The Ten Realtor Commandments: Rules To Live By

cathy-turney-authorBy Cathy Turney  |  Read Bio

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There are some things that you don’t want to learn by mistake. Not that I haven’t made some of these mistakes myself. But if I did have big lungs, I would certainly not have violated the First Commandment:

First Commandment: No lungs!

Many years ago, MyBrotherTheRealtor came home from his first day of kindergarten and, in answer to Mom’s question, “How did you like school?” he answered, “My teacher is really nice, and when she bends over you can see her lungs!” Lungs can definitely distract clients from a lack in other areas of competence, for a while.

I always accompany my clients to their signings at the title company. In walked the escrow officer (fifteen minutes late) with nails to here and a blouse to there. Whenever the couple, sitting across from her, asked a question, she stood up, bent over, and pointed to the line item which she could easily have touched, sitting down, with one of those fingernails. Mr. Seller probably wouldn’t have caught it if she had charged for the view, but his wife and I noticed the $ 30,000 error she made on their net proceeds.

Second Commandment: Be honest

Honesty is always appropriate. Except where a white lie is prudent. Like when Animal Control wants you to rat on your client’s dog that had all its shots but nipped puppy daddy’s leg in his exuberance at seeing you— why would I want to sentence that puppy to jail?

Or someone who has her home listed with another agent calls to borrow your garage sale signs and asks, “Oh, by the way, can you drop them at my house?” It’s OK to lie.

Third Commandment: Enthuse

To be a successful Realtor, it’s helpful to be type A, anal retentive, a wolf (they’re not all bad) in sheep’s clothes who protects her own fiercely, the iron fist in a velvet glove— Attila the Honey— with a warm and fuzzy smile.

You must display enthusiasm. I always try to have a smile in my voice, so first thing in the morning I reach for my bottle of caffeine pills, grind one up with a mortar and pestle, and down it in juice. I call it “artificial enthusiasm.”

And at the end of the day, after dodging bullets, preventing train wrecks, and saving marriages, it’s OK to have a “wine emergency.” I have those frequently, but I know I’m not an alcoholic because many nights I must do without for fear of getting arrested on the way to an appointment.

Fourth Commandment: Observe the Golden Rule

Because God (or the other agent) will get you. Like the time my lifelong friend, the loan officer, called me.

Charlie: “Would you be upset if I listed my house with Alice the Agent?”

Me: …

Charlie: “Well, she told me that if I didn’t list my house with her, her client wouldn’t be inclined to accept my offer.”

Me (regaining my composure): “You didn’t.”

Charlie: “I told her I had promised to list it with you. She said you wouldn’t mind.”

Me: “Why would I mind, Charlie? We go back decades. I hired you when you changed careers. I’ve referred business to you for years. You get my bourbon fudge at Christmas. Why would I be upset that you sold out our friendship?”

Charlie: “Is it too late?”

Me: “Unlike buying a used car, which she’s trying to sell you, there’s no cooling off period with real estate contracts. However, there is a little something you can do to make me feel better. You can call Alice up, tell her that she interfered in an agency relationship, and that I would like a 50 percent referral fee.”

And he did! And Alice knew that had she not agreed, I could have taken her to the Board of Realtors and probably taken her whole commission.

Which, sadly, I had to do to Barry the Broker. Apropos of saving some time for clients who help me pay my bills, I thoroughly screen callers whose employers move them to my area. More times than not, they have a relocation package that requires the employer to choose the real estate agent to represent the employee. For which the employer gets half the commission and doubles the agent’s paperwork.

“Steve” cleared all my hurdles. He had a narrow window of time for his purchase, so we spent hours and hours together, popping in and out of houses, Starbucks, and gas stations until we found the perfect house. We discussed offer strategy, I quizzed the listing agent, I wrote a purchase contract. And then, Steve disappeared! He didn’t return my friendly phone calls. He didn’t answer my e-mails.

He didn’t sign the contract I had written. The perfect house, though, went pending two days later, with Barry the Broker representing the buyer.

So I called the listing agent, who was very confused at this point because she thought I was Steve’s agent. So did I. Then I called Barry, who had probably sicced Steve on me to do his legwork, and told him that I would accept “only” a 25 percent referral fee, to be nice, because according to our Multiple Listing Service Code, I was the “procuring cause,” and therefore, entitled to the whole commission.

I guess Steve and Barry thought I would go away if they ignored me, but no. My righteous indignation had been aroused, so I took Barry to the Board and won his whole commission. It’s always important to be nice.

Fifth Commandment: Do not engage

I learned this from MyHusbandTheEngineer. He can stand amazingly still, with a faraway look on his face, while someone (not me) delivers the most challenging assault to his patience problem-solving ability. Something happens when he does this:

  • The other person solves the problem himself while rattling on, or
  • The other person hears himself talking and realizes how unreasonable he’s being, or
  • The other person runs out of breath, and the silence is deafening.

