Everyone screws up from time to time. We’re all human. How you react to mistakes, however, can make all the difference in the world. I saw a study once several years ago that ranked life’s most stressful events. At the top of the list were getting married, getting divorced, a couple of items related to kids, and then, rounding out the top 5, was buying/selling a home. For most people, the purchase or sale of real estate is going to be one of the largest financial transactions they ever make. Add to that stress the emotion that comes with selling a home where great memories have been made or buying a home where memories will be made and you have a ticking time bomb waiting to go off.
What we tend to see is that a small problem that, in any other context, would be easily dealt with gets blown out of proportion where now it seems like the biggest problem that has ever happened to anyone in the world and that the sun might stop shining and people will get sued and people will have heart attacks and sharks will grow legs and start attacking people on land. Sound about right? So, what do you do when that happens to you or your client?
How you deal with problems and mistakes can be an amazing opportunity to increase client satisfaction.
Who Made The Mistake?
If it was you, own it immediately. Let me clarify this a bit. When I say if it was you, what I mean is if it was you, your assistant, someone you referred a client to, or anyone else “on your team”. Own the mistake, explain why it happened, and let your client know what you are going to do to correct the problem.
If it wasn’t you, don’t blame. If someone on the other side of the transaction messed something up, accept the mistake, come up with a plan with the other agent to rectify the situation, communicate that plan with your client, and make sure it gets done. Don’t blame or call names. I have heard agents refer to the person making the mistake with words like “stupid” or “amateur”. That doesn’t do anyone any good. Simply acknowledge that the mistake happened and that you are working to have it corrected.
Setting Expectations Early
Just like you set expectations about showings or the negotiation process or your time, you should be setting expectations ahead of time that mistakes happen. Real estate sales is a complex world handled mostly by imperfect people under relatively strict deadlines. There will be mistakes. Rarely does a real estate transaction go exactly as planned. Make sure they know about it in advance to avoid surprises.
No One Likes Surprises
Ok, that’s an exaggeration. If someone handed me a million bucks I would be thrilled. When it comes to a real estate transaction, on the other hand, most surprises aren’t good. They have the potential to take what is already a stressful situation to a whole new level. I knew an agent once that had been told by their sellers that they wanted to take the drapes from the Family Room with them to their new home. The drapes had been made by the wife’s mother, who had recently passed away, and held a significant amount of sentimental value. She wrote it down on the exclusions section of the listing agreement, then in MLS. When the contract came in it wasn’t on the contract. It wasn’t caught until the buyer walked through the house and noticed the missing drapes. They were, to say the least, surprised. When the agent found out, she was also pretty surprised. She immediately got on the phone with the other agent, worked out a compromise that made everyone happy, then let her clients know what happened. Mind you, this was the day before closing. Because it had been handled correctly, it was something they could all laugh about at the table. There was no ill will or bad feelings. Everyone walked away happy.
Communication is Key
Not everything can be handled that easily, though. Sometimes, the process of correcting a mistake takes some time. The key to keeping your client happy while this happens is communication. That shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. Depending on the severity of the issue at hand, you should set a communication schedule with your client. It could be a call every day or every two days, but it should be regular and it should be reassuring. You will notice, if the problem takes a while to correct, that they will likely be more at ease and trusting that you are doing your best for them.
Anyone who has been in real estate for more than a couple of transactions knows that problems are going to come up. Most clients who have bought or sold property before know that mistakes happen. Need proof? Start up a conversation about real estate at a party where people don’t know your job and see where it goes. You want to be the agent mentioned in the conversation that saved the deal with their hard work and dedication.