As a former real estate salesperson in NYC, I can vouch that many agents are told to “fake it till they make it” to succeed. In other words, to act like they know what they’re doing even if they don’t.
While this learning curve may yield some surprising, successful results, it can also produce unfortunate, cringe-worthy moments. When agents make avoidable errors, they can’t unring that bell—the faux pas lingers in the client’s mind like an awkward high school memory.
Here are eight of the most common faux pas moves by real estate agents that can sabotage the deal. Hopefully, by avoiding these, agents can steer clear of any potential problems.
1) Taking the client’s wishlist for granted.
Lisa would like a 1-bedroom apartment in Lower Manhattan for $3,500 or less. It must have a bathtub, dishwasher, and a bedroom large enough to fit a king-size bed. Before showing her any listings, her real estate agent (let’s call him Dave) asks Lisa how she feels about stand-in showers or, say, doing the dishes by hand? He’d also like to know if she’s emotionally attached to her king-size bed and whether she would consider downgrading to a queen.
After seeing one apartment that doesn’t fit any of these criteria, Dave doesn’t hear from Lisa again.
When meeting with clients, agents should take their wishes into account. Some might seem unreasonable (looking at you, ice maker) while others are legitimate (a bathtub for the toddler). The point is, agents shouldn’t dismiss their clients’ wishes outright, no matter how outlandish they may seem. The reality check happens organically during the search, as clients gain a better sense of what they can and can’t have in their price range and desired location.
2) Making assumptions about the client’s budget.
Some real estate agents like to play a little game with their clients called “The Budget Balancing Act.” Here’s how it works: the agent assumes the client’s budget is higher than the amount the client has told them. The agent then starts showing them places that are completely out of their price range. Not by a little. We’re talking way, way out there.
The agent’s thinking is that they can negotiate the rent down or convince their clients to spend a little more, especially if it gets them everything on their wishlist. However, what they’re doing is wasting the client’s time and frustrating them to no end.
It’s quite common for clients to begin their search with a conservative budget in mind only to find out (through their agent’s guidance) that they can afford a little more. But gamesmanship, as in the preceding example, can jeopardize the relationship.
3) Appraisal shortfalls.
Some faux pas moves are less about what agents say or do and more about factors beyond their control. Like when an appraisal falls short of the agreed-upon purchase price. First-time homebuyers, in particular, can be caught off-guard by this. They might not have the extra cash on hand to make up the difference. And while it’s not the agent’s fault that the home didn’t appraise, clients may lay the blame squarely at their feet.
Jules Garcia, an agent with Elegran, knows the feeling too well. When his clients’ 2-bedroom, 2-bathroom apartment in Brooklyn didn’t appraise, it made them doubt whether the property was worth it. But the appraiser had spent just four minutes inspecting the home, with enough time for a bathroom break.
“Classic appraisal shortfalls,” said Garcia, who knew instinctively that the factors considered in calculating the appraised value were off. For starters, the appraisal report marked the post-Covid market as “stable,” which was anything but. It had also relied on a small sample of comparable properties, one that didn’t accurately represent the market. Without throwing the lender under the bus, Garcia had to do some quick damage control and reassure his clients that they were making a smart investment.
He knew he had already developed a process to handle obstacles like this and made sure to communicate that process to his clients to assure them that the key to overcoming this obstacle was their trust and support of his process-driven efforts. In addition, maintaining communication with the seller’s agent and, by extension, the lender, who didn’t want to provide information on the revision request protocol was paramount.
“Don’t downgrade the level of your play,” Garcia said. “You stay on top of it and you make timely responses. Circle back as often as you can and get the information.” He closed the deal shortly thereafter.
4) Using too many adjectives on listings or during a tour.
Many real estate agents like to spruce up their listings with a few flowery adjectives. “Cozy,” “charming,” and “quaint” are common ones. While they may help to paint a picture in the potential buyer’s mind, overdoing it can be a turn-off. After all, “cozy” and “quaint” may be interpreted as “small” and “dated.”
