Debbie Hanlon_crop - webThe real estate systems I developed were a vital part of my success in becoming No. 1 in Canada in my first year in the business, not only because they made my job a whole lot easier but also because they ensured a consistent level of service that gave me loads of repeat and referral business.

Quite simply, these systems not only make your job easier, they make you a better real estate agent because they actually prompt you to do things that make you stand out from the competition. Let’s face it, there are always more real estate agents than there are houses to sell. That means you have to separate yourself from all the other agents pursuing the same piece of business. Putting step-by-step systems in place and following them will certainly help you do that, because your growing client list will be more than impressed with how smoothly and stress-free these systems make their selling or buying experience. Not only do they make your life easier, they also make your client’s life easier as well. It’s a real win-win situation.

Let’s look briefly at my Open House System as an example of how it makes one of the most common real estate activities both easier and better.

I’ve always considered hosting an open house, either my own or another agent’s, as nothing less than a job interview. In fact you should start thinking of any interaction with the public as just that. It’s a chance for you to pull off a little ‘make and leave’ – make an impression and leave a card.

First, spend a Sunday visiting other open houses. You’ll notice that most of them are pretty much the same. Now imagine prospective buyers doing the same. Wouldn’t they be pleasantly surprised if they walked into an open house that stood out? Why, they’d probably mention it to friends who asked them if they saw anything interesting. “Well there was this one place, the house wasn’t great but what a job the agent had done….I’ve got their card here”.

My Open House System is designed to ensure that your open house gets that kind of response every time. It takes things all agents do and cranks them up several notches. For instance, some agents lay out reading materials on the coffee table or counter top that tells visitors about the house. In my system, materials are prepared to be spread throughout the home, all of it with your face and contact info on it somewhere. So no matter where prospective buyers/clients go, there you are.

When you plan your open house, you simply plug in the relative information concerning that particular house into your templates and hit print. Then in each room there is relevant information, for instance if it’s close to a school, a picture of that school with info is displayed in a child’s room. Each room is similarly decorated so that every viewer leaves with a fantastic impression and contact info to get in touch with you.

There are also outside the home activities in the Open House System, such as sending out open house fliers inviting the neighbourhood to check it out on a certain day. Again a template is used that shows the exterior and interior and this helps put people in the house, which as we all know, tends to get more people in.

By following my Open House System, you give your client a level of service that will turn them into raving fans. It will also ensure that anyone and everyone who walks through the door to view that open house will leave wanting that level of service themselves. Systems turn something as basic as an open house into a way to open doors to more business.

Debbie Hanlon is the president and founder of Hanlon Realty. She is a three-time top 50 CEO winner and was named one of the top 100 female entrepreneurs in Canada. She is currently an elected city official in St. John’s, Nfld. and is available for motivational and training seminars. Email [email protected]

Debbie Hanlon is the owner broker and Realtor at Debbie Hanlon Real Estate, a new boutique brokerage in St. John’s, Nfld. She is also a motivational speaker, real estate coach, author, former city councillor and children’s entertainer. She lives in St. John’s with her husband, Oral Mews and her dog Fisher.


  1. Great post Debbie. Great ideas. Looks like someone got a new thesaurus for Christmas. Bottom line is every effort towards marketing above and beyond the call serves both existing clients expectations and generates new business. That is the thrust of our business, capitalism for that matter. If there is any questionable intent within in this exchange it certainly does not lie with the author of this post..

  2. From my point of view: Just because an agent has entered into a buyer's agreement with someone, that agent should not have the legal power to just send out their perspective buyers to open houses and then expect the buyer to simply go back to that agent for the preparation of the A of P&S that may eventually result into a sale and the pocketing of the selling commission. Changes to the buyers agreement should be made so that things do not work out in such manner. .

