By Jeff Stern

They say there’s no such thing as a dumb question.

Most of the time, I agree. Except, perhaps, when one is in a moving vehicle and asks the driver, “Are we there yet?”



As real estate agents, we get a lot of questions about things. Some of them can seem strange. Outlandish, even. Like these ones:

  • “Do we have to use the septic tank on-site?”
  • “Can we move in before the property closes?”
  • “Do we need a chimney for the fireplace?”
  • “It says Cary Grant once lived here. Who was he?”
  • “Is the furniture for sale?”

To a first-time home buyer (or someone not old enough to know who Cary Grant is), these questions are perfectly legitimate. To a real estate agent however, who lives and breathes all things real estate, it can feel a bit like a fellow human asking how to breathe air or walk on grass.

The above questions are just a few of some posted online. In the answers posted, the askers were publicly mocked for their inquiries – in some cases, even by real estate agents.

But here’s the thing. As professionals, we must remember that most people don’t actually know what we know. It’s why we have a career.

As real estate professionals (or professionals in any industry, for that matter), when someone asks a question about our area of expertise, we need to be humble. Helpful. And remember that it is to help others that we got into real estate in the first place.

Professionals don’t mock clients. They just don’t. Not even behind their backs, over coffee with colleagues or in blog posts long after the fact.

Rather, professionals understand that they are in the service business, delving into further education and investing in professional upgrades in order to serve others. Our acquisition of knowledge is not to feel superior or simply “know more”.

No, no, no. Our acquisition of knowledge is for the sake of giving our clients the best advantage and experience possible.

As a professional, no matter what questions we’re asked, no matter how obvious, we need to treat the asker as one who sincerely wants to know. They want to learn and are asking us to teach them. We should be thankful.

First, that should make us feel honoured, not annoyed.

Of course they would ask questions of us. We are knowledgeable professionals. Who else can they ask? Uncle Bob? Google? It’s actually a mark of wisdom (and humility!) that they would ask us their questions. As Maya Angelou puts it, “what you learn, teach.” We are teachers. Let’s not punish our students for asking questions.

Secondly, the way we respond reveals our character. If our gut reaction to questions is sarcasm, mockery or condescension, it says more about our character than it does about the people who ask questions.

A person who needs to tear down other people, making them appear foolish in front of others, is a person who is insecure. They tend to want to feel better about themselves and enjoy stepping on other people to do it.

This is hardly the mark of a professional.

Bruce Lee sums it up like this, “Knowledge will give you power, but character will give you respect.”

Jeff Stern, a 27-year real estate veteran with Re/Max Performance Realty in Winnipeg, received the 2017 CMHC/MREA Distinguished Realtor Award. He is an instructor for the Provincial Real Estate Licensing program, a member of the Education Committee and sits on the Professional Standards Investigation and Hearing Committee at MREA. He gives back to the community as chair of the MREA Shelter Foundation and writes stimulating and enlightening articles on his blog. The opinions expressed are those of Jeff Stern and not the Manitoba Real Estate Association.

13 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you, Jeff, for a reaffirmation on how I choose to respond to questions from my clients. It may take more time, and it is worth having them as “clients for life”! Just this this week, my first time home buyers had a long list of questions for me each day. We decided to schedule regular conference calls. At the end of the day, they thanked me for being so patient and such a good teacher!

    • David:

      You are the archetype for would-be candidates.

      Interesting isn’t it that Realtors of true professional caliber are often very good teachers, but run-of-the-mill teachers are seldom really good Realtors. Really good teachers stay at their profession because they teach as a calling, not as a means to an end.

      Patience is indeed a virtue. Hang on to it. You will never be desperate for a commission, because you will never overspend on things that don’t really matter, being things that only matter to those who need to keep up with the Joneses…or supersede them.

    • Thanks David for sharing your most recent experience. Having had numerous clients over my career that required “that little bit of extra” time investment and knowing how it can cause some stress when very busy, I like your solution of a daily scheduled time to alleviate that issue.

    • Congratulations, David.

      Just perfect “patience” examples that netted big rewards;
      • “Carolyne is the best of the best! She knows her stuff. Very patient, organized and on top of everything. Always makes you feel like you are her only client! Would not think twice to recommend her to anyone.”

      (It took nearly a year to find the right house, and lots of patience all ’round, and the lady had taken all the OREA real estate courses). I refused to show about a hundred MLS listing inquiries they found; no joke.

