A male business professional holds his head in frustration.

Agents' biggest mistakes, and what they learned from them 

Everyone messes up from time to time. See the mistakes that set some agents back, but ultimately provided lessons for success.

Updated November 17, 2023
4 minutes

Key points:

  • Approach mistakes with a ‘sometimes you win, sometimes you learn’ mentality.
  • Own your mess-ups, apologize for them, make adjustments — and don't make the same mistake twice.
  • Some of the greatest lessons come from losses (but take steps to avoid mistakes in the first place).

Real estate is a complex business, and working as an independent contractor comes with its own learning curve. Getting a real estate license doesn't make someone an expert overnight, and every agent is bound to make some mistakes along the way, from failing to understand the fundamentals to taking shortcuts. 

But accepting that mistakes will happen, and committing to learn from them, can help set agents up for success — which is more important than ever when competition for clients is fierce.

Own your mistake (and don't skip the walk-through)

Erica Jolles of Round Table Realty makes no bones about it — she's made mistakes throughout her 17-year real estate career. "We all do," she says. "We're human, after all." 

Still, there's one mistake that's stuck with her. "I was about five years into my career. I had buyers who were very nice but had very strong personalities and I just wanted to be done," she recalls. A day before their closing, the buyers asked Jolles if they needed to do a walk-through.

"We had been to this house so many times and, while I left the ball in their court, the tone I set was no. We did not need to do a walk-through," says the Jacksonville, Florida-area agent.

Jolles' voice trembles when she describes the gash movers left in the home's stone floors. "I was humiliated, embarrassed, apologetic. I paid to have it repaired, but this wasn't just about a gash. It was my reputation. It's been more than a decade since this happened, but when I see this couple around the community, I still feel uncomfortable."

Move on from disappointment (and do your homework)

Aarohi Shah, a Century 21 Edge agent based in Orlando, says her greatest mistake was getting into the business without fully realizing how many licensed agents there were out there. She says it was difficult to see friends take their business to other agents.

"Everyone knows someone who is a real estate agent," she says, noting she quickly learned the importance of showing value and earning trust. "I ended my first year with $0 in sales which was very disappointing, but I did not give up hope." Now, with seven years of experience, she is a multimillion-dollar producer and continues to grow her business each year.

Learn from missteps (and remember to set goals)

Oahu-based agent Jeremy Mateo discussed his biggest mistakes on his YouTube channel. His No. 1 goof? 

"I didn't set concrete goals," says Mateo. "I didn't quantify anything. I didn't say that I wanted to sell 10 houses or do $5 million in volume or have five listings. Nothing. My only two goals were that I wanted to make a lot of money and I wanted to drop out of college." 

In retrospect, Mateo realizes he should have calculated how many houses he needed to sell to launch his business and support himself. That calculation would have forced him to set goals regarding the number of clients he needed to land, and then he would have had a sense of how many calls to make or open houses to attend to land those clients.

Mateo has not only learned from his mistakes, he now uses them to teach other agents through his online courses.

You'll still make mistakes — but it's how you respond that counts

Making mistakes is part of life — and business. It's how you react to those mistakes that makes all the difference, says leadership expert and author John C. Maxwell. 

"Successful people … don't run away from their losses," Maxwell writes in his book about overcoming adversity. "Their attitude is never 'Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.' Instead, they think 'Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn.' They understand that life's greatest lessons are gained from our losses — if we approach them the right way." 

"Mistakes come in all shapes and sizes. Some are going to affect other people. Some are going to affect your bottom line," says Jolles. "The important thing is to figure out why you made the mistake and to make changes so you don't make the same mistake again. But that doesn't mean you won't make other mistakes." 

Jolles now mentors new agents. She tells them not to simply come to her with their mistakes but also with a plan for repairing the damage and moving forward. 

"Owning your mistakes, apologizing for them, and learning from them is really the best any of us can do," she says. "I don't know any agent who hasn't messed up at least once. It's how we react and move forward that really matters."

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