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I Fired a Client Today...

Published: 07/06/2019
By: Brandon

I've been shooting real estate professionally for about 7 years. In that time, I've shot well over 5000 homes for hundreds of clients and today, for the first time ever, I fired a client.

Here's how it went down:

This client and I had always had a good working relationship but whenever my phone rings and I see her name, I know I'm in for a challenge. More often than not, the homes she hires me to shoot aren't ready when we arrive and sometimes the sellers aren't even expecting us. Despite having "the conversation" with her many times, it never seemed to sink in.

About a month ago, she booked me to shoot and measure a large home. The person who measures for me always shows up about half-an-hour before me, to get a head start. Just before I arrived at the property, I got a call from my measurer telling me that she's uncomfortable being in the home. She said it was filthy to the point that she worried about her health. On top of this, four individual tenants were giving her a hard time. At that point, my patience was pretty much shot, so I told her to leave and that I would talk to the client. I called the client and politely explained to her that the state of the property and behavior of the tenants was making members of my team uncomfortable and that we would not be shooting or measuring the property. I would’ve hoped for some understanding, if not an apology. Not her. She went up one side of me and down the other, then hung up. I thought that would be the last I'd hear from her.

Fast forward a couple of weeks and she called to book me for another property, with no mention of our little spat. So, I figured all was good and we were moving on. This property happened to be 45 minutes out of town and she insisted that it had to be shot on a particular day and time. I had to juggle family obligations but was able to accommodate her request. On the day of the shoot, I made the long trek, only to arrive at a vacant property with no lock box, and no one to let me in. I called the client and got no answer. I waited 10 minutes and called again. By the 25 minute mark, I decided to pull the plug. I got a call from the agent two hours later telling me she forgot about the shoot and wanted me to turn around and go back to the house (no apology, btw!) I told her I had other commitments and we would need to re-schedule. She blew up again and hung up for the second time in as many weeks. This time I thought for sure we were done... Nope!

Two days ago, she called to book a shoot. This time she was very pleasant and even apologized for how poorly she had behaved on the phone the last time we spoke. I decided to give her the benefit of the doubt--one more time. She went on to tell me that the property was vacant and that I could go anytime (my favorite type of booking).

I arrived at the property and was pleasantly surprised to find a lock box, so I let myself in. To my surprise, it was in pretty good shape. I went through and shot the main floor and then the upstairs without incident. Then I moved to the basement.

Like always, I walked around to get a sense of the layout, open doors, turn on lights, etc. When I got to the second to the last door, I announced myself and opened it up to find a tenant passed out on the couch (with no clothes on)! I was so caught off guard that I froze. As I turned to leave, hoping I wouldn't wake her up, a guy comes out of nowhere (presumably her boyfriend) yelling and swearing at me. Now I'm in defense mode, trying to gather myself and talk him down at the same time, while he chases me out of the house swearing and threatening to call the police.

Once outside, I called the client and told her what had just happened. Her response? Laughter. She told me she’d forgotten that there were still a couple of tenants renting a room in the basement. Her carelessness put me in an uncomfortable and dangerous position and apparently, she could not have cared less. At this point, I was furious! It took every bit of my self-control not to freak out at her. Instead, I calmly told her that there would be no photos to deliver and that she should never call me again.

This situation was an excellent reminder that going into other peoples’ homes on a daily basis comes with risk, and we need to be diligent with how we conduct ourselves. I gave this client too many chances and I almost paid a hefty price for it. I should have put my foot down after the second incident, If not the first. It’s a mistake I'll never make again.

Have you ever had to fire a client? If so, how did you go about doing it?

26 comments on “I Fired a Client Today...”

  1. I wish I had some great stories for you all, but my clients respect me and treat me well. I have had some houses that got reschedules on the moment, some dirty ones and even a empty lockbox, wonders what a good lock pick can do. But all in all, no problems worth raising my blood pressure over. Of course, I also carry a Glock.

