Selling Land

The Client I Don’t Want

The Client I Don’t Want

I am not going to work with every person that calls or emails me about buying land. Because time is our most precious and limited resource, land agents have to be selective about who we put in the truck and go look at properties with.

A phone conversation with a new agent and an email from a prospective buyer prompted me to write about what most agents won’t actually say to someone in person. So I will be the scapegoat here, and you can pin it on me. Here are some criteria that prompt me to cull a prospect or pass them on to another agent. I do not refuse to work with someone because of their race, religion, nationality, familial status, disability, or sex. The reasons I pass on prospective buyers are subjective and necessarily practical.

1. The Eternal Looker- When someone tells me that they have been looking for a rural property in my area for two years or more, that is an immediate red flag. There are more properties on the market now than any time in recent memory. If they haven’t found the right tract and they have been seriously looking for a long time, then I don’t get my hopes up that I will be the lucky one to find it for them.

The new agent I spoke with today had a prospect that wanted to look at some properties, and called about one I have listed. I asked him who the prospect was, and it was someone that contacted me about a year ago. I fed the prospective buyer information about several tracts, with no action. So I moved on to the next buyer. These buyers are still looking “for the right place” and now have been talking to this new agent for a couple of months running him up and down the road. I wish both the agent and the buyers good luck in their efforts. The agent and I discussed how expensive it is to buy gas to continually show land to people who don’t appear to be close to pulling the trigger on a property any time soon.

2. Mr. Big Bucks- If a prospective buyer volunteers their net worth in the first two or three sentences of our initial conversation, it’s a 99% probability I won’t make a sell. The only time serious land buyers generally volunteer how much money they have to spend is when they are doing a 1031-exchange. In my experience some people want you to know they have a lot of money, but odds are good I won’t actually be seeing any of it involved in a land transaction. Think about when you go in to purchase a car; you don’t want to tell that salesman how much money you have. The salesman is much less inclined to cut a deal if they feel that they could get more from you. The same idea holds true in land sales.

3. The Imaginative Financer- Times are tough, and financing can be difficult to acquire for many people. The buyer I don’t want to deal with is the one that lets me know they don’t have any cash, and they would like the seller to use some creativity to finance the property. Owner financing can be a good option for people at times, but this particular type of buyer concocts the most imaginative, least-probable proposals that I hate to present to my sellers. This buyer can’t understand why a seller would not want to agree to a no-money down, 20-year personal loan at no interest with a balloon payment at the end. In his mind this offer sounds like a winner, so he insists on penning a contract with so many financing wrinkles that AIG would like to take notes.

Most buyers I deal with are great people, and share the same love for the outdoors and land that I do. Even the prospective buyers that I pass on to other people are generally good folks. The issue is not whether someone is likable or not, but it has everything to do with making a wise investment of my time and resources. A land agent has enough work that he could fill up all the hours of the week, every week. But there is a difference between busyness and productivity. That is the reason why most of the successful land agents are very selective in who they work with.

If you are a buyer who seems to be ignored or getting shuffled from one agent to another, then you may not be viewed as the best return on investment for an agent. Do yourself a favor and reflect on what you are really looking for in a property, if you can really afford it, and if you are ready to pull the trigger. If you can answer all of those questions honestly and concisely, then you are the type of buyer we are all looking for.

Other agents, I welcome your comments or feedback.

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About the author

Jonathan Goode

Jonathan is passionate about helping people buy and sell land. He is an associate broker with Southeastern Land Group, LLC (SELG) and is the Responsible Broker for the company in Mississippi. Jonathan is an Accredited Land Consultant (ALC), working with Southeastern Land Group (AlaLandCo) since 2008, serving Alabama and Mississippi. He is a member of the Alabama and Mississippi chapters of the Realtor’s Land Institute (RLI), and is currently serving as Vice President of the Alabama Chapter. Jonathan specializes in marketing rural properties online, and is a contributor for, writing articles focused on helping people buying and selling rural land.


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  • Jonathan,

    Great points about working with buyers. I dropped many clients when I worked the equestrian market for the same reasons you listed.

    This year our firm made the decision to focus entirely on sellers. It has been amazing how much faster our listings sell because of precision marketing. When buyers call us now we let them know we are glad to notify them of our new listings but that we do not actively work as Buyers’s Agent and they appreciate that.

    Most of our market is also less inherent to actual buyer agent showings because land is wide open and entirely visible from roadways and people drive by and look before even calling an agent.

    Best Wishes,

    • Hello Marisa,
      Your new business plan to work only with sellers is intriguing. I would like to discuss it with you if you are so inclined.

  • These are excellent points, Jonathan. Time is valuable and so is gasoline!

