How REALTORS® Can Set Boundaries With Real Estate Clients
Tell us — do any of the following scenarios with real estate clients sound familiar to you?
• Non-stop phone calls, text messages and voicemails when you can’t come to the phone
• Threats of bad reviews and a ruined reputation
• Expectations that you’ll drop everything on a Sunday to show them houses
Welcome to a boundary-less client relationship. They’re exhausting, painful and, unfortunately, all too common.
Real estate is a competitive industry. Clients know that real estate agents are vying for their business, and not the other way around. That can create a dynamic where some clients feel like they hold all the power.
Where there’s a power imbalance, there’s often power abuse. Hence the kind of situations we mentioned earlier.
So while it most certainly is important to put clients first, it is also equally important to set boundaries with real estate clients.
It’s not just to protect your sanity, but to also ensure that your working relationship is healthy and productive, and that everyone feels respected and heard.
Here are five effective strategies for creating and maintaining healthy boundaries with real estate clients.
1. Explain How You Work
You can’t expect clients to respect your boundaries if you haven’t communicated them.
The most important thing you can do to create a healthy client-REALTOR® relationship is to explicitly tell your real estate clients how you work and when you work — and how and when you don’t.
• Your hours. In what time frame are you available to clients? What days? Monday to Friday? 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.? Saturdays from noon to 3 p.m.? Establish a schedule and stick to it.
• Modes of communication. If you don’t want your clients to use text message as their primary mode of communication with you, then tell them so. Share the best way to get a hold of you, your preferred method of communication (this might be scenario-dependent, such as texting or phone calls for time-sensitive notes and emails for detail-heavy messages) and the response time that clients can expect.
• Miscellaneous. There’s a whole whack of other things you might want to communicate your position on, such as travel and meeting locations (will you drive your clients to open houses? Where will you hold meetings?), open house prep, planned vacations, and so on. These will vary from agent to agent.
Communicating your expectations and boundaries needs to happen in a face-to-face meeting, but it also helps to provide your client with a paper copy.
Include it as part of a “welcome package” that has your bio and a list of contact information.
2. Ask for Their Expectations
“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
― George Bernard Shaw
Your relationship with your client is a two-way street. You have expectations and boundaries, and so do they.
But it would be kinda weird if they provided you with a typed-up list. So you need to ask.
Asking helps you in two ways:
1.) It communicates to your client that you truly care about them and their needs, and
2.) it helps you and your client establish an agreed-upon mode of working.
If your client wants you to be available every Sunday, you have an opportunity in this conversation to explain why that won’t be feasible and propose an alternative arrangement.
What should you ask your client? Things like:
• How would you prefer me to get in touch with you? Is texting better than emailing? Is emailing better than phoning?
• When are the best and worst times to contact you?
• Do you want to hear from me on Saturdays?
• What do you expect from me, in terms of communication?
• What days and times do you prefer to meet?
3. Be Honest and Forthcoming
Once you start working together, being honest with your client in every aspect of your relationship is key to success… even if you might meet a bit of push back from them.
Transparency is what keeps everyone on the same page, and it prevents your clients from disrespecting your boundaries in moments when they feel confused or frustrated.
Here are some examples:
• If your kid was up sick until 4 a.m. and you’re exhausted, tell your client that you need to reschedule your meeting and why, instead of showing up late and only half-awake.
• If your client has a question about the plumbing in a property they’re considering, don’t pretend you know the answer. Tell them that you don’t know but that you’re happy to find someone who does.
• If your client wants to stretch their budget to make an offer, be frank with them about closing, moving and other costs that could tip them over the edge of affordability, even if you’re desperate for them to close a deal.
• If a property inspection comes back with a few issues, don’t underplay them. Be transparent with your clients about the cost and time associated with addressing the problems, and what their options are.
4. Work As a Team
Remember what we said earlier about power struggles? This can also happen when a real estate agent acts like they know everything.
A client can feel belittled and bitter, and that’s often when boundary disrespect happens.
A team effort can help mitigate this, and it can be as simple as changing your language and approach.
Using “we” language can be powerful. For example, instead of telling your real estate clients that they should list their home for $550K, ask them. “Considering the market research we discussed and the kitchen reno you did last year, what if we listed your home for $550K? How does that feel?”
There will be times where you have to exercise your real estate expertise to push your clients in the right direction, but using more inclusive language can help make your clients feel it’s a team effort.
Similarly, try to transition from giving advice to sharing information.
Talk about your experiences and what you’ve observed in other situations and ask your client whether that’s helpful information, rather than flat-out telling them that they “should” or “need” to do something.
5. Protect Yourself
At the end of the day, you are the guardian of your boundaries. Not your client.
You need to communicate your expectations and needs to your client, but you also need to enforce them yourself.
If you don’t want to talk to your clients on the weekend, then don’t respond to text messages and emails.
If you’ve told your clients that you are unavailable after 6 p.m. and they request a meeting at 7 p.m., politely decline.
If your client is disrespectful, offensive, threatening or uses language that you find insulting, tell them that their behaviour is unacceptable to you.
If you communicated your boundaries in the very beginning, then your clients can’t pretend they didn’t know or get frustrated with you for protecting yourself.
Which of the five strategies are you going to put into practice with your real estate clients?