Can You Avoid Real Estate Lawsuits with Good Customer Service?

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Your excellent customer service is essential in real estate. Satisfied clients stick with you, become repeat customers, and refer others to you. Dissatisfied clients, on the other hand, may spread negative reviews or sue.

The reality is that things go wrong or problems crop up even when you’ve tried to do everything right.  So how can you use good customer service to help protect yourself?

How to reduce the risk of real estate lawsuits

Good customer service creates connection and builds trust. If you have a good working relationship with your client, they’ll be more likely to call you first — to allow you to help resolve an issue, rather than dialing their attorney immediately.

You want your clients to feel like you are working hard for them and taking care of their needs. Should any issues occur, they should feel that you can and will do what it takes to help them resolve them. That means setting and living up to expectations and sometimes going a little beyond.

Here are four specific actions you can take.

Set expectations early

We all know first impressions matter. Start building a positive relationship at the your first meeting with a client. You can get off to a good start by:

  • Showing up prepared with questions that “make the client feel heard and understood” on their preferences
  • Clearly laying out the process, timelines, and expectations based on current market situations and what the client is looking for
  • Explaining your plan for communication and responsiveness

That first meeting sets the foundation for the rest of what you do. So make a good first impression—and then keep it up. Following the meeting, send a recap email with your understanding of their needs and preferences. Include reminders about best ways to reach you, rough timelines for various stages of the process, and when they can expect to hear from you next.

Respond to client questions in a timely manner

Your clients are likely to have many questions. Make sure you answer them promptly. These days, people expect responses almost instantaneously. Even when you are pressed for time, don’t rush responses. One real estate agent’s quick response of “good to go” sent the wrong message to her client. That miscommunication almost led to a real estate lawsuit. Think through all communication carefully, especially when responding to an email with multiple questions or concerns.

Let clients know when they can expect to hear back from you. Ten minutes can seem like a lifetime in a texting world. Let clients know that you often wait to respond to texts until you are in the office, so that you have the correct data. Or you’ll respond first thing in the morning to any emails that come in after a certain time. Setting these kinds of communications expectations will help them feel more confident that you will get back to them promptly.

(And consider using email, so you’ll have a more reliable record of your communication. See our related post on texts versus email in real estate communications.)

Don’t avoid client communication or difficult questions. If you need time to research information or consider how to respond, send a confirmation of receipt email. This lets your client know that you received their email, call or text, and that you’re working on a response or solution.

Listen to client concerns

Buying or selling a home is often both emotional and a big financial investment that can raise concerns in people. Some of these may seem legitimate to you, but others may make you roll your eyes. Whatever the issue, the truth is that people want to feel heard. When they do, they are more likely to be satisfied with their experience.

Sometimes just listening is enough; other times clients will need information or answers. Recapping your understanding of their concerns in writing after a phone or in-person conversation both helps your client feel heard and provides important documentation of concerns for any future reference. Use the same email to reply with answers to those concerns, so the client once again sees that you’re addressing their exact needs.

You’ll want to alleviate your clients’ concerns when you can, but be careful how you do that. Giving legal advice, tax advice, or advice in another specialty area can put you in legal hot water. It’s better to advise your client to talk to a lawyer, CPA, building inspector, or other specialist to get the appropriate advice on areas outside of your direct expertise.

Make it personal

Buying or selling a home isn’t an impersonal transaction. A personal touch goes a long way. When you remember a client’s birthday or the names of their kids or dog, it makes them feel more connected.

Other ways to show you’ll go the extra mile to help your client make this major life transition go smoothly: provide relevant information, such as tips on local restaurants, grocery stores, car washes, dry cleaners, and other services near a chosen property. If the buyer has children, share locations of schools and parks for them to visit. For pet lovers, provide information on dog parks, vets and groomers in the area. If your client has shared other interests such as music or hiking, you can add relevant local options like concert venues or local trails.

You can also develop a more personal relationship by writing a personal thank you note for working with you. And instead of choosing a generic closing gift like flowers or champagne, choose something that reflects the client’s interests. Connect on a personal level while still maintaining a professional demeanor at all times.

Don’t rely solely on customer service

While good customer service can give you the opportunity to address a client’s issue before they call an attorney, and is always a plus for your business, it won’t head off all real estate lawsuits. It’s critical to avoid misrepresentation and assure proper disclosure and effective documentation. In addition, make sure you carry real estate E&O insurance and that your policy is appropriate for your situation.

If you are sued or have an issue that may lead to a lawsuit, legal advice is critical. It can be costly, but a lawsuit could be costlier. When you have CRES Real Estate E&O + ClaimPrevent®,  you’ll have 7-days-a-week access to local real estate attorneys. Our legal team can help answer questions about specific issues that may help you avoid a lawsuit or be best prepared if you can’t.

What is your favorite customer service tip for real estate agents?

This blog/website is made available by CRES Insurance Services for educational purposes to give you general information and understanding of legal risks and insurance options, not to provide specific legal advice. This blog/website should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state. Claims examples are for illustrative purposes only. Read your policy for a complete description of what is covered and excluded.

Originally Published October 11, 2017

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