Transaction falling apart? Never say, “I’m sorry.”

As a broker-owner, I act as a CEO, coach, therapist, cheerleader and shoulder-to-cry-on for a few hundred professionals.

I get to celebrate closings, successes and goals achieved, but also be there when deals are crashing, agents are threatened with litigation or are fired by their customers, and when their exclusive agreements are blatantly violated. It’s not all rainbows and unicorns and glowing testimonials in this business, as we all know.

Whether you’re in the heat of a conflict, working through a brutal negotiation, or trying to crawl out of a dry spell, here’s my advice — be careful what you say!

Never say, “I’m sorry”

My dad taught me this as I was learning to drive, and although I definitely didn’t understand the life-long impact this lesson would have on me as a 15-year old who learned the rules of the road behind the wheel of an XL Chevy Suburban dragging a four-horse trailer, it has served me well.

It is not up to you to apologize for circumstances beyond your control.

When you say “I’m sorry” you are doing several things:

  • Admitting fault.
  • Accepting responsibility.
  • Offering to carry a burden you can’t actually unload or even lighten.

Think about times you hear or say I’m sorry:

  • “I’m sorry for your loss.” (When someone passes away)
  • “I’m sorry it rained/snowed/hailed/was too hot.” (During a party, event, etc.)
  • “I’m sorry (x) happened to you.” (Countless occasions and reasons)

Stop. The next time you go to say (or type) the words “I’m sorry,” take a beat and think about what you’re really feeling or trying to express. Instead of those words, use these instead:

  • “Love and light, your grandmother lived such a long and wonderful life!”
  • “Bummer! I would love to help when you reschedule your event. I’m sure the weather will be lovely next time!”
  • “Oh shoot! Let me know if you need a ride while you’re waiting on insurance to replace your stolen car!”

I hear agents saying, “I’m sorry” during the real estate process and every time, I cringe, because they’re not only weighing down their own self-consciousness; they might also be putting themselves in a difficult legal position.

  • “I’m sorry, you didn’t get the house we wrote the offer on.”
  • “I’m sorry it hailed while your home was under contract and the buyer didn’t want to deal with the roof.”
  • “I’m sorry interest rates changed right before you were finally ready to start house-hunting.”
  • “I’m sorry your home hasn’t had any showings and no offers.”

Whether your buyers went against your advice and wrote a low-ball offer, your sellers didn’t list when you recommended and missed the hot market, or your customers just had some bad-weather luck, it’s not on you. STOP APOLOGIZING.

Here’s how to flip the script in real estate

It takes some serious work and mental discipline to flip this script, but doing so is necessary for emotional and legal survival. Here are some examples:

  • “We didn’t get this one, unfortunately, but in this seller’s market we’re going to need to be aggressive and realistic to put a deal together. Let’s consider expanding your search and think about what incentives we might offer in the next contract to make sure you come out on top!”
  • “Wow, that hail was good timing. Let’s work with your insurance company to make sure we can get the roof replaced and get back on the market — and at least we won’t have to worry about the roof coming up at Inspection!”
  • “Yes, the increase in interest rates lowered your affordability a bit, but now you’ll be dealing with a lot less competition, have more inventory to choose from, and will be able to include some contingencies that sellers weren’t considering before. Plus, you can always refinance.”
  • “Even with a full marketing push, maximum exposure to the market, and a full weekend of open houses, we’ve had no showings or offers. Let’s regroup and work together to improve the price and/or condition to make sure that we get an offer next weekend!”

It’s up to you as an agent to control your transactions to the best of your ability, to manage difficult situations, and to help your customers through everything from natural disasters to personal problems, but it’s not a good idea to accept responsibility for all of the things.

Here are some phrases to try:

“I hate hearing that”

“Oh no, how can I help”

“Awwww shoot, that must have been disappointing”

“Hmmm, now what”

My challenge for you: The next time you start to say “I’m sorry” think about what you are actually trying to convey/say, and find some new words, and protect yourself both emotionally and legally in every situation.

Stacie Staub is the broker-owner of West + Main Realtors in Colorado.