I have adapted this strategy to real estate. My challenges usually come to me over the phone, so I must convert the gaze into words. I say, “Uh huh. Ummmmm. I see.” Mostly I let the other person talk. If I don’t get one of the results above, I tell the caller that I need to process the information and will get back to him that evening. And then I do. By that time, he’s usually figured it out himself. I could have told him the solution earlier in the day, but he wouldn’t have been ready to hear it. Sometimes you have to let the balloon deflate.

Sixth Commandment: Look like you care

It gets you halfway there. I must have missed the memo about shorts. Once, a homeowner greeted my client (clad in her spandex biking pants) and me at the door with “Which one of you is the Realtor?” Okay…

Seventh Commandment: Be yourself

When I had my last business photo taken, the photographer said, “There, that ought to do you for another ten years.” He was not complimenting me on my youthful preservation; rather, he was alluding to Realtors’ propensity to use the same photo for the rest of their professional lives. I beat his estimate— mine lasted fifteen years, and the only thing that changed was my hairstyle… that I could detect.

I was passing out newsletters in my geographic farm a while back, and an elderly gentleman took one, looked at it, looked at me, squinted, and asked in a dubious voice, “Is this you?”

“Yes,” I answered. “On a good day.”

And in these times male agents, especially, need to resemble their photos if they want to get through the homeowner’s door.

Eighth Commandment: Don’t look dumb

It’s natural to want to present your best face. But if you would rather be an attorney than a real estate appraiser, do not call yourself an “appraiser at real estate,” as one of my associates in Idaho did. Just go be a lawyer. And for heaven’s sake, don’t name your hydroplane speedboat “Your 6 percent.” I think that agent was the same one whose outgoing phone message was “Hi, this is Susie. I’m out making a killing in real estate. Leave your name and number and I’ll get back to ya.” (I couldn’t make this stuff up.)

I don’t understand why Realtors have to advertise how much they earn when other professionals don’t. I can see listing the number of homes we’ve sold, although doctors don’t list the number of body parts they’ve replaced; the public does need to have some means of measuring our success, but really…

Ninth Commandment: Something to do with cars

Cars bore me to distraction. Before I became a Realtor, mine had fruit flies in it. But since real estate agents have to put other people in their cars, keep them tidy, and look successful, I was forced to clean up my act. My first real estate car was a Honda Accord. I learned that no matter how modest an image you project, you can’t click with everyone. Like the fellow who said, “It must be nice to be able to afford a new Accord.”

An Accord will pass as successful if it’s brand new. Every year its ability to assure potential clients of your worthiness depreciates. Next, I was forced to trade my five-year-old Accord in on an Acura when I got tired of hearing (only from men) words to this effect:

Mr. Buyer: “We’re riding in this?”

Me: Smile. Nod.

Mr. Buyer: (silence)

Some of them even noticed the scratches on my bumpers.

Other agents “get it” faster. Like Susie, who always wanted to quit her county job and go into real estate. She stopped by a while back, so excited, to say that she had “started (her) real estate career!”

I said, “Oh, wow, you passed the exam?”

Other agents “get it” faster. Like Susie, who always wanted to quit her county job and go into real estate. She stopped by a while back, so excited, to say that she had “started (her) real estate career!”

I said, “Oh, wow, you passed the exam?”

“No.” She grinned. “I got me my Mercedes!”

Tenth Commandment: Stop talking

There are two times when you should not talk: when you’re talking to a client on the phone, and when you’re talking to a client face-to-face. Because, let’s admit it, they don’t want to hear about us. They want us to listen to them. Which is only fair— they’re paying.

So just say enough to prime the pump, to get them going. And then, if you’re on the phone, you can pick up your knitting and make a scarf. Because that’s about how much time you should devote to listening. I’ve considered giving the longest scarves to the corresponding clients but thought better of it.

Chatting in person calls for another skill set: body language. Serious listening can induce drowsiness. As can my didactic preaching, so I’m not going to dwell on this. But you know what I’m saying here.

I once took another broker in my office with me to a listing presentation in a town where I had few listings, because he had been a longtime resident there and knew everything about it. (It’s true— he said so, repeatedly.) He also knew everything about skiing, his kids’ palatial home in Silicon Valley, and politics. It was really hard to tear him ourselves away. The next day the homeowners called me to say, “If we decide to go with you, whatever you do, don’t bring him back.”

You have just read an excerpt from the book, Laugh Your Way to Real Estate Sales Success, by Cathy Turney.

Cathy has been making fun of real estate for 25-plus years as Broker/Managing Partner at Better Homes Realty (San Francisco Bay Area). In a good year she produces in the top 10 percent of all agents nationally. An award-winning humorist, her columns have been published in national magazines, the San Francisco Chronicle, and she writes for Inman News and the Clayton Gazette.