By Ross Wilson

In the last of this three-column series about working with family and close friends, let’s delve a little into boundaries.

Many of you (but sadly, not all) would agree that it’s arguably in poor taste to blatantly prospect at family gatherings. However, during such events, if a relative seeks your advice, and you’re open to helping them, prior to accepting the agency, clarify your policy of no discounts. If they grumble, save everyone a lot of time and frustration by politely refusing their business right then and there. The personal relationship must come first. By treating your business relationships with family professionally, you’ll improve the odds of keeping the personal element intact.

Early in a relationship with stranger clients, you normally delineate mutually unambiguous boundaries as determined by personal feelings and social and business mores. Since boundaries with family can naturally be blurred, it’s best to establish similar clear limitations, professional boundaries and expectations before entering into a principle/agent contract with loved ones.

Don’t wait until a perceived transgression occurs and someone is upset, either expressed or suppressed.  Obviously, all industry rules, codes of ethics, standards of practice and provincial statutes still apply, but a healthy working relationship is more than that. A personal connection is great, but to avoid damaging a familial relationship, it’s really important for both sides – prior to putting pen to paper – to recognize what would constitute inappropriate behaviour, unreasonable expectations and unwelcome trespass.

In your business life, disappointments will be forgiven or forgotten fairly quickly. Aggrieved clients will vote with their feet and never do business with you again. They’re completely gone from your life.

However, family will always be family. You can’t divorce a sibling. When boundaries or expectations are not clearly understood or reciprocally respected, the result could ultimately be disastrous. For example, prior to accepting a family member as a client, your professional availability should be established. Advise them that unless it’s an emergency – by your definition – they may contact you with business questions or concerns only during regular business hours. Or you could insist that when you have a report ready, you’ll contact them.

Treat all your clients, be they family, friend or stranger, in the same professional manner and expect to be treated the same in return. Yes, it may be a little softer around the edges with family, but it’s a good idea to stay within your preconceived and usually unwritten boundaries. It’s not always possible, though, because regardless of the relationship, some people will co-operate and others won’t. But at the end of the day, you want your family to be happy.

I believe that people are fundamentally honest and trustworthy, hence I trust people until they give me a reason to do otherwise. And fortunately, I’m usually trusted in return. Life is definitely easier when you’re so blessed. More often than not, you get what you give and reap what you sow. I earned the faith of my clients – kith, kin and otherwise – by providing honest, dependable service and by trusting them. Of course, I was betrayed occasionally; it’s hurtful, but it happens. However, I never betrayed the trust of a client, for without integrity, you have nothing.

In most situations, your relatives and close acquaintances will hire you. And they’ll do so for one chief reason – they trust you to take extra special care of them. They know in their heart that you’ll not allow them to be cheated, that they can sign documents without worry. Key decisions during the home transition process are made much less stressful with the thoughtful loving guidance of trusting counsel. Again, what is that trust worth? A lot. And it’s worth your full fee.

“A happy family is but an earlier heaven.” George Bernard Shaw



  1. That’s quite a story, Carolyne. Your professional path and mine have not been too dissimilar. My own website,, which I regularly update and improve (even though I chose to not renew my broker’s ticket last January) also attracts many thousands of visitors every month. And speaking of book chapters, my columns are slightly abridged versions of my book, The Happy Agent. Have you read it?

  2. Thanks, Carolyne, for your comments. Illuminating as usual. I certainly agree that the wise learn from those who went before. But unfortunately, to do so usually means having to read. And many don’t read anything beyond restaurant menus. Perhaps there’s hope for a change in that attitude.

    • Ross, I was very fortunate.

      My posts often seem like chapters in a book. Just meant as another form of give-back. If REM viewers would “read,” your articles, mine, and the many other contributors, (we don’t get paid by REM), there’s plenty of good material available for free.

      I never paid a penny for SEO, but my site was always on page one on the Net, sometimes even number one, often in the top four, and as more local agents got websites, always still in the top ten. There was truth to ‘content is king.” I stopped writing articles and my site disappeared.

      Most of the material in my old articles is based on personal and/or client-related situations wherein I learned a lot through their experiences, or enough to trigger me to do more research into a given topic.

      One client who was an international businessman and travelled constantly meant his being away from home often. He was going through a divorce by long-distance. His wife did not live in the house. When he first connected with me it was because of my articles that he read while he was on the road, so to speak.

      We didn’t initially connect often, but he knew I could be counted on to reply promptly. And in one of his emails over a couple of years of communicating, he said that anything he ever needed to know, all he had to do was visit my regularly updated site and he could find out anything relative.

      He occasionally kept me updated on his divorce situation, and said he had no need to talk to other agents. That everything he needed to know was on my site. When he was ready to list he would let me know.

      I had let him know in a brief email, each time a comparable local property listed or sold. His was outside my structured farm area, but on the periphery. And of course he kept a close eye on my own production.

      Then several months passed and I didn’t hear from him. I didn’t deluge him with requests to list. Purely pertinent information is all I sent, but suddenly with no reply any longer.