  2. wow Brandon, what an inconsiderate agent.
    I normally require the agent to do a walk through before I go to a shoot, because what we consider "ready to be shot" is not always what the client /homeowner understands is ready to be shot.
    I don't like to go into an abandon home alone as I want the agent there to open the house for me and move anything that needs to be moved. and if there is an uncooperative renter/owner, I'd rather the agent deal with it not me.
    Early this year a new and very annoying agent with a strange accent called me about a shoot on an island. I was highly recommended to her by one of my favorite brokers.
    she said it was a very small condo. When they say very small, it means they don't want to pay a lot. she was fairly demanding and said it had to shot before new renters arrived. I asked if it was ready for photography, and she gave me a sarcastic answer that these people were not pigs. I gave her a price and she said she could have it shot for half that price. I told her that was my starting price and I was extremely busy. by all means have it shot by the other photographer. I thought I was done with her but she called me again two days later. she asked me to shoot it asap and she would meet me there. she also said if I get there early, and anyone asked what I was doing , tell them to get lost and mind their own business. I then knew that this agent was extremely weird, nasty or just plain crazy person I was dealing with. when i got to the condo, she never showed up, but told me to just do it myself, and gave me the code. when i walked in, it was not ready, as it was under construction and stuff was all over the place. but because I drove all the way out on the island, I decided to move a few items, and shoot it because now I wanted to get paid for my trouble. the shots came out excellent, but I didn't give them to her until l got paid and deposited her check. I sent the links to her and the broker who recommended me. I later got a call from the agent telling me these were the worst photos, out of focus and she could have done better with her cell phone. I called my broker who recommended me and said this agent had some emotional issues and sorry he recommended me. but he did say he loved the images and virtual tour.
    I have not heard from this agent again, but if she had called, I would have done the same as you and tell her She needs to find someone else as I didn't think I could satisfy her.
    I'm sorry you had so much trouble with this woman, but you did give her many chances.

  3. Ten bucks says she set you up on that last situation. I’ve dumped a few clients after similar situations that you described. My favorite line is to tell them I’m booked EVERY TIME THEY CALL.

  4. This story is something I would expect from someone new to the business. Letting clients walk all over you only makes things worse. If they know/experienced what they can get away with you, then it is just going to get worse.

    Suggest all think about this and draw the line with respect to what you will let clients get away with. Then when they continue, you will only have yourself to blame.
    Over the years, I have had (as I am sure all of you have) “challenging” clients. I let them know the first time they are out of line and remind them of our first conversation, where I go over with new clients what it is they want and what my terms and conditions are. If they cannot abide by that agreement, then they should look for another photographer.

    Sounds harsh, but over the years, I have never missed those clients and most that had that conversation with ended up coming back and being good.
    This isn’t brain surgery, just like grade school, you let people walk over you, they are just going to get worse….

  5. Hello all, this is my first comment here ever, after a year of reading -- what an education -- so first, huge thanks to all of you!

    Two thoughts on this: 1) Realtors deal w so much stress, most keep it together but wow, not all!! What a story.
    2) Horror stories like this make the ordinary hassles I've experienced seem so tiny, thanks for that.

  6. I'm about to fire a client of my own. As I've gotten busier, my time has become more precious. This one client takes always takes my time for granted and shows no respect. I've shown up and nobody is home and no way to access, or the homeowners had no idea I was coming, or the staging company is still there for over an hour.. or all the cabinets are off in the kitchen and she wants me to wait for the contractor to put them back on. I would have fired her ages ago, but ironically, her sister is one of my best clients. Super easy to work with, properties are bang on ready, and even tips me almost every shoot. Very awkward situation for me.

  7. Matt- i have had a couple of those situations as well where the realtors are related and one is top notch and the other anything but... i feel for you but you just have stuck to your guns and mind your time... if the convo ever comes up woth one or the other just be respectfully honest

    after over 10 yrs doing this full time ... i have become very strict and do not put up woth any disrespect in treatment personally ir professionally ... we have a detailed booking form that all clients must fill out before any mention of pricing or availability is discussed... if they can’t get through the form or complain about it then they are on the naughty list and we will not entertain any future business... my other red flag is if the first question to our office of me is “how much does it cost?” we have a very simple process and if they make it difficult to even get the job details straight then i can bet they won’t read our TOS ... the longer you do this the easier it is to spot the bad apples...

    Best advice is to always stick to your TOS and be mindful of yourself ... i would not have given the OPs client a second chance

  8. You can't save them all and some are not worth saving... Partnerships are a two way street of give and take and yes things can and do happen on either side. When it gets consistently lopsided on either end it's time to part ways.

  9. I typically am more than understanding to agents, because I was one, and still have a license. But I am often booked out 8 or 9 days, and some people don't like it. They always pull the "there are other photographers, you know" card.

    My response has always been, "That's probably a good idea, I am certainly not a good fit for everyone." I've lost 2 or 3 in 10 years, which isn't bad.

