Confessions of a property agent in Singapore: Why I had to drop my worst client ever

PHOTO: Stackedhomes

We've all heard the terrible agent stories.

Cheating unsuspecting buyers, always pushing for new launches for the high commission, hiding details that could break the deal - it's no wonder many feel that an agent's job is akin to one of a snake oil salesman.

But as much as there are many cases of bad agents out there, we rarely hear about what happens on the other side of the coin.

Many people forget that the property industry is actually a people business - it's all about relationships. 

As such, dealing with people while maintaining a good quality service can be gruelling at times, especially if your reputation is on the line.

It's truly not an easy business to be in, and it's certainly not a walk in the park like many "top" agents claim it to be in a bid to attract more agents to their team. 

A big issue that many agents face is their experiences with clients. 

By and large, most clients are fine. But there are just always some bad eggs that can make life very difficult. 

Most agents don't want to share these experiences either, for fear of getting ostracised - which is why you rarely hear of some of the tough stories that agents have to go through. 

And so as someone who works with both sides of the equation, let me share with you one of the worst client experiences that I've come across. 

(For obvious reasons, I will not be sharing real names here). 

Tracy's experience as a newbie agent

Just like anyone starting out in a new job, there's always going to be a steep learning curve. 

From trying to be proficient in the ever-changing property market and rules, to learning the nuances of dealing with tricky clients and agents, and to having to prospect for new clients - it is really almost like starting your own business. 

And it really doesn't help that for most of the journey - you are basically on your own. 

So as a new agent, Tracy was mostly left to figure everything out by herself, "unless you have chosen a good mentor, most team leaders are not the most helpful," she disclosed. 

"Agents are just all follow the herd type of mentality. At that time, everyone was spending money on flyers to prospect, so I blindly followed as I didn't want to be left out."

She did it for three months, but the results were dismal. Just two calls, and one of them hung up straight when he found out she was a new agent. 

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It was getting desperate. 

In the middle of the 4th month, she received her third call. It was an investor who owned three properties! 

During the first meet, he told her that he had other agents he was working with but was looking for someone new he could trust. And he didn't seem fazed at all when she honestly told him that she was still new to the business. 

He wanted to sell one of his properties and apparently had picked her flyer out of the bunch because she had a "nice smile". 

It did not occur to her at all that this seemed too good to be true. 

"I would have taken anything at that point", she replied. "It felt like things were taking a turn for the better, and it was great to earn the trust of someone".

Tracy always wanted to win over clients with sincerity and to try her best, and she was adamant to go all-in. 

"I did a presentation, and then asked him to give me an exclusive to market his unit for sale," she said. "He looked at me with a calculated wry smile, and then said, do a good job first, and he will have other business for me," she recounted. 

"What could I do? I knew from my peers that this was not ideal, but I figured I had to do what it takes to win his business," she added. 

Thus, she agreed and he passed her the keys to the apartment, and told her to get it in a good condition to sell. 

To her horror, the place was in poor condition. It was dirty, mouldy, and in some places, it had a weird, damp smell. 

"I had expected to do some minor tidying up, and even brought a little cleaning supplies along," she shared. "But this was too much, how could I be expected to clean the space up on my own?" 

PHOTO: Stackedhomes

Tracy then called the owner, to ask for some help to pay for a proper cleaning service, but he wasn't having any of it. 

"He told me that his previous agents used to offer this as part of the package for him, and if I didn't want to continue, he could easily find another agent." 

She was beginning to feel like she was just being used, but she felt that she just had to suck it up to do it. After all, it's not like she had a line of clients queuing at her doorstep. 

Tracy then tried enquiring with a few cleaning services, but the quotes were just higher than what she was willing to pay. At that point, she hadn't closed a deal yet, and her funds were dangerously low from paying for the marketing flyers for the past few months. 

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"I had no choice. All I had at that point was my time, and I badly wanted to get my first deal under my belt," she said. 

She then spent a miserable five hours cleaning up the place, but was spurred on at the thought of possibly being able to secure the deal. 

And so after she was done, she took some photos and sent them to him, along with a reminder to sign the exclusive. 

