Communicate with Confidence – A Real Estate Agent’s guide to navigating difficult conversations

Elizabeth Convery, Licensed Agent11/2/2022

Business,Team,Working,On,Negotiation,To,Money,Return,On,InvestmentWe’ve all been there.  That dreaded phone call you have to make to a client that you just keep putting off.  You know, the one where you have to tell them their deal is falling through or that the inspector found an underground tank full of oil.  Nightmare!

I think it’s human nature to want to avoid conflict.  After all, who wants to be the bearer of bad news?  I know I’ve had my fair share of sleepless nights in this business anticipating how a particularly challenging conversation might go.

Over the years, I’ve learned that difficult conversations don’t get better with time.  In fact, prolonging the call often makes it worse.  It causes anxiety for the agent and pain for the client.  The best way to approach a difficult conversation is to do it swiftly, honestly and with empathy.  


Stop trying to make everyone happy all the time

Many years ago when I was a brand new agent, I made it my goal to make my clients happy at all costs.  Unfortunately, in my quest to achieve this mission, I sugarcoated more things than I should.  

Top,View,Of,Businessman,Pointing,On,One,Of,The,ConditionsI was working with a couple who were purchasing a recently renovated home in an area of the city that was rapidly changing.  During the title review, the title agent called me to alert me that his underwriters were having a hard time insuring the property because they couldn’t prove that the sale two previous to this one had been properly documented.  The title agent, a friend of mine for many years, kept saying that he thinks he can get it done and that it will be fine.  Foolishly, I believed him; and not wanting to rock the boat for my clients, a lovely couple with a new baby who were buying their first home, I kept quiet about this potential hiccup.

A week or so went by and it became apparent that the underwriters couldn’t find a workaround and the title couldn’t be insured by this company.  I had to tell my clients that there was a problem.  I remember the anxiety that overcame me calling their number and waiting for them to pick up.  Hearing about this issue only two weeks before their scheduled closing left them in a panic, to say the least.

As we all know, every hiccup in a real estate transaction, regardless of whose fault it is, always falls on the realtor and his or her reputation.  I was able to find another title company quickly whose underwriters would take the risk and insure the title, but the damage had been done.  The clients sent me a scathing email telling me how disappointed they were with the job I had done for them; and they were barely speaking to me by the time we got to closing.

It was heart wrenching, but it taught me an incredible lesson that led to one of the core values of my team: “Sometimes the truth hurts, but we tell it anyway.”


Tell the truth even if it hurts

Female,Real,Estate,Agent,Offer,Home,Ownership,And,Life,InsuranceNavigating difficult conversations is probably one of the most challenging tasks of the real estate profession.  After all, most of us pride ourselves on our upbeat attitudes and natural inclination to be a problem solver in any situation. The best real estate agents are the ones who can deliver a less than favorable message effectively while keeping their clients calm and their reputation intact.

I love the analogy of the rock and the water and think of it often when faced with a difficult conversation.  In real estate, the agent is the rock and the client is the water.  Sometimes the water flows calmly around the rock and other times it churns rapidly; but at all times, the rock is steady and grounded.  

Your delivery will impact the client significantly.  If you call him or her in an anxiety-stricken huff about a particular issue, it is natural that the difficult conversation will get even more challenging.  Start by taking a deep breath, steady the rock and deliver the message with confidence.  Had I called my client with the title issue and told him about the problem matter of factly and used empathetic words like “I understand” when he got upset, I no doubt would have handled the situation with much more grace than I did.  

No matter how emotional your client becomes, bring them right back to the task at hand – solving the problem.  It’s important to let your client vent their frustrations about the situation, of course, but it’s equally as important to help them see the bigger picture.  

Be honest in your delivery, but don’t over-embellish with your thoughts about the situation.  Nobody needs fuel added to the fire.  If I had told my client how annoyed I was with the title agent who assured me for weeks everything would be ok, what good would that have done?  

With everything you do, try to put yourself in your client’s shoes.  It will allow you to be more empathetic and deliver your message in a nurturing tone.  As an agent, we are trained to deal with hiccups in transactions all the time, but most clients are looking to us to navigate the next steps.  

Be the agent who tackles difficult conversations head on.  It will be challenging at the moment, but in the long run, your reputation and your client relationships will flourish as a result of your honesty, empathy and steady hand.

About the Author

Elizabeth Convery is founder of VERY Real Estate, a boutique residential real estate firm specializing in sales and advisory based in Philadelphia, that she partnered with Compass RE in 2019. She has valued, financed, acquired or sold over $2 billion worth of properties in a career spanning nearly 20 years. She believes homebuyers deserve a commitment to transparency and trust from their real estate agent and that home ownership is a path to building wealth over time.  Elizabeth has particular expertise in working with first time home buyers and is passionate about raising the homeownership rate among her Millennial peers.

Last Updated: 11/2/2022



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