  3. Hi Steve Jones, Are you an unsuccessful Real Estate Agent who just could't make it in this competitive industry? I've been reading your comments and you are coming across as someone who knows a little about fiduciary duties (very little) and you think using such words makes us believe you're an expert. I think most sellers would understand that most people who come to an open house at their property are not going to make an offer and they understand that their agent will try to create a relationship to either sell them another home or list their propery for sale. Experienced agents and sellers know that sellers shop for agents at open houses and make their decisions about hiring a listing agent based on their open house performance. It's in the sellers best interests for their agent to try and create that relationship with the non buyer who in turn may refer a friend or relative who also becomes a client. Our industry thrives with agents who operate in this manner and these agents become the successful ones that other sellers and buyers seek out. If an individual enters an open house and shows some interest then I doubt the agent would try to sell them something else and if they are not interested in that house then why shouldn't the agent try to create a relationship.

    I think you don't respect the jobs Real Estate Agents do and you are trying to use this forum to attact those who can do a job you failed at.

    • THANK YOU, Peter!!!

      You likely hit the nail on the head. In my writings (and ramblings) at no time was/is the intent to show disrespect for buyers and sellers as noted by our (not so) esteemed (non)colleague, otherwise known as now a member of the public at large perhaps… but rather: Of course I didn't say that the buyers and sellers are the "lowest common denominator" — I merely referenced that the reading capability of the average non-esoteric person/reader is who we are all trying to reach… rofl. The largest number possible so as to help make their lives easier (as well as our own); the more real information digested the better for all concerned.

      We help people in all age groups, cultures, and educational levels. If memory serves me – I think the average reading capacity is at the grade 8 level. No point in writing in a pontificating format when appealing to the masses. Rather call it if you will light reading material on a serious topic, in an effort to be understood by the most number of readers – or newspaper-style, none of which are meant to be works of art – rofl. The English language being what it is, the semantics often get in the way.

      Some people just need to get over themselves… no one in the big scheme of things is that important, to anyone but themselves. Of course common courtesy prevailing, himself doesn't bother to identify who he really is: could also be a disgruntled lawyer, home inspector or several other designations; there is a tremendous amount of jealousy in this business – and plenty of misunderstandings.

      To point: buyers and sellers often rather prefer to follow the advice of someone such as that fellow rather than follow the advice of one who is being paid "to represent" them. Odd but true… because if he professes his expertise to his friends and neighbours, they will surely believe him.

      Carolyne L

    • You know you've won at a debate when the other side's primary argument is to attack the other person personally by, for instance, criticizing what they may or may not have done in the past :). On that note, I'm not going to bother addressing your worthless two cents into this matter directly — I couldn't, even if I wanted to, because there's no substance to it.

      It's been a blast taking you guys on but I think I'm done. It's starting to get repetitive. All that you guys (except perhaps Brian) have done here is embarass the industry with your display of ignorance and arrogance rather than protect it. Well done :).

  4. Steve Jones:

    If a REALTOR holds an open house for the sole purpose of gaining new clients then I would agree with you that it is a breach of owed fiduciary duty and also unethical. Other than that though, there is no breach of either fiduciary duty or code of ethics in the gaining of clients by means of an open house. Nowhere within the codes of ethics will you find a rule that even addresses ethical practices regarding clients obtained via open houses – at least not in CREA's, REBBA's or TREB's. But if you know of one somewhere please do share it with us.

    Incidentally, you simultaneously espouse the very same (purported) breach of ethics you decry – as long as you are the beneficiary you have no issue with your REALTOR bringing an offer from the (purportedly) unethically gained buyer to you. Tough luck if your REALTOR's other seller was robbed of fiduciary duty, because you could care less about him, right?

    And, what would you say about a REALTOR such as myself who tells potential seller clients up front that I will not double-end a deal? It can possibly be argued that the seller's best interests were not protected when the interested walk-in buyer who hopes to catch a break on the price is told that they will need representation from someone else and because that price break wasn't there, the buyer walked away.

    • Just because there are no rules specifically addressing open houses doesn't mean your code of ethics don't kick in. Your code of ethics have to be broadly worded so that they can work in all unforeseen circumstances.


