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The foundation of every deal: Setting expectations

Setting expectations can often mean the difference between an angry client and your biggest fan and are much like the foundation of a home. They’re the base from which you build and you can never assume they’re intact because even the smallest cracks can cause the whole thing to topple. It’s also one of the first things you should check if things go wrong.

Why, you ask?

Generally, people base their feelings and decisions off of their previously set expectations. A great example of this is waiting in line. If you’re told you have a 30-minute wait but it takes 60 minutes, you’re frustrated. However, if you’re told it’s a 90-minute wait, but then it only takes 60 minutes, you’re happy. Either way, it’s the same 60 minutes… just perceived a lot differently.

So, set yourself up for success with a great foundation by outlining the expectations your clients should have and then present them upfront.

The balancing act

This is where things can get a little tricky. You want to walk a fine line between setting realistic expectations and scaring them with every challenge that could arise. Often this is done with a pre-transaction kit that you can deliver to clients and go over with them in person (or on video meetings). Keep in mind, every agent and client are a little different, so cover the basics and try to keep it to communication preferences and schedule.

How you communicate with clients is an integral part of any transaction but it’s also a common failure point. Usually, the breakdown has to do with two items: what mediums you use to communicate with clients and your available schedule to do so.

The medium you use is important to make your clients feel comfortable as well as convey information effectively. For some types of communication there’s a single best choice on how you should deliver it, while others are more flexible and you could use a variety of mediums to stay connected. For those places where you have the option to use different mediums (like short form chat), ask your client what they’d like to use.

Now that you’ve catered to your clients’ preferred communication method, it’s time to set an expectation for your schedule and how quickly they should expect responses from you. While a lot of people believe being a real estate agent is a 24/7 job (and it surely feels that way sometimes), the most successful agents I know insist on having work-life balance.

If you correctly convey your schedule upfront, and ask for theirs, you can work out the best times for everyone. This can be as simple as saying, “I take Sundays away from real estate to be with my family. This is really important to me so I generally won’t be available to respond. If that doesn’t work for your schedule I understand and can recommend someone else. However, I do pride myself on being totally present for you when we’re working together. What times are you generally available?”

Buyer or seller requirements

Not all buyers or sellers come into a deal in the same situation. So, you’ll often need to set some expectations for things they’ll need to complete before you move into different phases of the deal. The most common example of this is requiring buyers to get pre-approved before going to view homes. However, this could be a longer list as buyers may need to get finances in order, or sellers may need to clean up the home before it is shown to the public.

Whatever the case, your best option is to explain why these requirements are in place, as most times that reasoning can inspire action. For buyers, explain how they could miss out on the home of their dreams because they aren’t approved in time. Or with sellers you can talk about how the price they’ll get for their home is significantly impacted by how it’s staged. Either way, that reasoning is critical in conveying your expectations to your client.

Timeline of the deal

This is often the most important thing you can cover with your clients because the sense of urgency created within real estate transactions manifest into unreasonable expectations and almost always leads to a disappointed client.

When you cover the timeline of the deal, make sure you include the events before and after the transaction process as well. You’ll want to mention communication again here, noting points in the process when you might be in frequent contact versus other times when you may not need to communicate constantly. This will help your clients understand what’s going to happen every day that they work with you and how you will communicate and push things forward in the background.

Offers / pricing and reductions

Whether you’re talking about the price of a seller’s home, or what is available for a buyer’s price point, it’s always a challenging and personal conversation.

If you set your clients up from the get-go to understand that price is a living, breathing factor in the deal, that conversation becomes much more fluid at every point in the transaction. Make sure you’re having this conversation with your buyers and sellers before you ever make an offer or have to adjust the price on a listing. This awareness alone makes people more receptive to making any changes necessary for a deal to be successful.

Hidden challenges

You can’t possibly predict everything that can go wrong in a deal. However as an experienced agent you probably know what kind of things will sink one. Helping your clients understand what can impact the speed and success of a deal will ensure they don’t get frustrated or caught off guard if and when something doesn’t go as planned.

And then you might do everything right and have the transaction going along smoothly…. but your buyer or seller does something to unknowingly impact the transaction and suddenly the deal falls apart.

It’s not always within your control what happens, even if your own client happens to be the instigator. Reviewing how your clients can help make a deal successful is important but making sure they understand that their actions can also have a negative impact is the difference between a sale and a lost client.

Services you do/don’t provide

Just like you’re telling the client what you’re responsible for, it’s also important to outline where you’ll be handing the deal off to other professionals. If a mortgage broker, lawyer, inspector or any other professional is needed, the client should understand that so they know that 1) you as the agent are not responsible for all duties in the transaction and 2) if anything goes wrong during those times, their perception of your service will not be damaged because they understand a third party is involved.


When it comes to fees, you need to make sure you cover any fees associated with the deal, as well as your own fees as an agent. It’s amazing how many stories I’ve heard about deals falling through because of an unexpected fee (for a small amount of money). This usually starts with a client saying, “I don’t understand why I’m paying…” So avoid that at all costs and make sure you outline all the fees they may come across, including yours.

I know, talking about your fees is one of the toughest topics to cover and there are a ton of different strategies for how to do it. Whichever strategy you choose, I tend to think you can use your expectations as a basis for your fees, especially if you’ve outlined your expectations correctly and you’ve shown them your full value and everything they can expect from you.

Putting it down on paper

It’s impossible to manage every expectation people have but as a real estate agent the more you give your clients on paper and the more you talk to them (and really have conversations with them) the better off all parties are going to be in the end.

Early on I mentioned a pre-transaction kit, and now that you understand the major categories where client expectations might not be aligned with reality, you’ll want to create your own resource that outlines what the real estate process is actually like, what they can expect throughout the timeline, what challenges could arise and how you’ll deal with them if they do.

Whether it’s a sale or a purchase, give your clients an actual in-hand resource they can refer to at any time. This saves so much time in unnecessary communications back and forth about things you’ve previously reviewed with them, and immediately reduces buyer and seller stresses the moment they have that reference in their possession.

No matter which resources you give your clients, or how early you’re able to set expectations with them, the key to tying it all together is following through with every single expectation that you set. When you do all these things properly it builds a level of trust with your clients that cannot be replicated with any other thing you do – marketing, closing gifts, client appreciation or otherwise. And trust is the best and surest way to drum up repeat business and referrals my friends!