A 5-Step Guide to Handling Unrealistic Client Expectations

by Noah Tennant

All agents deal with unrealistic expectations at some point in their career; here’s a guide to dealing with them.

Beautiful loft apartments in a chic, central location, marble countertops, gleaming wood floors, free parking. There’s nothing wrong with dreaming but sometimes the difference between the ideal living situation clients have in their head and what they can actually afford can be pretty gaping.

And it’s the real estate agent who is left trying to bridge that gap – it’s our job to educate our clients on the realities of the market while also trying to find them a place they’ll love.

So just how do you do that? Here, you’ll find 4 helpful tips that will help you to negotiate those high (and maybe unrealistic) expectations with reality.

1. Open Their Eyes – Often when a client’s demands seem wildly unrealistic to you, it’s because they just don’t know enough about the market or the city. If, for example, someone has just moved to Chicago from a small town in Michigan, it makes sense that they can’t really comprehend that $1200 a month doesn’t get you much in Old Town.

They may even be incredulous to the point of denial at first. And your expert opinion and words are not enough to convince them otherwise. You may have to dig up a few examples of $1200/month rentals in Old Town so that they can see firsthand that this budget will simply not cover a luxury unit in that neighborhood. Once they see the reality with their own eyes, they’ll be much more open to your other suggestions.

2. Commiserate – Sometimes the best thing you can do for a client is simply to show sympathy when they’re feeling confused or disappointed. After you show tough love by opening their eyes to the realities of the market, get back on the same team by commiserating with them a bit. Express your agreement that the prices make no sense or that their budget should, in theory, be able to get them more. This show of solidarity will help you win back their faith in you so that you can move forward to find them the right property.

3. Set Priorities – At first, a hopeful new client may believe they can have it all. If their budget doesn’t lend itself to that kind of thinking, then it’s up to you to gently inform them that it’s time to play favorites. Is a deck really necessary if the place has that modern kitchen they’re after? Can they be flexible on the location if the price is right?

Listing out all of the features on their wish list and assigning a numerical value to them can greatly assist with the process. Once they create this prioritized list, it’ll be much easier to accept that some sacrifices may have to be made in order to secure a place with the features that are truly most important.

4. Focus on the Positive – It may take a little while to convince a client that their budget simply does not jibe with their wish list. But once they are convince, you should expect some serious disappointment and be ready to swoop in with solutions. The last thing you want is to make them feel hopeless about their search.

Once they’ve accepted that they may have to tweak their plan, you should be ready with a bunch of great options that match their new budget or their adjusted expectations. And the key is to present these new options with an attitude of excitement – the new choices are not the next best thing, they are the best thing.

5. Narrow the Options – When it comes time to make a final decision, the best thing you can do is to cut down the list of options. Here’s why: New York Times best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell once spoke of an experiment surrounding jelly samples at a grocery store. What they found was that when the jelly flavors approached 30 and up, people bought fewer jars of jelly but when they had a more manageable 6 choices, jelly sales shot up.

The lesson here is that too many choices causes paralysis. It’s confusing and it seems easier to not make a choice at all. When, however, there are just a few good options, it’s easy to see which one is the best.

Often the most positive and optimistic people are the ones who have unrealistic expectations. They just always see glass as half full and think that they’ll be able to find the one-in-a-million cheap, beautiful apartment in the perfect neighborhood.

That’s where you come in – your experience and knowledge tell you that those apartments just don’t exist. While you know that to be true with every fiber of your being, you still have to be diplomatic and delicate as you work to make your client see things clearly.

Noah Tennant owns the Chicago Apartment Leasing Group, an agency that connects renters with the best properties in the city, like the Optima Chicago Center.  Noah is passionate about finding his clients the perfect place and writing informative articles that help renters & agents better navigate the rental market. For more info, visit the Chicago Apartment Leasing Group and connect with Noah on Google+.

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