Agents need to let their personalities shine through, but they should also be careful about using too many adjectives when showing a property. Opening the door to an “amazing living room” or a “spectacular balcony” can make them sound like they’re trying too hard. Besides, what’s amazing to one person might not be spectacular to another.
5) Overpromising and underdelivering.
Agents often make promises to their clients to get them on board with a listing. They might promise to score a price above asking, even in a tepid market. They might promise to send updates by email, text, or voice note daily. They might even promise to celebrate with a bottle of Dom Perignon once the deal is done.
Agents need to be confident in their ability to close a deal. That said, overpromising and then underdelivering is a surefire way to sabotage it. This is especially true if the client has already put in an offer on a property and, suddenly, the agent is not as responsive as they were initially. The client may feel angry, duped. And if the offer falls through, the agent will likely be blamed.
“I would never make a promise that I can’t control or keep,” said Yael Gonen-Dawson, an Elegran real estate salesperson. “If I say I will do something, I make sure to deliver on that promise.”
6) When the client is a friend or when things get too personal.
It can be difficult for agents to maintain boundaries with their clients, especially when there’s good chemistry. By the same token, agents who represent their friends can have a hard time being objective throughout the process. Or the agent may think that “because the client is a friend they’ll have a wider band for mistakes,” to quote agent Jules Garcia once more. In other words, a client who is also a friend might be more forgiving of the agent’s faux pas. But this isn’t always the case.
“Oftentimes, it turns out badly because you take the relationship for granted,” Garcia said. “I’ve never broken my own rule. I have to keep myself accountable to make the industry better.”
This is not to say that agents should never represent their friends. But they should be mindful of the potential pitfalls and remember that, at the end of the day, they’re working with a friend who expects to be represented fairly, professionally, and without bias.
7) Botched negotiations.
There’s more to negotiation than just getting the highest possible price for the home. When it’s successful, both parties (seller and buyer) walk away feeling like they’ve won. The ideal outcome is one where the seller gets their asking price or more and the buyer feels like they got a great deal.
Agents should be able to communicate their strategies for negotiation upfront. Clients should never have to guess what that might be based on the agent’s years of experience. And yet, too often do agents lose potential buyers for their sellers because they were too aggressive in their technique. Other agents give in too easily, not playing hardball when they should.
To avoid any faux pas moves that could torpedo the deal, agents need to be clear about their goals and expectations for negotiation. They should also be transparent with their clients about the possible outcomes, both good and bad. A great negotiator will know how to score the highest price possible or sweeten the deal without offending the parties involved.
8) Being unprepared.
Our last faux pas move by realtors is, perhaps, the most important one to avoid. An agent who is unprepared for a showing, meeting, or open house is an agent who is not doing their job.
Sometimes, it takes judging the other agent’s preparation level to safeguard against their potential faux pas moves. Here’s Elegran’s Jules Garcia: “I always ask myself, ‘have I identified the professionalism and preparedness of the other broker? Is this someone who has a good connection with [their client]? Do they understand the overall market condition? Are they willing to communicate with me their expectations?'”
If the answer to any of these questions is no, then the agent should be extra prepared to make up for the other person’s lack of knowledge or expertise and careful not to make them feel inferior. Remember, the goal is to get the deal done, not to make the other person look bad.
Final Thoughts on Faux Pas Moves by Realtors
These are just a few of the most common faux pas moves by realtors that can sabotage the deal. By avoiding these mistakes, agents can increase their chances of success and build better relationships with their clients.
For more insight into the world of real estate, check out our recent sit-down with New York agent, Michael Bethoney. And to keep up with the latest news and trends, “follow the signal” and subscribe on our homepage.
Ivan Suazo is a copywriter and SEO blogger with over ten years of experience in the real estate industry. He's also the founder of a wellness blog, QWERTYdelight.com, and writes sleep stories for the Slumber App.