      Lesson learned. I was about to remove him from my contact list, when out of the blue his incoming email nearly got deleted due to the subject line reading: ready when you are. Had intended to just hit delete at that email. But accidentally opened it. OH, MY!

      On top of it, I was moving that day, and my tech was unplugging all the cables and wires, when I said let me check my email quickly. Nearly missed that one. I was using my tower. We didn’t have smart phones yet.

      Eventfully he let me know he was ready for an official listing appointment, and we met. I never did meet his wife. All documents were done through their lawyers. It was an amicable divorce. I had spent a full couple of years only communicating occasionally.

      But because he reads, he had all he needed to help him in his decision-making process. I was pleased to assist, even so I never had to ask for any sort of commitment. Everything was done by pertinent email.

      And in his testimonial letter, he thanked me for protecting their privacy. I always stand on my head to protect my clients’ privacy. Reminds me of another divorce situation. I did as many divorce-listings as I did relo.

      I was a little concerned. He wanted me to pre-inspect a nearly vacant house. He said he only slept there sometimes.

      He would leave key under the front door mat. I didn’t want to go into the three floors vacant house alone knowing it was a divorce situation. I took a local appraiser with me. But he just waited at the door. The owner had several agents do this pre-inspect thing, I later found out.

      I hit the no nonsense button, and as Tina Plett recently noted, I wasn’t about to give away my expertise without a commitment. He told me three other prices he had been given. Half the household belongings had already been moved out. And I could see what was happening. As often is the case, agents knowing a separation was obvious because he told them, and he said apparently what he would accept. I told him not to tell me. And they all had given him quick fire sale list prices, and they would have a fast transaction with a quick commission.

      I was annoyed. Clearly in my mind, the house was worth much more. But I told him the truth. The house was basically tidy and clean. Staging wasn’t yet in vogue, but I often had suggestions to help sellers maximize their net.

      I asked him if he was in a giant hurry for a sold sign, or if he was prepared since we were in a somewhat normal market, to perhaps not follow the quick-sale routine and follow my advice. He agreed and hired me.

      In just a couple of weeks he got net nearly 30k more than the list price the other agents had recommended. I had sold several homes in his subdivision and that’s how he knew my name. Again, I never met the wife. Everything got done through the lawyers, and they were happy to pay my six points. It sold MLS in sub-agency in early 1990’s, after only a few showings. Pleasant local helpful selling agent.

      Here is another old but relative article:

      • INSIDER TRADING – Be Careful What You Say – and to Whom
      (How much did you divulge already?)

      So for those who do read, there is a boatload of valuable, useable information in my articles, even so my site is not currently updated since I put my licence on hold. When you put your licence on hold you cannot practice. I can’t tell you how many “come list my house” emails I had to turn away, and explain that I could not even refer them to another rep. much less provide them with current local information.

      I appreciate your kind words, Ross.

      Carolyne L 🍁

  3. Ross
    There’s never a family KISS system. If you don’t employ certain strategies when doing family business in particular the bad guy moniker will get itself attached. Unconsciously they sometimes set themselves up as they do us, and it bites them. There’s no easy way to indulge in the topic, initially but addressing such a situation early on can save family ties in the end. Sometimes they truly don’t understand the need for signatures and family contracts. A little like some people view a prenup: if you really trusted me there would be no need for one. WHOOPS! Such trust.

    As I had noted at another article, this old article I wrote so many years ago and had authenticated by a local lawyer, might still be a family face-saving system.

    Although a firm handshake and clear eyeball to eyeball agreement could work, it doesn’t always, sadly.

    Working with and or for family also means working with in-laws and extended family attribution. Some such (advisors) think they know our job better than we do. It’s so important to get it all written and authenticated by supporting intervention when needed. In such a situation best not to have family closeted secrets. The down the road implications could prove devastating. Siblings often feel treated unfairly if not all had same family intervention. And likely any such intervention should even be addressed in a will.

    • Gift Money, Homes and Divorce
    (Was It a Gift or a Loan?)

    Always enjoy your well thought out REM columns that often trigger questions and further discussion. A lot of grief saving perhaps if only new agents would be open to walking on the shoulders of those who’ve ridden that horse.

    Carolyne L 🍁

    • Perhaps in addition to my article: “Was it a Gift or a Loan,” … It would be worthwhile to research:

      Here’s something I thought REM readers might want to check out. Not available in stores. . .


      Did you all know that, here, a marriage “revokes” (cancels) an existing will?

      Perhaps read Barry Fish’s and Les Kotzer’s book on the subject, entitled “The Wills Lawyers” (one of four of their books) to learn all sorts of things most of us can’t even begin to imagine in the layman’s world.

      For those of you working with young people who know from nothing about wills, or for those who specialize in working with seniors, you might find this information useful.

      You can check directly but it is my understanding that they will check an existing will for foibles (Google says:

      “Problems that, when serious, cause failure or the symptoms of failure.”) in it, at no cost.

      Disclaimer: I receive no gratuity endorsement. This is just a vital head’s up additional topic to enlighten our REM newspaper readers.

      Carolyne L 🍁

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