real estate than you do.
The reality is that most of them aren’t “difficult” people. It’s more likely that they simply don’t understand the modern real-estate business. Remember that most people will only sell a home a few times in their lives, and the market has probably changed substantially since the last time they did it.
In many cases, you can avoid most or all of these problems with up-front communication — before you even sign a listing contract.
But if you’ve already got the listing, it’s not too late to employ these five communication strategies to deal with challenging sellers.
1) Ask Questions, and Listen to the Answers.
- What do you think I should be doing to sell your home?
- How many showings do you expect in the first week or month?
- What price do you think your house should fetch, and based on what?
- How flexible are you on that sales price?
- In what time frame do you expect the house to sell?
- What maintenance, repairs, cleaning, de-cluttering, and upgrades are you willing to do to get the home ready to be shown?
The answers to these questions and others like them will give you a sense of your potential client’s expectations.
Confrontational answers can raise red flags about challenging clients — and give you the opportunity to diplomatically decline a listing from sellers with unrealistic expectations.
Most importantly, asking these questions allows you to educate sellers about how the business works today, how you work, the challenges of a particular property, and what you need from them for the greatest chance at a successful, quick sale.
2) Be Clear on Your Plans.
If a seller knows your marketing strategy, your sales approach, and what specifically you plan to do, there’s less chance they’ll be frustrated by the process. It helps to support your strategy with anecdotes about how your approach has worked in the past.
If, for example, you don’t believe open houses sell homes, explain why. The seller might still insist on having them, but at least you’ll have laid the groundwork for your philosophy.
This is also a great time to listen to the seller’s marketing ideas and incorporate the best ones into your plan so it feels like a team effort. The more you hear them, the more they’ll listen to you.
A clearly articulated (and agreed-upon) plan that’s executed as promised goes a long way toward a happy agent-seller relationship.
3) Help Them Understand the Strengths and Weaknesses of Their Property.
Some homes sell themselves with little effort. Most are “special needs” properties that to some extent need just the right buyer.
Here’s an example from a seller who went through three Realtors (and one attempt at FSBO) before he sold his house:
“It was an (a.) three-story townhome with (b.) awful neighbors in the adjacent unit and (c.) a registered sex offender a house away, plus (d.) it was located in a mixed-income neighborhood that didn’t have the best reputation. It didn’t help that there were literally no good comps to use as a price baseline.
“We knew it wouldn’t likely be an easy road, but our Realtors (and others we interviewed) usually erred on the side of selling themselves and indulging our sales-price fantasy. Only one predicted anything close to the actual sales price, and his blunt approach and overly aggressive pricing strategy turned us off.
“We would have benefited greatly from a gently honest approach from all of our Realtors. While we understood the challenges the property posed — and while we needed time to accept the reality of our situation — the mistake Realtors made was not being realistic on price and clear on a reasonably aggressive strategy. Something like:
“‘Let’s price it at your desired sales price and see what happens. If there aren’t sufficient buyer candidates or offers, let’s drop it $10,000 after 30 days. And if that doesn’t work after another 30 days, let’s drop it another $5,000. I think that’s the price where you’re most likely to get offers.’”
Realtors offer buyers an expert, objective opinion, and it’s important to give it at the outset to establish reasonable expectations and, in some cases, to deflate unrealistic ones.
4) Explain What You Need from Them.
In this seller’s case, he admits there were plenty of things he and his wife could have done to help the process along … and they were slow to accept them.
“The house was cluttered because of a dearth of storage. Some carpet was stained. A pet and a young child made it difficult to keep things neat and clean for showings. But we didn’t see a lot of that because we lived with it every day. If we loved our house as it was, shouldn’t other people?”
In other words, being direct about the things sellers can do to facilitate offers and a sale often isn’t enough. Sharing unvarnished feedback from Realtors and potential buyers will support the initial conversations and push sellers to (eventually) do what they need to do.
Other things are easier. Assuming you don’t want the seller present for open houses or showings, set that ground rule at the outset and explain your reasoning.
5) Let Them Know What Results to Expect
With all those things done, it’s crucial to give buyers some guidelines for what results to expect. Use your experience and market expertise to help buyers understand what your listing and effort are likely to generate in terms of showings and offers.
If you’re doing a public open house, how many people should the buyer expect will show up? If you’re hosting a Realtor open house, how many people can you get through the door? And what’s a reasonable number of showings (and in what time frame) considering all of the variables with this particular listing?
Of course, a house that doesn’t sell quickly or doesn’t generate much buyer interest adds stress to the Realtor/seller relationship. But this type of open, honest communication will reduce friction inherent in the process.