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Lessons from Terrible Clients - Stories from my Past


I was recently thinking about some of the more difficult clients that I have the displeasure of working with over the years.  The tips in the above link are good basic starting points for how to best get the sale completed, but I wanted to talk about a couple of occasions when I learned some hard lessons.  I was originally planning to make this one post, but it seemed really long, so I cut it into two posts in order to make it somewhat easier to digest.


In my second year in the business, it seems like I was inundated with difficult scenarios to handle.  I was young and hungry, and my business partner and I were able to garner a few high-end listings just by sheer force of will (plus we had nice suits).  I haven't actually worn a suit for work since about 1999 - I am a polo shirt and jeans or khakis kind of guy.  I only wear suits for really special events now (mainly weddings and funerals).  Hey, it's Austin.  Trust me - it works in this environment.


My very first good listing appointment was in the upscale Rollingwood area of west Austin.  The clients liked our enthusiasm (which was palpable), and they listed with us instead of a good friend of his.  Well, the "friend agent" proceeded to solicit the listing at every turn, and they would relay to us that she thought we weren't doing anything right.  If this happened today, I would call the agent directly and confront her, but this was 1997, and I was still getting my feet wet. 


In retrospect, I guess I could have pushed my broker for more help, but I didn't.  You might already have predicted the outcome - the other agent bent his ear during our entire listing period, then later reduced it heavily and sold it for them.  What did I learn from this?  Well, aside from the fact that she made a swift enemy out of two now-successful agents, I learned to set boundaries with other agents.  Don't let them mess with your clients!


One of our first high-end sellers seemed excited to list with us, but he wanted to put the home about $20,000 higher than our recommended price (maybe he was excited because he found two rubes to take his overpriced lemon).  We were hungry and trying to establish ourselves, so we took it with the promise that he would evaluate the price and reduce as necessary.  He did eventually reduce it, but only when he relisted with someone else.   


The lesson here - don't take listings that are overpriced EVER, even if you think it will help you to break into a new area.  Usually, it results in months of headaches and maybe some embarrassment as well when the neighbors see your sign starting to grow cobwebs.  This was a farm area for us, and it hurt our reputation.  We sort of ran out of money trying to continue marketing ourselves there, and we didn't return.  Keep this one in mind for future reference.


One of our first $1 million buyer clients was a couple looking for a home in the prestigious Westlake area of Austin.  They were utterly unfamiliar with the neighborhoods, but we were able to find them their dream home.  The listing agent was a much more experienced agent, and she was one of those people who says "pretty as a postcard" to describe various views or features of the home.  To be honest, it was too syrupy for my taste, but the buyers seemed to eat it up.  In fact, they ate it up so much that they bought the home directly from the listing agent, and they later sold it with her for double the price they paid. 

All told, we lost about $99,000 in potential commissions by not controlling our clients or the overall situation better.  The buyer's rep agreement really did us no good, since we were faced with suing one of the largest brokerages in town, or suing our incredibly rich client.  Since we were not involved in the negotiations, we couldn't make a case for "procuring cause", even though the buyers found the property wholly from our hard work.  Lesson learned.  By the way, I have never again shown a listing of that woman's, and that was a decade ago.  Forgiveness is one thing, but wasting my time and effort are another.

I hope you found these interesting.  I welcome your comments.  Thanks so much for reading!


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