Even the very best real estate agents at the top of their careers have to deal with clients who are upset with them after the transaction closes and everyone walks away from the table. But even though it’s a fact of life, that doesn’t make it especially pleasant or enjoyable; experienced agents can feel overwhelmed and put on the spot when confronted with a buyer who’s extremely upset and not afraid to let you know all about it.
What should you do if a buyer reaches out weeks or months after leaving the closing table and informs you that they aren’t thrilled with some aspect of their new homeownership experience? Talk to your broker about how they’d like you to manage these scenarios and follow these steps to smooth ruffled feelings and try to resolve what you can.
Know the big causes of buyer’s remorse upfront
Every buyer is different, but the big reasons for buyer’s remorse tend to stay consistent across time and space. If you as the agent understand why buyers tend to be unhappy in the homes they purchase, then you might be able to thwart any future buyer’s remorse well before it sets in and avert the situation entirely.
So why are buyers upset at the end of the day with their home purchase? Typically, buyers are unhappy with their home’s size — it’s either too big or too small — or they wish they would have known more about the location or neighborhood before buying. Some buyers wish they would have shopped around more for a mortgage and secured better terms for themselves.
Buying a house is a big decision, but some of these complaints are workable, if not entirely fixable. A mortgage can be refinanced as the buyer-turned-homeowner makes payments and gains equity. Depending on the lot size, the home’s layout, and the homeowner’s budget, some temporary or more permanent renovations to provide more space or change how the occupants use that space can solve some complaints about the size. Location is obviously trickier to address — you can’t pick up a house and move it to a new neighborhood. But if you know about new developments or initiatives that are planned and that might help give the buyer a longer view into the future, this might be a good opportunity to remind them of those.
The biggest thing you can do as a real estate agent is to be aware of why buyers feel remorseful and do your best to ask probing questions upfront and try to help them be as critical as possible about their new home. Of course, you want to close a sale, but if you’re the one who helps buyers ask the tough questions when push comes to shove, hopefully, they will remember you as the voice of reason if they ultimately decide to ignore your advice.
Let them know you hear them
When you buy something that you later regret, sometimes you’re well aware that the financial costs are well sunk. You aren’t going to get your money back, or as much as you think you should, and that’s more or less acceptable, but you do want someone to listen to your complaint and acknowledge that you have a point or at least a reason to be upset.
Listening to an unhappy post-purchase buyer isn’t an admission that you did anything wrong as their agent or that you have to do anything moving forward to rectify the situation. It’s connecting with them as a human and telling them that you understand that they are upset and why — that’s it.
If you find it difficult to have these discussions with clients, use the standard “mirroring” advice when you’re talking to someone who’s upset: After they’re finished talking, reframe what they’ve just said back to them in your own words. This will help you both reach a point of understanding; you will make it clear that you know why they’re angry, and they will start to feel relief because you’ve demonstrated you’re listening and taking their concerns seriously.
Consider your responsibility
After you’ve listened to your unhappy buyer, thank them for sharing their experience with you and then take some time to reflect on what they’ve told you. It’s possible that you could have done more in your service to them as an agent or preparing them for the realities of homeownership, or that there’s something you can do today to help them (or both). It’s also possible that you did everything you could have reasonably been expected to do (and then some) and there’s really not much you can offer them in terms of rectifying the situation.
Assess your own behavior in the transaction minutely and ruthlessly to determine what your responsibility in this situation is. It’s not enough to tell yourself that the buyer was inexperienced and this is the result — you’re the expert advisor in the situation who’s been hired to help the buyer make a good decision, so don’t blame the result on your client’s inexperience. Do ask yourself how hard you worked to help the buyer understand the reality of their home purchase and whether you could have done more there, and try wherever you can to give your buyer the benefit of the doubt. It doesn’t make you a bad real estate agent if you have an unhappy buyer, but ignoring that buyer’s concerns and acting like it wasn’t your fault when you know you could have done better is certainly not the mark of a top agent.
On the other hand, realize that your responsibility to your buyer ended when the transaction closed. You may still feel that you have an ethical obligation to your buyer even if your legal obligation has been fulfilled, but if you know you did your best to help the buyer make the best possible decision, you don’t have to feel responsible for their remorse after the purchase.
Talk to your broker
After you feel like you have a good handle on the situation, your responsibility in it, and what your buyer wants, spend some time giving your broker a rundown on the situation and ask them for their take. They may have policies outlined that explicitly detail how to handle unhappy buyers, or they may have some unspoken best practices that you haven’t yet encountered. They can also give you a sense of what options you have to help the buyer solve this dilemma, if any, and can help you determine where to draw boundary lines with buyers who want to make their home purchase remorse your problem.
Ask how you can help (but don’t promise anything)
There’s no harm in asking whether the buyer has any ideas about how you can help them resolve the situation and make it right. It’s quite possible they might have already thought about possible solutions, or they may be well aware that there’s not actually much you can do (but feel better nonetheless now that they had a chance to vent).
So don’t hesitate to ask the question, “how can I help?” or some variation of it. There are some buyers who will respond with a totally unreasonable, out-there request, of course, and that’s why you always ask the question and don’t ever promise anything upfront. If the buyer asks for something that’s impossible or that makes you uncomfortable, either tell them you’ll have to research whether it’s feasible and get back to them, or if the ask is egregious, it’s fine to explain that you can’t (or won’t) do what they’re asking but would be happy to offer an alternative solution instead. Use your negotiation skills as best you can — instead of saying no outright to the remorseful buyer’s ask, suggest a few other options that would work for you in lieu of one that definitely won’t.
… Then do what you can, within reason
For some agents, this can be an opportunity to turn the buyer’s experience around and provide a solution and a level of service that leaves the formerly angry buyer with a fantastic “listen to how awesome my real estate agent is” cocktail party story. If the buyer’s ask is something within your power to execute, you’re willing to do it, and you can deliver the result with a level of polish and silver-tray execution that puts a smile on your buyer’s face, this can be a big opportunity to salvage the scenario.
That said, don’t lose sight of what’s reasonable within your scope of power. Some requests are unreasonable at their very core and there’s no way to make them work. This is why it’s a good idea to level-set with your real estate broker — if you’re inclined to take a step to resolve the situation that might require a lot of time or effort on your part with no sure result, you can gut-check that inclination with your broker and see what they think. You want your clients satisfied, of course — but you also don’t want to throw good time after bad if there’s no end or resolution in sight.
Do some reputation management
We all live in the modern era and have at least some online presence, which means there’s always the opportunity for our reputation in our communities and our industries to be disrupted by disgruntled clients. Depending on the situation and exactly how upset your buyer client is, you may want to embark on some reputation management.
If you don’t have a Google alert set up for your full name, brokerage, a market where you’re working and other keywords, it’s a good idea to implement one so that you know if someone posts something about you online. Don’t ever argue with clients online; even if they’re being as unreasonable as anything, you’ll never look good. Do what you can to address their direct concern (or outline exactly how you have already addressed it) and offer to connect with them offline to talk about their issue.
Learn from the experience
No real estate agent ever wants to hear from a buyer who’s feeling remorseful about the home they bought. If you do, one of the very best things you can do is pay close attention throughout the process so that you can determine exactly where the disconnect happened between expectations and reality, and then decide how to adjust your process so that you can try to guard against similar disappointments in your future buyers.
As you move forward in your real estate career, you can expect that some percentage of your clients might not be entirely happy with the outcome. If you’re doing your best to assess your level of responsibility and making it right however you can — then learning from the experience so you can guard against it in the future — you’ll leave behind much more happy than unhappy clients and cement your career as a top-notch agent.
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