  10. I think with the tenants in the basement that you reinforce the advice on doing a walk-thru first. The tenants could have been squatters or somebody using the home for something illegal and you would not have wanted to have had to try and grab your gear on the way out or have to abandon it to keep from getting injured or killed.

    My first client was the first one to get fired. I had some of the same issues with her being late or missing appointments. No lock box when the home was vacant. Her assistant having no clue about when I was scheduled and having no information on the properties in question. The final straw was her being late with the payment on the first three jobs, refusing to pay the trip charge and the check that I had to go pick up from the office not being honored when I presented it at her bank. This is why I take payment now before the photos are delivered and generally before I start making the photos. I also don't break out the trip charge as it is non-negotiable and shouldn't be a line item (which I should have done in the first place. I knew better).

    My best customers are awesome most of the time. There have been a couple of occasions where a contractor told them they were done and they weren't. Now I ask that they personally check or have one of their people stop by. Most offices have a utility person that installs signs, puts on the lock box, does walk thrus, etc. With as large of an area that I cover, it can easily be a 50 mile trip each way. Traffic isn't an issue and the land is pretty flat, so it's not that big of a deal. The two words a contractor might use that mean the job isn't done are "just" and "only". I hate those words. They are in a sentence like "We JUST need to do ______" or "We ONLY have to finish ________", both of which mean they aren't done yet. They might also be done and aren't coming back to clean up all of the fast food debris, empty paint cans and masking paper all over the place. I always suggest that a cleaning crew comes in and gives the place a good going over before I get there.

    I have a job sheet that I fill out when I'm quoting a job or booking one. It's handy to just run down the page getting answers to things such as is the home vacant or occupied. Is the person there the owner or a tenant. What's their contact numbers in case. Is the power on? Water? Is there damage the agent already knows about and what's the general condition. I shoot some HUD homes that are pretty rough and it's not an issue since everybody knows that there is damage. If the agent can give me a hint on finishes, that could tell me if I need to bring extra gear. I can also make nots on what I find when I look up the property on Google Maps and what best and worst sun times are from The Photographer's Ephemeris. Having a quick set of specs on the home also gives me a double check on the address in case it's "avenue" and not "street" which is too common around here. If I pull up to a two story house and I'm expecting a single story, I know I need to call and double check.

    @Bill Jones, I'm getting pretty good with getting around locks, but one has to be very careful. If you are at the wrong house or somebody changed the locks to use the house illegally, you don't want to be letting yourself in. A non-working key could be warning sign. What I do find useful is when the RE office has messed up on what the lock box code should be or there is a padlock on something like the side gate or inside on the garage door. I've had a pool gate locked up once and the agent didn't have a key (vacant) and was very happy that I was able to take the lock off. I called and they said yes, please. I'm contemplating adding re-keying and other basic lock services to my menu. It's not that hard and can go pretty fast if you have the right tools and put a limit on what service you will do. The numbers have worked out to around the same hourly rate as I charge for photography if not a bit more. Unfortunately, the broker I do a lot of work with tossed out all of the lock boxes they had where they didn't have a combo for them before I let him know I could (or would try) open them. He's going to save them up for me in the future. Supra boxes are out. I'll only work on broker owned combo boxes. If you can open them in 5-10 minutes and get $5/each, that's some fun money and you can work on them during commercials or just put on an audiobook when times are slow.

  11. There was an agent who teams up with her daughter who asked for monetary compensation because I had equipment failure and had to return. The memory card had a fantasy digital explosion shattering every image into bits and pieces. The daughter, who lives 20 miles away, was upset that she had to return but agreed. The mother sent an email about how unfair it was for the daughter to have to return all that distance again and she needed monetary composition for this hardship. They were good clients. I apologized for the equipment failure and offered to not charge for this service but would not give the daughter any money. No actual dollar amount was discussed. The last email by the mother was again the daughter demands compensation to drive back or there would be no photo shoot. My answer was never call me again. They are still a team and have had a very successful career and so have I without them. In 20 years that has been the only agent I refused to work for and I have had some real opinionated nervous Nellie's. Many homes have not been ready but I never blamed the agent. I did however charge a return fee if no images could be taken. I will only go to empty homes by myself. I will knock very hard and yell when I open the doors to make sure they are. I will not go to a rental without the agent or owner being there. I will ask permission to go into every room if the doors are closed and yes I have been told no you cannot go in because my wife or daughter are inside getting ready.

  12. Dude...you missed an opportunity! That was your perfect real-estate lifestyle video! I can just see it now....really show how the place lives...in the nude!

