Using humor to help you with difficult client conversations

We’ve all been there.  You go to put the key in the lock and wham!  That smell. The sweet, delicious… I mean rancid (uh hum) smell of marijuana.  In the day and age of edibles, vape pens, cannabis oil, someone has found the stankiest bud imaginable to hot box their living room.  

As you slowly open the door you half expect to see Snoop Dogg and Willie Nelson sharing a box of Captain Crunch on the couch.

You turn back to your buyers and gauge their sensitivity.  “You guys like the band Phish?” You ask hesitantly.

In this scenario, I can’t help but wonder what conversation the listing agent had, or more likely didn’t have, with the seller.  Did they have a contact buzz and didn’t mention it? Were they desperate to get the listing? The most likely scenario is they didn’t want to offend the seller and didn’t know how to approach them.

These uncomfortable topics come with the profession.  But if you are continuously avoiding them than you are never going to improve as a listing agent.  You are also doing a grave disservice to your clients. Every single successful agent has had these conversations probably hundreds of times.  

To successfully navigate these difficult and sensitive topics you must have a strategy. Whether it’s cigarette smoke, cat urine, wet dog or God forbid unidentifiable I love to utilize humor to address the issues and come up with a solution.  

The method I use is the PEC method.  Never heard of it? That’s because I made it up.  Here’s what it stands for;

  • Personal
  • Extreme
  • Comfort

Let’s break it down.


One of the most powerful tools comedy gives us is empathy.  People need to understand we share and identify with their feelings on a personal level.  As a salesperson, this is extremely important, and it is something I learned early on in my comedic career.  If you talk down to your audience (client) then they will most certainly go into a shell or worse become combative.

Your very first step is, share a personal story relevant to the issue.  If it’s cigarette smoke, for example here’s what I say;

“My mom used to smoke so much when I was a kid, even though I was allergic to cigarette smoke.”

By saying this, I have acknowledged that there is a smell in the air.  I have also created an empathetic situation. My mom didn’t care I was allergic to smoke and still smoked anyway (this is true).  

The majority of the time the client will open up immediately about the sensitive topic.  Do you smell that? What can we about the smell? Will it hurt our sale? Will it turn off buyers?

This is now a golden opportunity to ease their fears and cement the relationship.  The person is now opening up to you on an emotional level and many are embarrassed.  They are afraid and they need help. They want to know that things will be okay and they are not alone.


This is a great time to use the humor principal of extremes.  When analyzing the basics of humor you will see extremes used often.

For cigarette smoke I might say;

“Don’t worry I’ve seen much worse.  I’ve had walls so yellow with smoke I’ve asked Home Depot to paint match nicotine stains.  This isn’t that bad and I have solutions for you.”


“I’ve been in a lot of smokers' home.  I asked one seller if he bought his living room set from Marlboro.  I think we can find a solution.”

By using these extreme scenarios we are letting them know that others have faced worse problems and that we were able to help them.  In fact, YOU were the one to help.


This is where we differentiate ourselves from other agents.  Assure your seller that you will put them in touch with the best professionals and help them coordinate the cleaning, remodeling, painting, etc.  Make the calls, meet the contractors and go the extra mile. They will tell their friends and neighbors and your business will grow exponentially!

You may be thinking that you’d love to use humor but you’re not a comedian.  That’s okay. People rarely laugh at my terrible jokes but if you utilize body language, smile often and speak with care and comfort than your 99% of the way there.  Humor is a fantastic icebreaker for uncomfortable topics. You’re not filming a Netflix special just try it out.

What if after acknowledging the smell through a personal story doesn’t get the person to open up about it?  Sometimes, people do not realize there is an odor in their home. As an agent, you might be thinking that you can cover it up with some candles or air fresheners.  Don’t do it! You will regret it when your open house smells like Febreeze and ass. Or people ask if the candle your burning is cinnamon raw sewage.

This is where I tell them a personal story that also had an impact on my business.  I tell them about my very first negative review on Zillow. Also, mentioning, if course, the over 300 positive ones.

When I walked into the listing appointment, the potent smell of cat urine made me lightheaded.  There were litter boxes in every corner of the home including 2 going up the stairs! I think they changed the litter quarterly for all 6 cats in the home.

When I mentioned the smell to the seller she refused to acknowledge any smell at all.  I listed the property and of course it sat on the market for over 6 months and eventually went into foreclosure.  We had dozens of showings and even though every buyer mentioned the cat urine she refused to do anything about it.  I offered numerous solutions and even to take the cost off of the commission but to no avail. (and even offered to contribute to them.)

After I tell the client the story and reiterate that I would never allow that to happen again I can openly address the issue.  

As an agent, we have a fiduciary duty to our clients.  We each have unique traits and skill sets that make us stand out and succeed in this profession.  If humor is not your style I hope you can utilize compassion, sensitivity, and candidness to serve your clients.  If not, at least leave some gas masks next to the booties at the front door.

Posted by The Spotlight Home Team on
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