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Dear Client – You’re Fired!



You're Fired!

Yesterday I came across a tweet from the infamous Ian Watt of Vancouver.  One of the coolest things about Watt is his willingness to shoot straight and he did just that in an article published in the August 2009 edition of REM Magazine entitled, ‘When to Fire Your Clients‘.

You’re Fired!

It’s never easy but I have ‘fired’ clients before.  I returned a listing once to a women that wanted to simply paint over what appeared to be mold.  I have elected not to work with buyers that were unrealistic in there expectations of price and value in a given market.

There was one instance that I returned a listing to a woman that wanted me to be present at every showing of her condo.  In a market that would bring 4 or 5 showings a day, and in a marketplace where agent attended showings are rare, I knew this would only do a disservice to her listing.  The harder it would be to schedule a showing, the less likely it would be to have the showings she needed.  It was less about me, and really more about what served her.  After 6 months on the market with someone else, she called me back and she had it sold in 3 weeks.

The Decision

The word ‘fire’ may not sit well with you; Tyler Wood, phrased it perfect in his Twitter response, ‘…I don’t always refer to it as firing, more of a decision to not work with them.’

The decision to not work with a client is an important one.  Sadly, I think that when markets are challenging, we tend to hang onto those opportunities ignoring the inner voice that says, ‘this isn’t a fit.’  As an active Realtor, we are faced with challenges in transactions, time constraints, and fluctuating market conditions.  I know that spending months with someone that is not a fit, only makes those things more challenging – and ultimately, it’s not a service to them either.

So What Is a Fit?

For me it’s about looking for a similar level of integrity, realistic expectations, mutual respect, ease of communication, even a personality connection.  Have you ever had to fire a client?  What do you look for to make sure it’s a fit?

Linsey Planeta is the Broker Owner of Belterra Fine Homes in Orange County, California. Linsey rants regularly on her blog, OC Real Estate Voice. She also provides sellers with tips on how to get their home sold on Why Didn't My Home Sell? She has been an active Real Estate Coach and Instructor and loves working with agents so that they may look at their business with fresh eyes, renewed purpose, and defined systems. Linsey can be found in her office or you can also find her on Twitter@Linsey.

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  1. Mariana

    August 19, 2009 at 1:01 am

    I am about to “not work with” a client tomorrow. When goals do not align, it is time to part ways.

  2. Madison real estate

    August 19, 2009 at 1:25 am

    On several occasions I have elected to “not work with” a client, be it a prospective buyer or a home seller. Some of the causes included: abusive or disrespectful behavior, excessive flirting, not listening to pricing advice, ignoring a previously agreed upon strategy, refusing to accept offers (even full price ones), lack of commitment to the process, and an unwillingness to compromise in any way, shape, or form to achieve stated goals. Thanks for the reminder that it is important to qualify upfront each and every prospective buyer and seller (and these days that’s more important than ever!). Time is scarce so ensuring that we give of ourselves only to those who are fully committed to the process of buying and/or selling is the single best way to protect that most precious and valuable resource.

  3. Bryan Myers

    August 19, 2009 at 1:57 am

    What really fits: someone who has needs I know the market can meet and that I can serve. They are pleasant to be with (a huge catch-all category to be sure), and there is an emotional component to it- it’s not just about 3 bedrooms and 2 bath… it’s about getting that college bound student their own room to study in.

    What is tolerable- the second and third thing I mentioned aren’t there but the first still is.

    What I won’t tolerate- dishonesty, not being respectful of my boundaries, hiding things from me that are relavent to the transaction. Bottom line is they need to accept me as their ally rather than just some guy with the right forms and a pen that they can use and abuse.

  4. Joe Loomer

    August 19, 2009 at 7:18 am

    Number one for me is what you stated in closing – “realistic expectations.” Our market – although not California – is down significantly – 48% off 2006 numbers.

    I’ll typically not even list with Sellers who will not price agressively and ahead of the market. Key phrases I listen for are “we don’t really need to sell” – or – “we have a year and a half before we have to move.” Not motivated? Neither am I – The last thing I want is my sign in someone’s yard saying “hey, here’s Joe – he can’t sell this house for six months!”

    I recently “fired” a Seller who continued – against my advice – to hire unlicensed contractors to complete important work. Three losers and several thousand dollars later, the work’s not done, two of the three are in jail, and I’ve lost two signs at the property to kids riding four-wheelers. NEXT!

    Buyers must be realistic and respect your integrity and professionalism. Sometimes providing your sales history helps them understand you’ve worked extensively in their price range. This also allows – especially with first-timers – the tactful reminder that you’ve sold **insert your sales totals here** worth of homes this year, while this is their first time (this works good when you have a couple with that know-it-all relative along for the ride or where you sense the hubbie or wife is an amateur agent in training).

    Navy Chief, Navy Pride

  5. Elaine Reese

    August 19, 2009 at 11:21 am

    I try to do the selection process prior to signing any representation papers. I doubt that many potential clients realize that we’re interviewing them as much as they’re interviewing us. However, I have had to “fire” four sellers, but that was earlier in my career when I was less knowledgeable on the signs to listen for as Joe mentioned. Since we’re the one spending marketing money and time, we have to evaluate our decisions based on business, not on emotion. In the past two years, I’ve been hearing many agents mention that they turned down more listings than they took. Agents are sharpening their pencils and analyzing their ROI and that’s going to increase the professionalism which will be a good outcome.