    Coulda-woulda-shoulda...it makes for a great story for your career! Looks like the photography gods wanted to beat this lesson into your brain...considering you took jobs 3 separate times against your best judgment.

    ~When you die...all you have is your story.

  13. I have only had to tell two clients not to call me back. The ones that inconvenience me by canceling shoots the day before or upon arrival get three chances, after that, I am somehow busy when they need me.

  14. I've had two clients use my photos for months without paying me. After contacting their managing broker to force the payment, I politely told both of them in an email that I would no longer be working with them. When one of them called again for another shoot, I politely explained that I could not work with them again and wished them the best of luck finding another photographer to shoot their listings and then hung up.

    Other than those two, all my agents have been considerate, paying by check at the shoot or online within a few days, and never allowing a house to be shot when it's not ready. I go the extra mile for them and they reciprocate.

    But if/when a non-pay or some other disaster happens, I'll be OK with walking away. Over 50% of my revenue now comes from architectural and commercial shoots at much higher rates and by years' end I'll only do real estate for good former clients.

    I have PFRE to thank for helping me find the resources to take my photography to the next level.

  15. Yes, I've definitely fired a couple clients. With this one client, I did one shoot with her on a massive, beautiful old home overlooking the water. It took me all day and she loved the photos. She said "You're my guy from now on" and I was thrilled.

    A few weeks later, she frantically calls me on a Thursday and tells me she needs me the next day. I told her I was booked, but I could juggle things around and do the shoot on Monday. She then explained that she didn't actually have her seller signed up yet, so she just wanted us to stop by and knock on the door and ask if we could come in and shoot the place so she could impress him. I told her it just wasn't going to work out; that I could schedule her for Monday morning after I juggled some stuff. She said she was fine with that. I rearranged my schedule for Monday and waited for her to send me the address, but by Sunday afternoon I had not heard from her. Around 4pm, during the intermission of a play I was attending, I sent her a text. She replied back and said that she already got another photographer to shoot the place, and that she would know by the following day, once she received the photos and decided if she liked them, whether she would need me the following morning.

    I was pissed, but tried to be polite about it. I reminded her that I had juggled my schedule around for her after assuming we had a firm commitment. Her response was "Well, you just don't understand how I work". I told her that I just didn't think it was going to work out with us and that was the last I heard of her. But then a year later, she texts me out of the blue about a shoot the following day, telling me that I'm the only one who is capable of doing it. My schedule was open, so I reluctantly agreed to the shoot. But not ten minutes later, she texts me back and says, "Oh, I got someone else to do it for me, but thanks, anyway". Complete flake with no regard for anyone else's time.

  16. This is definitely an unfortunate situation. That said, I would caution about rushing to judgement and presuming that someone who’d been in the business a long time would never have put him/herself in this situation in the first place. Brandon has shared with me some of the back story here and I can say that, if I were in his shoes, I would’ve given the agent an extra chance or two, as well. That said, as a general guideline, yes, we have to stand firm by our terms of service as, not doing so, impacts not only our profitability, but more importantly, our credibility.

    @ Ken Brown + @ Dave Clark- some really good input.

    @ Matt Rosendahl - I feel for you, bud, but at the end of the day, @ Garett Buell’s response to you is, IMO, the way to go.

    @ Kelvin Hammond - as per usual, zero value added to a professional development thread. Completely juvenile response.

  17. Great post and good for you for firing that client. You lasted longer than I would have. Over the 11 years I have been doing this, I have fired a few. I normally just tell them they are not a good fit for our team. Our time is valuable. Last month we had a REALTOR schedule an appointment. She said she would not be meeting two members of my team but there would be a key under the doormat. We photographed and measured the home and sent her the proofs. She called in a panic and said it was not the correct home. She had taken the address from GIS and had given us the wrong address. The owners of that home were out of town and had left a key under the doormat for the person stopping by to feed the pets. I was horrified. She agreed to go by and knock on the door and let the owner know it was her fault that we had entered his home and photographed it. To be on the safe side, I contacted our local police and told them what we had done. It could have ended bad, but fortunately, it didn't.

  18. Going on 4 years and never had an issue. The RE agents and home-sellers here in Asheville, NC are easy to work with and very respectful. Oh, yes I did walk away from a filthy house once which was re-scheduled and all went well. Most I ever have to do is the usual minor stuff like adjust lighting, move some pet toys, trash cans, adjust shades, etc. Guess I'm lucky!

