What’s Wrong With My Clients?!?!

In this career, you will encounter people and the choices those people make that will blow your mind. It’s likely that someone out there will think that the best plan for them is to buy a house with their mistress and their best friend, financed by a guy who hangs out behind a gas station with bars on the windows. There are people who want to utilize crazy financing and discuss a hundred niche programs. There are millions of houses, locations, floor plans, and situations.

People flock to websites with big promises that turn out to have a lot of fine print, they love to buy houses wrought with mold (because it’s probably an amazing deal if it has mold everywhere), and some people believe themselves to have found the holy grail with that master bedroom suite in the basement of a two-story, 5-bedroom house. I guess it takes all kinds. And at some point, they are almost all going to need an agent.

Personally, I hate traditional 3-level splits. Why anyone in the world would want a living room that sits high above their dining room and hides their kitchen from the rest of the house, I’ll never know. What I do know is that hundreds of thousands of people in this country have found this floor plan so appealing that they built a brand new house and chose it. And I also know that many more have bought these odd homes from those original owners, and so on and so on.

But what really gets me is when I’m on the road between showings and I see a beautiful, brand new home, grand and glorious, with a long driveway and amazing curb appeal… from the freeway. Why anyone would choose to build an expensive, beautiful home with a view of the highway is completely beyond me, but someone out there did just that. And not just someone, but many, many people have. I don’t get it, but what do I know?

The point is that a great agent understands that their own preferences and personal choices and opinions simply don’t matter when it comes to advising a client in a real estate transaction. The savvy agent will learn to see what it is that motivates each particular client, and then go about the process wearing that client’s glasses. In a very real sense, their preferences and values should become yours while you work for them.

I know this isn’t news to most of us, but what do we do when a house has a leaky basement and our buyer is still in love with the house? How are we, who so very much love our fiduciaries and have our mamma and papa bear hats on, supposed to react when a buyer has been told that a house is severely overpriced but they want to make a full-price offer anyway?

Many of us, being incredibly well-intentioned, will make the wrong decision here. Many of us, trying hard to protect our clients (and our own reputations as well), will fight them, kicking and screaming, doing anything we can to keep them from doing whatever the dumb thing is that they want to do. Think about it- you know you’ve done this with your clients- maybe only with clients that are friends or family, but you’ve done it. Be honest, this is a safe space.

Over the years, I’ve come to realize that people are generally going to do whatever they want to do. A recent article I wrote suggests just that thing- that people will flock to sites like Zillow, despite our warnings about bad data and having their information sold to the highest bidder. And they’re going to use that odd lending program, and they’re going to (for the love of Pete…) build that brilliant home right on top of the busiest railroad tracks in the state. They are. They will almost always do what they want to in the end, no matter what we say.

And, to my mind, they should. Why shouldn’t they be the ones to decide that having a highway view is less important to them than granite countertops and a ball pit in the basement for the kids? It is, after all, they who will actually have to live there, and they who will be making mortgage payments for 30 years. Our clients should always feel empowered by us to do what they want to do.

That’s going to raise the hackles on many of you, and I’m glad. Something I share with my agents all the time is a psychological principle called “confirmation bias.” Essentially, it says that people inherently believe what they believe (not shocking), and they filter all data through that lens. And we all do this. If I think the president is a great guy, I’ll likely agree with people who like him/her and think those people are really intelligent. However, anyone who has criticism for him/her will likely be viewed by me to be unintelligent, uniformed, or just plain blind. What we think will always color what we hear.

In real estate, this simply means that if a client wants to do something we think is dumb (even if it IS DUMB), they will filter our advice through their confirmation bias lens. They will decide whether we are competent in our job in a way that is related in part to our approach to their desires. So if they’ve fallen in love with a floor plan, and the only lot they can afford to build it on has brilliant views of I-94, and we tell them that it’s a terrible idea, they’re likely to just discredit us or think that we’re pushy or… fill in the blank. To them, that might not be a terrible idea based on their goals, hopes, and dreams.

So what am I suggesting then? Should you just remain silent on your feelings with your clients and simply be a “yes” man in the process? Of course not. Just be aware that our job is to provide information, and professional opinions. Our job is NOT to provide personal opinions or to force decisions. It is very, very important that we provide our clients with the information that a home that shares a gas station parking lot is convenient, but might be difficult to sell in the future. If, with this information in tow, they choose to buy it anyway, LET THEM!

We should never as real estate professionals put our clients in a place where they must decide between following our advice and doing what they want. Reread that sentence please. Now store it in your memory. Absolutely give them the facts. Then let them make decisions. It’s their transaction, after all.

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