How to Deal with Difficult People in a Real Estate Transaction

how to deal with difficult people @scottwebb via UnSplash

Among the numerous genuine and honest people in the real estate industry, there are some real jerks out there. And when you are trying to determine how to deal with a difficult person, it often feels like everyone around you is a major pain. If you find yourself, as an agent or as a buyer or seller of real estate, dealing with a difficult person in a transaction, fear not, there are proven solutions that do work.

How a Craigslist Deal Went Wrong

Back in 2018, our real estate team was working with a very wealthy seller: He held a very prestigious job with a large firm in Boston. As the new man on the block, I was dealing with some of the more labor-intensive aspects of the profession.

In this case, the seller left his home in a rush and charged us with selling it quickly. He left a lot of furniture in his home, some of which was high-end and valuable. Because the seller was legally obliged to deliver the house vacant of all possessions, we had to arrange for the removal of all the furniture. One particular item was a large armoire. A friend of the seller planned to stop by and pick it up, but the day before the closing he was unable to get it. So, I posted it on Craigslist. Side note: While I think Craigslist can still be a great place to find valuable leads, I usually do not bother using it for smaller items.

Within a few hours of posting the armoire I had five interested parties, and more emailing me by the hour. In fact, one person even offered me $100 to save it until the following day, when he would rent a U-Haul to pick it up.

Nonetheless, one man offered to pick it that evening. I agreed. When I met him at the home later that night, he took the armoire and I was very grateful we were able to get rid of it. In fact, he worked as a landscaper on the side and gave me his contact information. I locked up the garage and went home, thinking the deal was as good as done.

The next morning, I was out on a jog and I got call from said man. He told me that the armoire was missing a glass pane, and that he wanted to come by and collect it. He told me that he saw it in the garage when he was moving the armoire. I told him that should not be a problem, but I would check in at the home first to make sure it was still there.

When I made it to the home, there was a glass pane, but it did not look like it belonged to the armoire. It was far too narrow and had a distinct decoration. I called another member of my team, and they told me to leave it at the house as they were confident it belonged to another piece. So, I called the man who had taken the armoire and told him that we did not have the pain. I also made clear that if the pane for the armoire did turn up, I would be in touch with him.

He lost it. At first, he played nice, then he begged me to give him the piece I found, then he was threatening to return the armoire to the driveway: I told him new buyers were moving in and they would likely call the police at the sight of a man in a pickup truck dumping furniture in their driveway. But, I left the decision up to him, figuring he would not call me bluff. In hindsight, that was probably the wrong way to handle his aggression.

Nonetheless, while the call was pathetic, it was somewhat concerning. This person had my phone number and could easily figure out who I was. For all I knew he would dump the armoire in my driveway. Looking back on the incident, I am sure he did not mean to cause trouble, but almost three years later I still think about how he sounded over the phone; frightened, angry and desperate. So, I hung up. But he called me back again, and again.

Later that morning, I had had enough. I called my colleague and told her that I was going back and was going to put the glass outside for the man to collect. I simply did not want to deal with this guy anymore. Thus, I returned just before the closing of the home, found the old piece of glass still in the garage, and put it on the curb for him to pick up: I did not want him getting anywhere near the house. I then texted him a photo of the pane and told if he wanted to come get it, it was his. He then called me.

Shockingly, he was still angry, but this time because I had left the glass outside. He thought it was a setup, and that by the time he arrived someone else would have made off with the glass. I assured him this was not the case.

Later that day I did drive by to see if the glass was still there. It was not and he never called me again, so I assume he had collected it.

Other Difficult Transactions

Not surprisingly, there are few, if any, cookie cutter real estate deals. Can you imagine dealing with a person like the above when selling your own home, while simultaneously handling all of the last-minute things (Signing closing documents, moving out, etc.) that need to be completed? Hence, you should always consider hiring a real estate agent.

I have witnessed other far more serious problems arise during a real estate transaction. For example, earlier this year a local builder got a property, where we were representing the seller, under contract and then threatened to pull out unless our sellers, who recently had a death in the family, reduced the price by $50,000: This scam has now become commonplace in my area.

