Checklist on the Fridge

By Mark Riffey

My favorite story about setting expectations comes from a really smart real estate agent.

When you decide to buy or sell your home with her, she gives you a pre-printed list of all the things that can happen during the process of buying or selling. The list has checkboxes on it and is designed to stick on your fridge.

This checklist contains 20 or 30 things that could delay the sale or otherwise go wrong during all the steps of a transaction. That might seem like a bad thing to give to a customer. Do you want to show them all the bad stuff that might happen?

Yes, if you do it right. It definitely works for her.

She explains that the list contains the most commonly encountered roadblocks encountered during a transaction and assures the customer that she knows how to handle all of them.

If and when a common house buying/selling problem occurs, she’ll call and say “Number 16 (for example) on your list just happened, and I’ve taken care of it.” If she needs some additional info, the checklist notes what info/effort might be needed so that the clients can be prepared for that if they are in a rush.

Works for me
How does this work for her?

First of all, it shows the buyer/seller that she is experienced and is prepared for the little things that come along and try to derail a transaction. By discussing them in advance, she sets expectations, establishes her expertise (again, by warning you about these things in advance and telling you she has your back) and leaves you far more confident about things.

The checklist also acts as a timeline showing where each roadblock typically crops up. If trouble occurs, the sheet shows that she predicted/warned in advance that it could occur and handled it for you as she indicated.

The opposite of this is the same thing happening, it being a surprise and giving the appearance of a surprise stumbling point – even when it was handled properly.

Once the transaction is done, the list serves as a reminder of all the things that *could* have gone wrong but didn’t. The list also reminds you of the value she delivered by taking care of all those things.


While the list is in effect a FAQ (frequently asked questions) sheet, she doesn’t treat it that way. She could have simply provided a generic FAQ list and even made the client sign it (likely without reading it) and handle it like other agents handle these things.

Instead, she leverages it into an advantage by discussing it in advance, letting the client know she has their backs and demonstrating a differentiating factor between herself and other real estate agents. 

It also provides social proof since others have experienced these things and it offers indication in one more subtle way why the client should value her services.

What about you
Every business has client processes that over the length of the transaction/service (or use of the product) go well or maybe don’t go so well.

You hear them on TV during pharmaceutical commercials. Surely I’m not the only one under the impression that EVERY prescription drug causes dry mouth and diarrhea.

Your explanation of these things need not be spoken at 500 words per minute like a TV commercial’s fine print, but it need not be a useless pile of info that clients ignore.

Not only can it help your clients understand a process they’re about to go through, but it can also give you an easy route toward…

Looking back at that real estate transaction roadblock checklist, there’s all sorts of things that are either preventable or predictable based on physical inspections, credit scores, legal issues and the like.

Look at your FAQ. What happens so often that you should take serious action to prevent it? What reflects on your business even if it isn’t your fault?

Work on that checklist from both sides, the customer’s and yours.

Want to learn more about Mark or ask him to write about a business, operations or marketing problem? See Mark’s site or contact him via email at mriffey at flatheadbeacon.com.

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