Advice for Working with Difficult Clients

Real estate appraiser working with difficult clients over the phone

Even if the bulk of your appraisals are fairly cut and dried, and require minimal interaction with a human client, any appraiser will occasionally have to work with a difficult client. The assignment might require you to work with a specialty property that is hard to appraise, or with a client who is personally disagreeable, or exceptionally exacting, or who has an agenda that you don’t understand or can’t go along with. Here are some tips for working with difficult clients.

Working with AMCs and banks: Time management

When working with AMCs, an appraiser’s chief challenge is often time management. Today, about three-quarters of residential appraisals in the U.S. are ordered by AMCs, and most appraisers have a clear procedure for working with those companies. Therefore, one secret to success is refining your procedure so that you’ll complete your work in as timely and efficient a manner as possible.

Manage your time so that you don’t have to turn work away. Schedule your assignments as you get them. Don’t always tackle them in the order in which they come to you. Instead, sort them by deadline, and give priority to the jobs that have to get done yesterday. If a client gives you a long deadline, take advantage.

Give your clients daily status updates, telling them what assignments you’re working on, where you are in the project, and what they can expect from you on that day. Let your AMC know your availability, keeping the client aware of when you’ll be taking vacations or other days off.

Have a “can do” attitude. If you have concerns about a specific assignment, state them in an optimistic way. For example, “I can do it, but I need to let you know that (this or that complication) might cause a delay.”

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Working with non-lenders: Expectations management

You’re more likely to run into a difficult client when you’re working with a non-lender. AMCs and banks usually know the scope of an appraiser’s abilities, and the rules that govern the appraisal business. But if you’re doing an appraisal as part of a divorce or an estate settlement, for example, your client might have unrealistic expectations. A client might want you to do something that the client doesn’t understand is illegal or unethical. For example, a client might ask an appraiser to guarantee values beforehand simply because he’s unaware that it’s against professional principles for an appraiser to do so.

Usually, you can avoid this issue by giving the client a quick primer on what you’re allowed to do, and what’s forbidden. You’ll have fewer misunderstandings the more the client knows about your job. For example, you might say, “I can’t guarantee you a value because that would be a serious ethical violation that might wreck my career.” Or, “I can’t withhold that piece of information, because I would open myself to liability issues and professional sanctions if I did.” Your client will probably be grateful for this increased understanding of the appraisal business.

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Learn your client’s objectives

This doesn’t mean compromising your moral principles or professional ethics to give clients what they want—but it does mean that you can do your best to help them achieve their objectives within the rules. Be as much of an ally to your clients as you can be. For example, if you’re appraising a commercial property, you might use any of three methods—the cost approach, the sales comparison/market approach, or the income capitalization approach—depending on which method is to your client’s greatest advantage. Be as transparent as you can be.

Get paid in advance whenever possible

If you’re paid, it puts you in an advantageous position because the client can’t threaten to withhold payment if they don’t like the result of your appraisal. You usually can’t do this if you’re working with an AMC or directly with a bank, but you often can do it in non-lending situations.

Deal with complaints immediately

If your client comes to you with a problem, start by re-phrasing it. Take actual written notes, then state the problem back to the client in your own words. Ask, “Do I understand your complaint?” Then say, “Here’s what I can do.” Tell the client when you’ll have it done. If you can do some of what the client asks, but not all, avoid mentioning the parts you can’t do. Usually, the client will be satisfied with what you can do. If you have to refuse to do this or that, avoid giving a flat-out “no.” Phrase it as, “It would be extremely difficult to do that, because….” If you need to get back to them, give them a time when you’ll call back, and call them at precisely that time. Even if you don’t have the matter fully resolved, the client will appreciate you keeping your word and keeping them informed.

Remember: When working with difficult clients, handling a complaint to the client’s satisfaction will often leave that client better satisfied than if there had never been a problem. Handling a complaint badly or not at all can be fatal.

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Article written by Joseph Dobrian. Joseph Dobrian has been writing about commercial and residential real estate, and real estate-related finance, for more than 30 years. His byline has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The New Yorker, Real Estate Forum, Journal of Property Management, and many other publications. He is also a noted novelist, essayist, and translator. His website is www.josephdobrian.com, and he can be contacted at jdobrian@aol.com.

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