Real Estate: Codependency is a NO NO

Be empathetic with real estate buyers and sellers

Realtors would do well to practice empathy rather than sympathy when working with real estate clients

Real estate sales is an art where–and those in the industry can well attest–the success and failure of a particular project is frequently separated by a razor’s edge.

Issues so small that they go unnoticed or are deemed inconsequential can fester resentment between inexperienced Realtors and their real estate clients, causing deals to fall through. But if you keep a close eye on what seem to be minor details, you can use them to your advantage, and can bring even the rockiest situation to a fruitful conclusion.

One such subtlety you need to pay attention to as a real estate agent is the difference between being sympathetic or empathetic toward your clients. Empathy is defined as being affected by another person’s feelings, moods, or behavior. Being sympathetic, on the other hand, is to understand but not personally identify with someone else’s feelings or situation. Sympathy allows for some distance between you and the other person. While I may sound like your sixth-grade teacher handing out a pop vocabulary quiz, in reality I’m giving you an important lesson in eliminating codependency from business partnerships.

Realtors would do well to practice empathy rather than sympathy—in fact they should avoid sympathy like the plague!

Remember that you are assisting someone in what is most likely the largest financial decision of their lives; you need to be able to put yourself in their shoes. You need to be able to understand their fears, worries, and hesitations, but you absolutely must not allow them to become your fears and worries. Your feelings and identity need to be autonomous and objective, not intertwined with those of your real estate clients. If you start feeling sorry for them or react in some other way, such as getting frustrated or angry, you are being codependent. Make no mistake about it: codependency is as toxic to business as it is to all other relationships.

In my new book Getting the Property SOUL’D – A Breakthrough System for Successful Stress-Free Selling I talk about eight virtues or qualities a real estate salesperson needs to acquire as well as the eight pitfalls to avoid. Codependency is certainly one of the pitfalls I tackle in the book. As you will see in the following example from my career, it must be avoided.

I was representing a couple named Blayne and Angela, who, for some reason, unbeknownst to me, thought the best strategy to sell their home was advertising the strange decorations they had added to their bathroom. After yet another real estate buyer passed on the house Angela asked me: “Why didn’t you emphasize to the buyer this beautiful etched-glass shower door we custom-designed for the master bathroom?” Her voice was soft and melodious, in high contrast to the icy coldness radiating from her.

How could I tell her that the majority of buyers were not into having naked wood nymphs prominently featured in their bathroom? I hesitated for a moment and then replied, “I thought the other amenities of the home were more important.”

“How unfortunate. I think that was a big mistake on your part,” she purred.

Not knowing what to say, I said nothing. Then, sensing a lull in the conversation, I turned to the comparable sales chart underneath the real estate brochure. As I began to speak, Angela stopped me short with a flick of her wrist. “Let’s hope this meeting has been fruitful, giving you some good real estate marketing tools to get our house sold. We really are anxious for a buyer.”

“Well, more real estate marketing may not be the one and only solution,” I said as I slid the recent real estate sales statistics across the table.

Angela pushed them back to me and stood up, offering her hand to me as if she were a member of royalty. I had no choice but to stand up and take part in this ritual. “Thank you so much for coming,” she said. “Don’t forget to take everything with you.” She was speaking so softly I could hardly hear her.

As I was being ushered out the door, I made another attempt to address the tough competition and what we were up against in a down real estate market. Angela interrupted in a firm voice up to that point I didn’t even know she had. “We are done now, Paula. There is nothing else to talk about. Blayne and I do not need to hear any negativity. What we need is a strong real estate marketing effort on your part.” She gave me another sweetly sickening smile. “It has been lovely seeing you again—just lovely.” In spite of all her elegance and social etiquette, I felt like I had just been kicked out.

I could have reacted by being defensive or by not addressing the real issue of why this particular sellers’ home was being passed over. Instead I stood firm in my belief that she needed to listen to what the San Francisco real estate market was telling her. I refused to enter into a codependent relationship with her, letting her passive-aggressiveness seep into my objective strategy for selling this home and making us both money!

While I empathetically understood why Angela felt the way she did, the real estate agent inside prevented me from being codependent with her.

Angela also was ill with an advanced stage of cancer and, though hate to say it, she played that card a lot during our time together. I think she hoped I would feel sorry for her, and thus guilty every time I stood up for myself. While of course I empathized with her on a personal level, allowing her health issues to affect my performance would not sell her and Blayne’s property. Instead it would keep us in a continual loop of blame and guilt. Neither belongs in a business transaction.

Thankfully I was able to distance myself from Angela’s manipulations, and we finally found a real estate buyer for the property–in spite of all the strange improvements they had done. Even she, with her all her codependent tendencies, was happy once the check was signed and in her (cold) hand.

For more on codependency and how it relates to success, I invite you to order my real estate book, Getting the Property SOUL’D – A Breakthrough System for Successful, Stress-Free Buying and Selling available on Amazon April 28th or go to my website

Be aware that any clients’ names have been changed to protect their privacy. Furthermore, Paula Pagano does not accept any liability for the content of any Blogs and this Website or for any actions you take or resultant consequences of actions taken based on the information provided in this communication. Any advice is my opinion after being a 35 year experienced real estate agent in San Francisco.


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