At this point, what's an agent to do? Or, more accurately, how can one avoid having one's clients reach this level of stress during a house's prolonged time on the market? Selling a home can be stressful even in a seller's market - in a buyer's market it can be a nightmare.
To a client, their house may be the repository of many happy memories and they often don't see things in the same way as a buyer would. They see their happy home; the buyer sees too-small bedrooms and an aging roof. Clients may want to charge a price that reflects their feelings about a home rather than what that home is actually worth. Clients may also not be prepared for the regular intrusions of prospective buyers into their home. 'Lowball' offers can offend unprepared clients who view such offers as an insult and a waste of their time.
Ask questions. What are the clients' expectations for the market and the price of their home? What are they prepared to do if their home does not sell for the price they want? How long are they willing to wait for their home to sell? What is going to contribute most to their happiness: getting the price they want or getting the price that will sell the house quickly?
Despite your knowledge of the market and selling homes, there are no wrong answers to these questions. You want to understand where your clients are coming from. With this information, you can much more easily approach them with the facts of their house's value on the market and how long it will likely take to sell. You can't set expectations until you have some idea of where your clients are, emotionally speaking.
Once you've understood where they are coming from, let your clients know what they're facing. Emphasize the parts of the selling process that you are going to take care for them and the parts that they need to take care of themselves. Be clear on what the selling process is and how long it might take. Have facts about the selling process of similar homes in their neighborhood to back up your statements. Let them know that people will be coming through their house and that this can be stressful, especially for people who value their privacy. Try to convey to them that while they see their house as a home, buyers see their home as a house. Do it nicely!
Set expectations for what you, as a real estate professional, will be doing for them. No, you don't set the price of a house; the market does, but you can take on the dirty work of listing the home, showing the home and providing an unbiased presence when prospective buyers tour the property. They need to keep the home clean for showings and perhaps remove some of the more obvious signs of their presence - family photos, school awards, etc. This can be somewhat jarring for people who have never gone through a home selling process, and it can hurt, like they have to fold themselves up in a box. Be understanding about their unhappiness with the upheaval in their lives.
Develop a plan for selling your clients' house. It increases your confidence and your clients' confidence in you when you can say, "Here's the plan for selling your home. We're going to do A, B, and C. In the case of D, we'll do E, F, and G." If they have something to look forward to, they will be more secure during the weeks it may take for the right offer to come.
Communicate! Most people who don't have a clue about the details of the home selling process will appreciate a regular correspondence - even if you are merely rehashing, "Your home didn't sell this week". Tell them about other homes that sold and chat about home staging. Praise the changes they have made in their lives to accommodate selling, buy them a gift card that will take them out to coffee while you show a home - do little things that tell them that you know that this is a difficult transition and you appreciate the patience they are showing. Presenting yourself as a sympathetic friend instead of an autocratic taskmaster eager to find fault will make the difference in how they perceive you and speak of you - whether or not the home sells.
A little empathy and forbearance for a client can go a long way in helping them help you sell their house. Refer to Dale Carnegie's "How to Win Friends and Influence People" to help you deal with clients who are showing the wear and tear of a long time on the market.