      Many ethical duties created by real estate boards are fiduciary-like in nature. For example, Article 3 of CREA's code of ethics comes to mind. Using an open house at the expense of your current client to score new ones easily could be seen as a breach of that article.

      As for your second paragraph, again, why do I need to care about my realtor's fiduciary duties? Your argument doesn't make sense. I'm not the one who owes fiduciary duties to others. I'm not the one who's trying to call myself an ethical professional. I'm just a member of the public. Your "argument" here is essentially a "guilt trip" and is a well known argumentation fallacy where one attacks the person putting forth arguments rather than the arguments themselves. Try again buddy.

      As for the fact that you don't double end? What does this have to do with anything? What do I care what you do personally? But I'll bite. I would say you're a lousy realtor for doing that and I would never work with you. It is an amateur mistake to call double ending inappropriate in all circumstances. With informed consent, it can be useful. It can, for instance, reduce transaction costs if the double ending realtor agrees to reduce the commission somewhat to reflect the fact that there is no need to pay for a buyer's agent. As long as I don't agree to dual agency and with the other side unrepresented, I don't even have the scope of fiduciary duties owed to me by my realtor reduced.

      I'm sure having a blanket rule to "never double end" is great for you because your liability is reduced, but you're making me spend more as a result and you're not looking out for my best interests.

      You need more training my friend.

    • I'll repeat Steve Jones: – You'll have no argument from me it is likely a breach of fiduciary duty should a REALTOR specifically use an open to gain clients. But that is not what your argument against holding those have been about, it is about a listing REALTOR picking up clients as a whole – I quote:

      "Using open houses to gain new clients is a breach of your fiduciary duty no? You are abusing your client’s trust and confidence placed in you to sell his home to find new clients at his expense."

      That statement includes a buyer who walks in the door, doesn't like the house but happens to like the REALTOR enough to engage their services. Further, nowhere does any act, code or board rule in any way deny REALTORS this type of client gain. To do so would be blatantly anti-competitive. So please show us any code or rule that is substantive in this regard – what ifs and what may be are irrelevant.

      You also mention that it is potentially a great risk to the seller to agree to open houses, but this is nonsensical. There is no more risk here than there is in hiring any REALTOR or for that matter anyone who would owe you fiduciary duties, whose trustworthiness you personally cannot vouch for.

      But you are correct – you don't owe any other seller such a duty or even ethical conduct. That doesn't mean tough that you should sanction your REALTOR bringing a buyer from another seller's open houses if you don't want them to do the same to you. Our personal morals as members of "the public "shouldn't just revolve around – 'I only care about me.'

      And no, I am not costing you any more for not double-ending because you are told up front when you are only a potential client, as was previously stated. So, if you don't like that arrangement I won't be taking your listing – end of meeting. Never mind the fact that your argument is a crock in several ways.

      Well you just backed yourself into a corner didn't you? I quote you again regarding my not double-ending:

      " I would say you’re a lousy realtor for doing that and I would never work with you. It is an amateur mistake to call double ending inappropriate in all circumstances."

      Now the last time I checked, a REALTOR owes their clients fiduciary duties and because there is a representation agreement in place this includes believe it or not Steve, representation, and not the withdrawal of such a duty because the REALTOR can no longer advise/guide or tell one client anything that would prejudice the other's position. You can call me a lousy REALTOR if you wish but I won't be faced with looking a client in the eye and answering such a question as: how should I respond to this offer/counter? with – I can't tell you.

      Further, cherry-picking the circumstances that suit you only so as to make your argument and in this case it would be when the buyer walks into your open house, doesn' t cut the mustard Steve, because it is more likely that the double-end would come about because the buyer came to your open house rather than from the REALTOR's list of clients.

      Lastly, what on earth makes you believe that this "As long as I don’t agree to dual agency and with the other side unrepresented, I don’t even have the scope of fiduciary duties owed to me by my realtor reduced." and dual agency are one and the same?