  6. Bob

    August 19, 2009 at 12:33 pm

    Its called “Addition by Subtraction”.

  7. BawldGuy

    August 19, 2009 at 3:53 pm

    Regardless of how ‘experienced’ my clients may be, it’s understood they’re using a pro, me or someone else, because they realize it’s needed. Once that attitude goes south, so do I.

    I gently tell them it’s obvious they’re knowledge level is such that they really don’t need my expertise, and their money would no doubt be better spent elsewhere.

    They either get the message, or happily go on their way, and I haven’t offended them.

    Persuading those who fancy themselves as your equal is a lost cause and a huge waste of time. Cut your losses and move on. I’ve even received referrals from those I’ve ‘fired’. Amazing.

    One of the ‘perks’ of doing it this way, is that they almost never call me later for advice, as we’ve already agreed, they don’t need it. That’s actually been actually true two or three times in my experience.

  8. Matthew Hardy

    August 19, 2009 at 4:25 pm

    Freedom means never having to work with someone you don’t want to.

  9. Ken Brand

    August 19, 2009 at 9:01 pm

    I’m with Bob – Addition By Subtraction, you gotta know when to “fold’em”.


  10. Paula Henry

    August 22, 2009 at 9:42 pm

    Timely – I have one now I should not have worked so hard for. I like Jeff’s response:

    it’s obvious they’re knowledge level is such that they really don’t need my expertise, and their money would no doubt be better spent elsewhere.

    Such class, Jeff!

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The problem with a self-policing industry: you have to be a narc

Ethics violations in the real estate industry can make or break a Realtor’s career, depending on the severity, so it would stand to reason that all would be mindful of the rules, but there are always individuals in the field that act as if the Code of Ethics is irrelevant.



An animated discussion on ethics training

“Does anyone else find it ironic that NAR – the trade association for Realtors – has to mandate that members take an ethics class every four years?” An agent who attended one of my company’s broker opens yesterday posed that question to the wine and cheese grazing attendees. Of course, that opened up an animated discussion on the value of etchics training and the lack of enforcement when the rules are violated.

One agent volunteered that the guy sitting next to her in her last ethics class played games on his cell phone and then cheated during the test at the end of the class. Seriously, dude? You cannot even pay attention long enough to pass what should be the easiest test you’ll ever have to take in your career? Perhaps he was just seeing how far he could push it by cheating during an ethics test, to see if anyone else around him caught the extreme irony there. None of the other agents around him – including the agent he cheated off – turned him in and the instructor didn’t notice.

This same agent later called one of my sellers and tried to convince him to break a listing contract with me, because he had a “guaranteed buyer” in the wings. The seller was an attorney, and this bozo tried to get me cut out of the deal, offering the seller a reduced fee to dump me. The seller held firm and directed the agent to call me, then the seller called to let me know about the conversation.

“But you know if you file something the other agent will know.”

It gets better. After the deal closed, I requested paperwork from our local Board of Realtors to file an ethics complaint. The person in charge said, “But you know if you file something the other agent will know.” Gee. Really? I asked her to send the paperwork over anyway.

I called the seller/attorney and asked him to repeat the conversation to me, because I was documenting it to file a complaint. He turned wishy washy on me at that point and his story changed from “The other agent tried to get me to dump you as the listing agent to cut you out” to “Well he really only asked a few questions and I told him to call you. He probably didn’t mean any harm by it.” So there goes my star witness, who doesn’t want to rock the boat.

I didn’t file the complaint. I resorted to the “turn the blind eye but never trust the sleazeball again” path. And that is what happens to almost all ethics issues I hear about / see in person.

That’s what happens when you have a self-policing group of “professionals” who would rather not “narc” on a fellow agent. After all you’re probably going to end up on the other side of a deal from this guy some day, right? The guy in my example has sold two of my houses since that run-in. Why tick him off by filing a complaint and going through all that hassle? If he stops bringing buyers to my properties then my sellers ultimately lose, right?

Boiling down the CoE

The NAR Code of Ethics takes up pages and pages of tiny print, and it runs each year in their trade magazine (I think it’s the January issue). Does anybody read that? Probably not many. I’d argue none of us ever should have to read it again. Simply follow this advice instead. The thousands of words in the Code boil down to one thing: Do unto other agents, and consumers, and clients, what you would have them do unto you. It’s the Golden Rule. Simple. Well, obviously not, for many agents and brokers.

The sad part is the agent in my example had no clue how close I was to filing that compaint, and if he did know he’d probably scratch his head and wonder why his actions were “wrong.” Making us take a one-day class every few years won’t “make” the unethical agents suddenly operate ethically. Most of them just don’t get it.

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Ethics hearings in private a disservice to consumers?