      ===

      • “My wife and I would like to thank you for the help and advice that you gave us when selling our home. As a ‘rookie’ seller I was very nervous going into the market, but your constant support and guidance made the process less difficult and certainly less painful. Your knowledge of the market saved me from making a number of mistakes, and you protected our privacy whilst showing our home. I would recommend you to anyone in the housing market, especially anyone for whom service and hard work are important. Best wishes going forward.”

      (Stayed in touch for a year before deciding to list.) Answered boatloads of questions, gladly. No rush. And the longest time to sell of any property in my career. Details don’t matter. I finally got the job done.

      ===

      • “Thank you so much for all your hard work and constant communication during the sale of our home. The instant feedback via email and phone was such a wonderful support to us as well as the amazing number showings and the several offers that you brought to us during this time. As well, it was very reassuring to see your incredible knowledge of the selling contract and the law with regards to the entitlements and obligations of all parties under Canadian real estate law. You are definitely a pro!”

      (Her mother was a REALTOR in a nearby town, and referred the sellers to me, even so the mother worked for the corp I had spent years at. MLS kept bringing ridiculous offers: from unqualified buyers and mischaracterizing the house by comparing it to sold prices of other unlike solds that resembled the listing looking at street views on MLS pictures.) clearly the offers were coming from agents unfamiliar with the area.
      These folks were “moving up,” and bought one of my new listings that had come to me via a next door sale (who then in turn referred their son to me whose house had been listed elsewhere and hadn’t sold.)

      In a regular quite ordinary market mid-90’s. Another example of 5:8 possible ends being mine. All well-exposed to the open market and priced to sell, even if colleagues didn’t agree. The referring neighbour property sold one night, and when I got back to the office, there was a substantially low offer in the fax machine with an accompanying letter I was meant to show my seller. I had not been forewarned by the agent that he was preparing an offer. With his letter in hand, he felt certain I would be able to convince my seller to accept his offer, proof in writing, his opinion that the listing was way over-priced.

      It had sold only an hour earlier, within a few dollars of the list price that the MLS agent thought was grossly over-priced and would never sell. Of course I did have to make my seller aware of the fax and its contents. They had a great chuckle. And the MLS agent actually lived in their subdivision. How embarrassing.

      There’s no such thing as too many questions, and patience is always a primary key to success.

      Carolyne L 🍁

  2. Thank you, Jeff. As stated by others already, you have covered an important topic with brevity and skill. It’s also important for us to ask questions – for at least three reasons. One, to understand their question better; two to find out their needs (or wish list),; three to have an appreciation for their threshold knowledge. The big plus to this approach is, so we don’t veer off to explaining (and sometimes over explaining) something that wasn’t at all what they wanted to know – just may be they didn’t phrase like us real estate sales professionals.

    • Thank you Cummer for your further input on this subject. I especially liked your number three and how you described the “big plus”. Asking questions and being asked questions are strong indicators of interest and the way the responses are handled determine whether or not a client (or customer) relationship is being formed.

  3. I was taught a similar lesson when I worked at a grocery store in high school.
    You’d begin to get really annoyed by the time you were asked for the 5th time that day where the bananas are, but when you realize it’s the first time they’re asking, that they genuinely don’t know and are looking for help, then your mentality changes.
    It may be dumb to you because you’ve been asked it 5 times today, but they truly don’t know and are looking for some help.

    • Great example Garrett, thanks. This is so relevant in any service-based industry. What is familiar to the employee is not to the consumer and considering the consumer provides the sustenance of that very business they share their net-income-tax disposable dollars with so should be greeted with open arms not judgement. Even the employee wins in treating the customer well as their job stability and income relies on satisfied customers of which are a source of repeat and referral business.

    • Thanks Jane, for the most part I think our profession is kind to people but hope my article serves as a reminder that what we find commonplace is not the same for consumers. I have seen this occur in other professions and even wrote a blog on the subject when a close friend was undergoing major surgery from cancer and how the doctor was rushing her with her pre-op appointment which was extremely upsetting and unprofessional causing even more stress on her. That experience opened my eyes to how we as real estate professionals although not dealing in life and death do deal in personal finances which carries an equally heavy responsibility.

  4. Professional Real Estate Brokerage employ only Realtors.

    Frachises Marketing companies employ Agents

    Who would you like to answer your Question

    over maketing drives the value of Real Estate Up.

    To day we have many families that cannot afford a home.

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