  19. The first 3 years into this I had a hair trigger and fired a LOT of clients; slow pays, micro managers, poor schedulers, you name it. Lucky for me (truly dumb luck) it worked out really well. The local market was on fire, accelerating to it's status today of "hottest RE market in the country". So without much of a clue I culled my clients down to the very best of the best. My wife called me The Soup Nazi (referring an old Seinfield episode worth watching). If I had to start from scratch and do it again in another area I'd certainly try to be a kinder more patient person. That said, if you want to be anything more than a dispensable vendor I do think you need to draw the line somewhere - good brokers are often control freaks; they need to be roped in 🙂

  20. The old proverb fits well here, fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me. I find RE people to be entirely upbeat and pleasant to work with - it has made working in this field extremely rewarding. But in the past eight years I did fire one agent who proved to have an explosive temper. The first time we had an issue, he called me and blew up , calling me every name and expressing out of control rage over a very minor issue. He later apologized and said he had had an argument with his office manager on an unrelated subject and was sorry he took it out on me. Huh? I was hoping he didn't have a wife at home that had to deal with him. Weeks later he called me with another job, and yep you guessed it, similar scenario. I should have known better, but know it will never happen again. My advise for anyone firing one of their agents, you may want to go an extra step and schedule a private meeting with the office manager to make clear what occurred and head off that poison pill likely to come from that disgruntled agent.

  21. "Fast forward a couple of weeks and she called to book me for another property, with no mention of our little spat. So, I figured all was good and we were moving on. This property happened to be 45 minutes out of town and she insisted that it had to be shot on a particular day and time. I had to juggle family obligations but was able to accommodate her request. On the day of the shoot, I made the long trek, only to arrive at a vacant property with no lock box, and no one to let me in. I called the client and got no answer. I waited 10 minutes and called again. By the 25 minute mark, I decided to pull the plug. I got a call from the agent two hours later telling me she forgot about the shoot and wanted me to turn around and go back to the house (no apology, btw!) I told her I had other commitments and we would need to re-schedule. She blew up again and hung up for the second time in as many weeks. This time I thought for sure we were done… Nope!"

    This exact situation happened to me. I had a client that listed lower level homes and he asked me to shoot a property 45 minutes away and same exact situation happened. He asked how much I was charging him for the trip and I told him $250 because I could have photographed 2 properties in the time I spent doing nothing. He asked me how much of my business was his and I told him 3 percent which was correct. Never heard from him again which was great.

    That is only one of many over 25 years and now I have an amazing, loyal client base.

  22. Thank you for sharing your story. It's a reminder to me that I'm not alone experiencing some of these same issues haha. I'm appreciative of this website and everyone's contributions. I've had a similar experience as well. I'm still fairly new at this business with less than a year at it so far but I know for me I've already had the thoughts of firing one or two clients already but am a little fearful to at the same time because I don't have many clients just yet and not sure what the repercussions would be. But the more I read through some of these thoughts from other experienced photographers, it's giving me more confidence to just do it and rip the bandaid off now before it gets worse.

  23. @Ryan Calderara, War stories are the best way to learn about all of the things that can go wrong. There aren't that many problems after you have developed a fair number of good customers. I always look to see if there is something in my business flow that I can implement to prevent an issue from being a big problem. I'll absorb things like cancellations for good reasons if it's out of the agents control, but I'll be far more strict if an agent is arriving for appointments late all of the time. Setting up for a job in a supposedly vacant home only to find out that there are people living in the home is a serious safety issue. An agent that hasn't done a personal walk thru or had a trusted member of their staff verify that a home is vacant and ready for photos before giving out a combo box code is just plain reckless. If there is hope you can get an agent trained to look out for the things that impact you being able to make the images, perhaps they're worth sticking with for a while. There's a learning curve for new agents too and new agents are easier to make a long term client than trying to get an established agent that has been working with another photographer to switch to you.

  24. @cheria, @Reed. Be careful not to give the agents that you decide you don't want to work with anymore any bullets to fire as they will badmouth you to any of their agents friends regardless of whether or not they are not telling the truth. Its bad press and in this case, the bad press is not good press its just bad press. Feel free to use this as its about the most professional way of letting someone know that you wont be doing business with them anymore:

    Dear [agent name],

    It’s our responsibility to provide you with the best service we can and unfortunately we can’t do that because of some differences between what we provide and what you need. We find that when a certain segment of our customer base isn’t in alignment with our vision and direction of our company, or we cannot meet a clients expectations, it best to part ways. Therefore, please understand that we will no longer be able to help you with your photography needs.

    Thank you,

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