Fight Club and real estate

For those of you that saw the movie ‘Fight Club’ you’ll remember that Rule #1 is “You do not talk about fight club,” followed closely by Rule #2, “You DO NOT talk about fight club.” Which, believe it or not, brings me to today’s topic: The Real Estate Code of Ethics and Arbitration. Article 17 obligates Realtors to resolve fights disputes with another Realtor through arbitration (not litigation). Arbitration is conducted at the local board level, and I am not aware of a local board that doesn’t require arbitration to be confidential.

I respect that public internecine warfare amongst Realtors isn’t in the interest of our industry, and doesn’t belong in the public spotlight. I’m not here to advocate the collective airing of our dirty laundry. That said, I wonder if our collective agreement to keep our concerns confidential can inadvertently harm the consumer and ultimately makes all of us look a little shoddier?

To find the first arbitration guidelines created by NAR and distributed as a set of suggested rules for boards to follow, we have to travel all the way back in time to 1929. NAR’s first Code of Ethics & Arbitration Manual wasn’t created until 1973, and it credited a 1965 California Association of Realtors version as its model.

Appalling conduct

I can think of two instances in the past year where I was so appalled by the conduct of a fellow Realtor that I went to the trouble to inquire about how to lodge a Code of Ethics complaint with my local board. After weighing the time required to make a competent complaint and comparing it with the best case outcome (a closed-to-the-public hearing in which they were found to have violated the code of ethics), I decided not to pursue a complaint in both cases. My association’s bylaws (and probably yours) give it the power to discipline any member based on the results of a Code of Ethics hearing, “provided that the discipline imposed is consistent with the discipline authorized by the Professional Standards Committee of the National Association of REALTORS® as set forth in the Code of Ethics and Arbitration Manual of the National Association.”

“Sanctioning Guidelines” – (Appendix VII of Part 4 of the 2011 manual for the very curious), guides member boards to impose disciplinary consequences that are progressive and fair, taking all considerations into account. Sample first-time disciplinary actions include suggestions of a letter of warning, a fine (amounts range from $200 to $5,000 depending on the severity of the violation), and attendance at relevant education sessions. Not to sound defeatist, but a confidential letter of warning and a fine of around $200 doesn’t seem like an outcome worth investing much of my time in.

Practicing in the internet era

Given that we live and work in the internet era, and review sites like Yelp abound, it seems a bit odd to me that a local board might know of an agent with problem behavior that is documented yet choose to make that information unavailable to consumers. My understanding is that the results of a code of ethics hearing are confidential with disclosure authorized in a few situations, none of which deal with informing the public.

Many of my fellow colleagues feel that the best response to a bad agent is to be patient and give them enough time to work themselves out of business. I can respect and understand their hands-off approach. But what about the damage that individual does to our industry as a whole? While we whisper, warn in confidence and know amongst ourselves how awful they are, the public doesn’t get the benefit of our perspective. Deprived of it, they turn to consumer review sites like Yelp.

How do you think we, as an industry, can help consumers in their quest to find a trustworthy agent?

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Realtors, we really need to get over ourselves already



A letter from the child of a Realtor.

Real estate now vs. 1987

In Real Estate, some things are always changing, like financing, education, laws, rules and technology. The two that will always remain constant, as long as they are within the law, are following our clients’ directions, and working with their best interests in mind.  I’m not sure we always follow through with this, though.

Some of us knowingly take over priced listings.  Some of us take listings that are out of our area of expertise.  Some of us won’t show short sales or REOs.  Some of us won’t show homes with low co-op splits.  Some of us don’t have Supra/e-Keys, and miss out on those listings entirely.

Putting our interests first

When these things occur we are putting our own interests first, not our clients’.  We may think that by having as many listings as possible is a good thing, that’s what we’re taught after all, isn’t it?  It may not matter that some are overpriced, eventually, whether one month or four months down the line, the price will be reduced.  It’s just a matter of time and money, for our clients, after all.  The same can be said when we take listings outside our area of expertise, just to add on to our inventory.  If we don’t know what we’re doing, on a short sale listing, for example, it will only cost our clients a lot of time and money.  A lot.

By eliminating certain houses our clients see, that may already fit their criteria, we’re taking away their choices.  Distressed sales account for close to 40% of the market.  This is probably higher in some local markets.  There is no legitimate way to ignore roughly 1/3 of the homes being sold.  Co-op fees are often a touchy subject, especially when they are, not “enough.”  If everyone utilized a Buyer Broker Agreement that stipulated what their fee was, the issue would take care of itself.  Not being able to access listings with the use of Supra/e-Keys is a choice.   Choosing not purchase one will mean agents will not be able to access Fannie Mae (and eventually, probably additional Gov REO homes) along with the listings that are already using them.

Our priorities versus theirs

We totally need to get over ourselves already.  We are not bigger than our clients.  Our priorities are not more important than theirs when it comes to the actual listing and selling of homes.

Recently, my awesome parents dug through a few boxes and rounded up one of my first art projects. About 25 years ago I did the poster featured above about my Mom, and her Real Estate career.  It was for an Open House (no pun, honest!!!) for the elementary school where I attended first grade.  It was just, what she did according to me way back then.  Things are way more complicated now, than when I was six.  There’s a heck of a lot more paperwork for one.  But the same basic principle still applies.

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