    By the same token, I’ve learned how to “fire” unrealistic sellers as well. When we take a listing, we carefully counsel the sellers as to the value of that particular property. If they refuse to listen, we’d rather be second or third in line to take the listing–after someone else has taken their lumps with a too-high listing price. With our marketing techniques, we often reach buyers that never knew the property was listed with another broker, and sometimes we end up selling the listing to a buyer who had passed on the property previously because the listing price was just too high.

    You’ve made excellent points about how to select the clients you want to work with. Now how about that scenario where buyers want brokers to set up a mini-vacation for them, with you reaching for the tab at lunch and dinner?

  • Jonathan,

    I always enjoy your articles, and you make some great points in your “The Client I Don’t Want” article.

    I will add two points: 1. When dealing with a new prospect who is not a cash buyer, I recommend verifying that they can put down at least 30%, preferably 40%. If they can’t, they are not in good financial position to buy land, and probably won’t be a buyer – unless their financial position improves. 2. I agree with the “eternal looker” point, but in our Southwest Georgia market we have a lot of selective buyers who take their sweet time, but do eventually buy. I will make a quick showing to an “eternal looker” if he has studied the property thoroughly on paper and if I get a gut feeling he will most likely buy, one day.


    Mike Matre

  • Jonathan,
    You’ve hit the nail on the head again. I’ve been trying for years to develop a system to eliminate time wasters after the first appointment but I still don’t have it figured out. I’ve also noticed the “tells” you’ve mentioned and they are “spot on” but I still get fooled by some buyers that look really good and then just evaporate after a while.

    One additional thing I would add is to determine who you want to work with based on how much they want to spend. It makes no sense to spend a day showing properties to someone that wants to spend $50,000. if you can spend that same day with a $250,000. buyer. I know that sounds selfish but we as agents have families to feed too.

    Jay Frazier

  • Excellent article. We all are looking for the magic bullet that fixes this problem, but it does not exist. Any approach will waste either time or potential buyers. You have to decide where your tolerance lies at.

  • Spot on, I think you accurately hit all the points that we all have dealt with at some time or another. Good affirmation that we are looking at these time wasters the same way.

  • Thanks for the good insights and comments everyone. Let me add two points.

    1. Sometimes I work with people I don’t want to. We obviously won’t be best friends with everyone we show land to. Sometimes I’ll work with someone in one of the above categories, and it all works fine. It’s business, and serving our clients well means putting their interests ahead of our own. So I’m not whining here. We do what it takes to make our clients happy.

    2. I’m not the perfect land agent. I’ll be the first to admit at times I have dropped the ball for my customers or clients. There are things I look back on that I wish I could change for some of them. Hopefully I’ll be improving at my profession my whole life. At times my clients or customers may have wished they could have written an article entitled “The Agent I Don’t Want.” Not because I didn’t try or was careless, but occasionally something slips past me.

  • Maybe. I think you’re like the imaginative finance. personally I think a professional can make a lot of money dealing with those guys because they are genuine buyers who just need the proffessional you claim to be.

  • It all boils down to how we value our time and the fact that the most difficult and less profitable opportunities we are faced with the smaller sales and/or with clients with less or no money. I get prospects come in my office all the time that want me to spend time with them before they are fully qualified. I am respectful but ask them four questions. 1) How may I help you today? 2) How much do you want to spend? 3)When do you plan to make this investment? If we found exactly what your looking for today, are you prepared to make an offer today? If they are “ready, willing & able” and answer yes to my last question, I ask them if they brought their check book. If they did, we proceed. If not and/or if they did not appropriately answer my questions, I politely suggest that I may not be a good fit for them and move on.

    • One more thing…..People need to understand we are in the Real Estate business to earn our living not to be tour guides. To Jim’s point….I have worked with Buyers that did not want to spend a lot of money (not a lot from my prospective is $100K or less) and have helped them find land or a home. I explain to these folks that my fee is higher for properties under $100k and if they still want my help, I help them but make the extra money to offset the lower sales volume.

  • Jim,

    That is a good point. Read point #2 in my comment just above yours. At times it is easy to be hubristic in these posts. I’ll be the first to admit I make mistakes (lots of them) and sometimes I am a figment of my own imagination.

    The imaginative buyers I have dealt with generally don’t have any way of putting a deal together. They have condos at the beach they want to trade that are worth 1/3 of what they were when purchased or they will have a settlement coming in 24 months or something that makes it very unattractive for my seller clients to negotiate with.

    You’re absolutely right about helping people find a way to put a deal together can be financially rewarding.

    Thanks for the input.

  • Joe,

    I ask the first 3 questions when first talking with a buyer. I like the fourth one. Need to put that in my list of Q’s too. Thanks for the feedback.