From colleagues, I have heard of people threatening to report them to the real estate board, to report them to their broker, sue them, and so forth. You name it.

3 Proven Ways to Deal With Difficult People

There are many articles with various tips on dealing with difficult people. Having a sense of empathy is key. If you can understand where the difficult person is coming from, then you can come to a solution that will most benefit everyone. I do have two tips that have worked well for me.

Call the Question

A breakdown in communication can easily end any business relationship. It is much harder to understand someone’s point of view when not speaking face to face, in person or on zoom, and virtually impossible over text.

The concept of calling the question is common in European parliaments. The idea is simple: If you want to figure out if people agree or disagree with a proposal, call for an immediate vote.

When dealing with a difficult person, sometimes it’s best to temporarily escalate the situation (call the question) in order to resolve it. For example, a few weeks ago a local broker quietly advertised a new off-market listing on Instagram. I texted him and said I was interested in the land for myself, but that it also may work for a builder I was working with.

Because he did not have any listing agreement signed with the seller (and therefore, could easily lose out on a commission), he asked me to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA). I told him that was not a problem and sent over my email, office info and full name.

In the interim, the broker Googled my name and was concerned that I was trying to get the listing for myself. He then said if I wanted more info, I would need to have every member of my real estate team sign the NDA. While I was checking with them, he sent over the NDA to my entire team without first getting the ok from me, or any of them. I knew if I said nothing he would keep bugging all of us.

So, I called the question. I rang him on the phone and asked him if he wanted to meet in person to discuss his concerns. His tone quickly changed from paranoia and passive-aggressive over text, to warm and apologetic over the phone. I told him I was no longer interested. The call lasted under a minute. I never heard from him again.

Respectfully End It, and Ignore Them

Sometimes, you have to bow out of a deal. It’s rare that I feel this is necessary, but it does happen. My team was once working with clients who had recently moved over from the West Coast. After a few showings, it became clear that for financial reasons their dream home was simply that, a dream.

They then became somewhat erratic, posting on online neighborhood groups trying to find sellers. They even drove around the neighborhood talking to anyone who would give them the time of day. The latter an attempt to find a seller who wanted to sell their house off-market. We tried everything in our power to help find them a home. But it became obvious that if they ever bought a house, it was not going to be with us.

So, we very respectfully let them know that we were no longer going to be working with them. At that point they must have realized we had cottoned on to their Facebook posts and ceased posting (as far as we could tell). As time went on, it would have been easy to share a new listing that may (unlikely) have worked for them. But we had made the decision to move on and that is what we did.

Respect the Fact That Emotions Run High and Keep Your Head Up

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we held an open house at a beautiful 1890s Victorian listing. Towards the end of the open house a man and woman, who I presume were husband and wife, walked in. By simply judging their body language, it was obvious that she wanted to be there and he did not. Not surprisingly, he toured the home quickly while she spent some time inside. Consequently, after viewing the home, he waited for a few minutes in the foyer while she was on the upper floor.

After a minute of him checking his phone, he turned to me and asked what the listing price was. I said, “$900,000.” He told me there was no way the home would sell over $800,000 and that I was, “Way high!” in pricing. I thanked him for his opinion and excused myself to another room.

It would have been easy to engage in a dialogue with the man; doing so would have more than likely caused a stir. But as an agent, I always respect what a client, including guests at an open house, have to say. And I get it. I hate going clothe shopping every six months, and am liable to make a snarky comment here or there.

That is not a reason to get in an argument. I have seen many agents willing to turn even the smallest supposed insult, disagreement or ideal into their personal Stalingrad. Few of these agents last more than a year in the industry.

And just so we are all on the same page, eight weeks after that open house the home sold for $875,000, far more than the seller or I (or the man) expected.

Conclusion – How to Deal With Difficult People

As we all know, it is easy to get carried away when dealing with demanding people. A Minor concern one day can cause big problems the next. As should be clear throughout the article, my best advice is to try to solve things quickly.

If you ever find yourself in a tough spot, never be afraid to ask your broker or colleagues for assistance. Above all, try to use empathy to understand where someone else is coming from, so that you can ultimately find a solution that will satisfy everyone.

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