Part Three: Deliver Bad News Gracefully

About the Series: Real estate agents spend more time writing than ever before, with email dominating modes of communication with clients, banks, other agents and more. Beyond email, agents need writing skills to prepare compelling website text, client handouts and other marketing material. All of this makes writing key to real estate business development in any type of market. Based on the principles of a new book, Before Hitting Send: Power Writing Skills for Real Estate Agents, this series of three articles provides practical how-to writing tips with examples and exercises from scenarios agents face daily. View Part One: Decide What You Want to Say & Choose the Right Tone and Part Two: Write to Persuade.

Giving disappointing news is no fun, but unfortunately it is part of being in real estate. Whenever possible, bad news should be delivered in person or over the phone. Because that is not always an option in our busy world, you must arm yourself with skills that allow you to deliver bad news in writing and make the best of a bad situation.

When delivering bad news, how you communicate is as important as what you communicate. If you deliver bad news ineffectively, you miss an opportunity to enhance your image as a solid, caring, effective agent.

Tips for Delivering Bad News

Tip #1: Prepare.
More than any other situation, this is a time when you must know what you want to say, and control how you say it. Lay out the facts, set out alternative courses of action if possible, offer recommendations and explain why you are making those recommendations. Treat the message as an opportunity to demonstrate that the situation calls for a collaborative effort at problem solving. You are a key partner in that effort.

Tip #2: Be prompt.
Don’t delay delivery of bad news any longer than necessary. Delay only risks compounding the problem, as the reader may filter your message through thoughts of, “Why didn’t she tell me this sooner?”

Tip #3: Stress the positive.
If you have an “I’ve got some good news and some bad news….” message to deliver, deliver the good news first. If you present the bad news first, the reader may focus on that only, and you risk losing his attention for the good news that follows.

Tip #4: Tone it down.
When delivering bad news, the goal is to give the impression that you are thinking clearly and logically –not emotionally. Use the skills for selecting an appropriate tone, outlined in part one of this series. Choose words to demonstrate that you are calm and in control of a negative situation. Diffuse anticipated negative emotional reaction through your choice of words. Avoid inflammatory words (e.g., failed, refused) and opt for neutral words instead.

Tip #5: Be brief, courteous, tactful and considerate.
Express appropriate empathy and concern, but be direct. State your purpose up front and avoid wordy preambles such as, “Oh gosh, I have some bad news…” or “I don’t know how to tell you this, but here goes…”

Tip #6: Focus on what you are doing to help.
If possible, offer solutions and offer alternatives to those solutions. Emphasize the actions you have already taken, or intend to take, to remedy the situation. Close by assuring the reader that you will continue to follow up on the situation until you are able to speak by phone to discuss the matter more thoroughly.

Tip #7: Remind them of the bigger picture.
If your readers lost the house they always dreamed of having, gently remind them that there are other houses out there and that you won’t rest until they’ve found it. No matter how bad the news may feel at the moment, there is always a bigger picture. Your job when delivering bad news is to keep your readers focused on that bigger picture.

Tip #8: If possible, warn in advance.
Sometimes, as real estate experts, we can anticipate in advance that a situation poses risks of not turning out well for our client. Delivering bad news is much easier when the client’s expectations have been set in advance.

© Kaplan Inc. All Rights Reserved.


Revise the following message to deliver the bad news more gracefully:


I don’t know how to tell you this, and I’m really, really worried that you’ll get upset and who knows, maybe you should be upset. I wish there was an easy way to say this, but there isn’t, so here goes… The Buyers cancelled!!!!!! I know this is a TOTAL DISASTER for you because your cash flow situation is so dismal right now. You are within your rights to go after their deposit, but I know that is of little consolation right now. I don’t know what else to do but to put the house back on the market immediately. What you need to understand is that this isn’t really my fault. The problem is that the market is so bad right now.

With regret,
Ida Koch


The exercise can be written in a number of different ways. This key provides just one example.


Moments ago I received notice from the buyers that they are canceling our deal. I know how upsetting this news must be due to your current cash flow issues. Please understand that I am already moving forward to address this situation. I will put the house back on the market immediately. Given current market conditions, we may want to consider a slight price reduction to make the property even more enticing to potential buyers. I will brainstorm for other ideas to attract attention to the home and will have a list of suggestions to discuss when we’re able to speak by phone.

Also, pursuant to the contract terms, you are within your rights to claim the buyers’ deposit. I know that remedy is of little consolation right now, but it is something you should consider going forward.

Ida Koch

Power Writing Skills for Real Estate Agents, Part 1
Power Writing Skills for Real Estate Agents, Part 2