"He replied saying thanks, and to list the place," but he did reiterate that it wasn't his practice to sign an exclusive. To put it bluntly, he told her wanted his agents to be "kept on their toes". 

Tracy then asked if he was working with any other agents, and he said no, so she felt that she shouldn't be pushing her luck.

She posted it online, and along with some marketing budget to spend on portals (the online world wasn't as big back then) and newspapers, she managed to get a steady stream of potential buyers to view the place in the next subsequent days. 

To set a good impression, she took it upon herself to create a nice ambience for buyers, with lit candles for some scent, and hotel slippers that she collected through travelling so as to not dirty the floor. 

She remembered there was one particular long weekend (with a public holiday on Monday) when she was there from 8am to 11pm on a Saturday, likewise on Sunday, and the entire Monday as well. "In between viewings, I had to respond via text as well as I wanted to be as prompt as possible. So it was really hectic." 

Her efforts did pay off though, and she had a few interested parties that came back for a second viewing.

One particular couple was very interested, and asked to view it again suddenly on a Sunday morning. Tracy cancelled breakfast with her family to make it down, sensing that an offer was about to come. 

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After the viewing, they confirmed their interest and wanted to make an offer. Tracy was excited, was she about to close her first deal? 

But as they say, life is never that easy. Still, she was disheartened that their opening offer was 30 per cent below what the owner had asked for. She told them that it probably wouldn't be accepted, but she would try to ask anyway. 

"I was quite apprehensive about telling him of the offer, as I've heard some owners get a little insulted when they receive low-ball offers," she shared.

And true enough, he got a little heated about it. "He told me to not entertain such ridiculous offers, and to please filter my buyers more". 

The next thing he said though, was truly unexpected to Tracy. "He then said he will be at the viewings over the weekend, as he wanted to monitor how I was showing the buyers around". 

"I was honestly too shocked to even respond appropriately", Tracy recounted. "I didn't know what to do and just said okay!"

While in retrospect she knows she should have reached out to the other agents in her team for help, but she just felt so ashamed at that point. "I just couldn't bear to ask for help, as everyone had already closed their first deals, and I was still struggling." 

So that weekend, she had to deal with the owner watching over her like a hawk over every word she said. "After each viewing, he would point out mistakes and scold me over how I was showing the buyers around. It was humiliating." 

She really wanted to throw in the towel at this point, but the thought of throwing away all the work she had already put in just seemed like a huge waste. It was the risk of real estate deals for agents - you don't get paid till the deal gets closed.

As it is, life has a funny way of working out (although it didn't seem that way back then).

The last straw was when that same buyer came for the third time, and asked if she knew if there were going to be any future obstructions to the views.

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"I was about to tell them yes, but before I could say anything, the owner quickly interrupted to say that no, there wouldn't be", Tracy recalled.

For her, it didn't even cross her mind to not tell the truth. This was quite a number of years back when the Internet was still seen as new technology (much like the metaverse today). Shopping online was still in its infancy, and buyers were much less educated on property matters than they are today.

She was very uncomfortable in that situation, but felt she couldn't say anything for fear of stepping on his toes.

Ultimately though, Tracy made the tough decision to end this toxic relationship on her terms.

"He was just a shark. And he knew that he was preying on my newness as an agent," she said. "I just couldn't bear to lie to a buyer like that when I knew the truth. I would rather have the peace of mind to sleep well at night knowing that I did the right thing."

As they say, honesty is the best policy, and the story ended on a good note for Tracy.

All's well that ends well

"After I told the owner that I won't be lying to clients like that, he just hung up shouted some rude words which I shall not say, and hung up. I called up that particular buyer to tell him the truth, and they were super grateful that I was honest as they may have just gone ahead with making a better offer", Tracy shared.

The best part? They didn't have an agent, and asked Tracy if she could help them find their ideal home.

"I ended up showing them a few more places after that, and they became my first client and deal!"

Despite everything that happened, Tracy was happy about how it ended. It's been many years since, and it's all water under the bridge for her now.

"I did learn a lot from this experience. I had to learn to value my time and work, and at the same time, it really helped me appreciate other clients that came along after", Tracy answered.

This article was first published in Stackedhomes.