  • I have a $10 bill that says that one person on this list has purchased Armando Montelongo’s “Real Estate Made Easy” course. Creative financing with absolutely no money involved. Any takers?

  • As prospective buyers who are very seriously in the market for rural land upon which to build our retirement home, and need the help of realtors in the prospective area because we do not currently live there, I would encourage ALL of you to back off and realize that although many can afford to buy “today”, there are some very careful planners out there as well. If I don’t have my checkbook along, it doesn’t mean I don’t have the money for the buy. I think this article is probably appropriate for many instances, but keep in mind, ALL of you, that there are exceptions. And, if you are the type of realtor that insists that I buy RIGHT NOW if we find the “perfect” situation, then I would encourage YOU to move along as you are probably not right for US! Beginning work on the article suggested by Jonathan. “The Agent I Don’t Want”. Here’s the first paragraph title: “The Agent That Drops Us Because We Don’t Slap $100,000 Cash on Their Desk The Instant We Walk In To Their Office”. We understand the fact that you are in this profession to make your living. You need to understand that your profession involves SERVICE TO OTHERS and not just arrangement of legalities and monies.

  • Cole,

    Thanks for offering input from a buyer’s perspective. Let me say that I agree with you 100% on the customer service aspect. It is a privilege every time someone calls my phone to look at land or asks me to evaluate their property.

    I do my very best to provide excellent service to the clients and customers I work with. They know I give them max effort and that I will be open and honest in our dealings.

    I learned my first week in the land business that I cannot “sell” a person a piece of land. I can only provide them with the information they need to make the decision.

    Serving customers and clients well is the only way to stay in this business for the long-term. You are absolutely correct about that.

  • Generally speaking i agree with what Jonathon has written. I’m going to add 2 “prospects” i don’t trust …. ever.

    1) ever heard this guy ? ” i don’t need my wife to approve this or anything i buy” Like hell you don’t.

    2 ) “I’m getting a settlement and am going to buy land with the $$ ” Response : you aren’t getting a settlement therefore you aren’t buying anything. THIS is the guy i don’t spend time on the phone with let alone time on the ground with.

  • Mick, thanks for chiming in. On your two other potentials, I think you should sell land to #1, because when the wife divorces him and sues for partition, you can re-sell it.

    On #2 you are right about 99% of the people. I will say that last year some folks I deal with who are getting a settlement over 20 years bought 500 acres of pine timberland, and they are getting their $1 million this year. They just bought some land next to one of my listings and are looking at 360 acres I have right now. So there is that 1 in a million person that actually does get a settlement. I have spent lots of time in the truck with people who claimed to be, and did not.

    Thanks again for the input.

  • Cole – Your statement “as very careful planners” translates in my world to “I want to see 200 properties in 27 counties in 9 states. I send folks a questionnaire and one question is, “Are you going to buy in XYZ Counties”?
    If they answer that they are looking in various far away locations outside my working area, I hit the DELETE key.
    Likewise, if they say they want to move here to be close to grandchildren. Get real! People do not uproot and walk away from their entire life history: friends, church, doctors, clubs, etc. “to be close to the grandkids.”
    In all my years, I’ve never had anyone buy anything when that was their reason for looking in my area.
    I can hear the conversation when grandma and grandpa get home after I spent a week driving 1,000 miles all over the area: “It would be great to live closer to the grandchildren, but what happens if Sonny boy gets a good job offer somewhere else next year? Will we pack up and move again? I think we better just stay where our entire life is.”
    Buyers, get your ducks in a row and quit daydreaming before you start wasting our time.
    Looking at real estate on the internet: The new Great American Hobby.

  • Allow the old guy an observation – I have been fortunate to acquire more RURAL listings than almost all the 1,000 agents in my MLS. And, that’s why I rarely spend time showing other agent’s listings.
    Here’s why agents MUST screen (qualify) their buyers:
    An agent wanted to show one of my rural home listings. I told her to have at it. But first the questions started. One was “How many square feet are crawl space and how many are on a slab?”
    I told the agent that was one of the top ten most absurd questions I had ever been asked. I do not measure SF when there is more than one type foundation, but if her client would like, she should take a measuring tape and check it out for herself. I also told her, based on that one question, her client would find some reason NOT to buy and she was wasting her time showing this property 1.5 hours from her in-town office. I told her this 70-year old single female would not buy something that far from medical facilities.
    She showed it THREE times, finally the buyer said it was too far from medical facilities. Well, DUH! The distance is the same as it was BEFORE she wasted the agent’s time to show it THREE times.
    I also told the agent that the next time this old man tells you something about
    RURAL property to listen up. She was an in-town subdivision agent getting her feet wet on rural property.

Pulse Question

If you were buying land, how likely would you be to choose owner financing if it was offered?


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