Whether it's via email, text message or face-to-face conversation, when a discussion goes from productive to combative, it can make anyone’s stomach turn. And when a potential home purchase or sale is involved, you might not know how to reverse the uncomfortable, angry tone and get back on track.

In many ways, it’s deftly navigating those hairy interactions that make for a more successful deal. Annemarie Stephens, associate broker for Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in the District of Columbia, says one of her favorite things about being a part of the real estate industry is working with a variety of people and improving each interaction.

“There’s always something to learn from every transaction – each personality is different,” Stephens says.

[See: The Best Apps for House Hunting.]

Here are four awkward situations you may experience during the homebuying and selling process – and how to get past them successfully.

The listing and buyer agents are butting heads. Any business can foster an atmosphere for rivalry, and real estate can be particularly competitive. But if the agents involved in your deal can’t get along, the best thing for you to do is remain calm and collected – and on the sidelines.

Any animosity between your agent and his or her counterpart on the other end of the deal shouldn’t reach your ears. But in the event that you find out, the best thing to do is encourage a levelheaded approach to all negotiations, says Bob Cenk, a real estate coach and co-owner of Broadview Realty in the Pittsburgh area.

Many agents feel pressured to approach a transaction aggressively because the client pushes for more concessions for a better price, he explains. “To the buyer or seller, I would say this doesn’t need to be a confrontation … because a lot of times, that’s where agents get their motivation,” Cenk says.

Your agent gets testy with you. You may have thrown the first sassy comment or you may not have, but either way a rift in the relationship with your real estate agent can make for some extremely awkward house showings – and it may force you to put off buying or selling altogether.

If your agent responds rudely to a question or gets confrontational, it’s best to take a step back before escalating the situation. Often a calm, face-to-face conversation to reset expectations can help you get back on track with your agent and avoid any further misinterpretation of tone or meaning. You also have the option to speak with someone else at the agent’s office.

If you’ve signed a contract for representation, you’re tied to the brokerage – but not necessarily a specific agent – so you may be able to work things through after communicating with the brokerage. If you can’t go forward with the same agent, it’s possible another can be assigned to you.

“If you don’t want to face [your agent], have a third party in the [broker’s] office, so you can discuss what’s going on,” says Carol Mazur, a real estate coach and owner of The Top Producer Group, a real estate training company.

Emotions can run high for all involved, but a good real estate agent will stay levelheaded and only act in the client's best interest. Stephens says even in the event of a client backing out of a deal, it’s about the relationship and client experience.

“My business is based on my reputation, and no commission check is worth my reputation,” she says.

[Read: How to Break Up With Your Real Estate Agent.]

You’re not getting along with your spouse. Selling a home is often a part of divorce proceedings, and if you’re still at odds with your soon-to-be ex-spouse, navigating a successful real estate transaction can be rough – and not just for you.

The agent's role in the case of divorce is to remain an impartial third party, even when things get uncomfortable, says Cheryl Marlow, a broker with Keller Williams Realty in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She notes it happens "more frequently than you'd think" when an agent meets with a couple for the first time about selling their home and moving, only for one spouse to surprise everyone in the meeting with plans to move out separately.

Marlow, who speaks to Keller Williams agents across the country, stresses that the agent has to remain uninvolved in the drama, and it's most helpful when the clients can respect that as well.

"We must stay neutral. When one of the parties attempts to befriend us and get us on their side, you literally must, as a professional, take a step back and say, 'My role is to help you make the real estate portion of this life transition smooth for you. It's best that I don't know the details [of the divorce],'" she says.

You’re not a fan of the other party. For most real estate transactions involving agents on each side, you won’t even meet the other individual involved in the deal. But on the off chance you do during inspection or final walk-through, it’s possible for tensions to run high as you negotiate price and discuss the pros and cons of a property one of you has owned and likely lived in, and the other is looking to buy.

Even if you don’t meet face to face, it’s all too easy for emotions to boil over if you let your competitive streak get the best of you.

Cenk stresses to sellers to be completely honest about the home, especially when completing the seller disclosure. And he asks buyers to assume 100 percent honesty as well. If a defect or problem is discovered in inspection, a buyer shouldn't immediately assume the worst.

“This is the seller’s best opinion – it doesn’t mean if they leave something off that they were trying to pull something over on you,” Cenk says.

[See: 10 Unorthodox Ways Your Real Estate Agent May Market Your Home.]

If you find yourselves across the conference table from one another at closing, keep in mind that buyer and seller don’t have to be best friends, but meeting can be productive. Marlow says while she doesn't schedule introductions, the opportunity to meet the other person involved in the deal can help the seller feel more comfortable about who's moving into the home or provide the buyer with some information about sprinkler systems and other house details that make moving in easier.

"Unless there is a specific reason not to allow them to meet, should they happen to meet, it can be positive," Marlow says.

Tags: real estate, home prices, existing home sales, pending home sales


Devon Thorsby is the Real Estate editor at U.S. News & World Report, where she writes consumer-focused articles about the homebuying and selling process, home improvement, tenant rights and the state of the housing market.

She has appeared in media interviews across the U.S. including National Public Radio, WTOP (Washington, D.C.) and KOH (Reno, Nevada) and various print publications, as well as having served on panels discussing real estate development, city planning policy and homebuilding.

Previously, she served as a researcher of commercial real estate transactions and information, and is currently a member of the National Association of Real Estate Editors. Thorsby studied Political Science at the University of Michigan, where she also served as a news reporter and editor for the student newspaper The Michigan Daily. Follow her on Twitter or write to her at dthorsby@usnews.com.

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