    • Ugh, your latest post shows just how fundamentally you fail to understand what it means to owe fiduciary duties to your clients. This is kind of scary, but not surprising either. There are many others like you that have been unleashed onto the public.

      "Further, nowhere does any act, code or board rule in any way deny REALTORS this type of client gain. To do so would be blatantly anti-competitive."

      I already explained this and will not repeat myself. The "anti-competitive" remark is amusingly ignorant and doesn't make sense. Competition law has nothing to do with the regulation of ethical conduct. I suppose, following your reasoning, that any sort of restriction on advertising or marketing is "anti-competitive".

      "You also mention that it is potentially a great risk to the seller to agree to open houses, but this is nonsensical."

      I already explained this as well. Calling my position "nonsensical" doesn't make it so.

      I'm not going to address the trash you wrote about double ending because it's off topic. I'll only say that you desperately need to learn more about the subject before you end up getting sued. If you're a BC realtor, start with reading this case, DeJesus v. Sharif (BC Court of Appeal) to learn how the scope of fiduciary duties are reduced by a limited dual agency agreement, and then read BCREA's pamphlet "Working with a realtor" to learn how realtors may double end listings without acting as dual agent and without reducing the scope of duties owed to their seller clients (found here: <a href="” target=”_blank”>;…” target=”_blank”> )

      If you're an Ontario realtor, try this brochure:… although it isn't as good as the BC one (not that the BC one is very good either).

      So, otherwise, you're not reading what I wrote and are just shoveling out the same defeated arguments using different words. Great. I'm done with you.

  5. Steve J, My point is that most Realtors are working with more than one buyer or seller at a time and they make contact with other buyers and sellers who end up buying not the home that they first met the Realtor at or not the home that was advertised in paper that they called the agent about. In Ontario Buyers and Sellers each sign a representation agreement that clearly sets out that they may be in competition with other buyers and sellers that the Realtor represents. Realtors meet prospects at open houses and through newspaper adverts and through on-line lead generation and from mailing lists and from referrals etc. Everything they do generates prospects and a seller who insists that the Realtor doing the open house ONLY deal with a buyer who enters an open house for that particular house is doing himself a disfavour.That is why wise buyers and sellers utilize a Realtor.

    ALSO I doubt any Realtor who conduct an open house under YOUR rules.

    Finally – You have no idea whatsoever what "fiduciary duty is or means."

    • You are distorting the purpose of those representation agreements. They do not, for instance, allow a realtor to dissuade buyers from a property they are listing so that they may get them to buy something else.

      Any way, you've made a lot of statements here and have forgotten the whole thing of "backing them up". Saying I don't know what a fiduciary duty is doesn't make it so buddy. So far the only guy who's shown that he doesn't know what he's talking about is you. That's evidenced, among other things, by the fact that you don't know what a representation agreement is.

  6. Hello Steve J, again.
    I take it personally when generalized attacks happen in our industry. As in any other industry there are bad apples, lazy people who take advantage of a kind and caring boss(broker) sometimes, as well as misbehaving in a public venue, children who are brought up by parents who sadly don't teach them manners (perhaps because they were not taught, themselves), bullies, road hogs, loud arrogant, obnoxious people in general – but you know what? There's a place for everyone. We each get to choose to work with, or for, those with whom we relate.

    Sadly, you just haven't had the pleasure yet, of doing business with the right REALTOR(r). There are plenty of right-REALTORS(r) out there. A few of them take time to participate in REM. Hopefully one day you will cross paths with one who will change your mind and show you how important you and your business really are.

    You simply cannot tar and feather everyone with the same brush by making your generalized statements. As I note in some of my consumer education materials, you may in fact find helpful the information at: Commissioning an Agent – – you will also see an article on the site relative to Sellers at another link.

    Excuse the long sig file (I am a strong believer in networking).

    Working with the best always pays big dividends ~
    "Carolyne’s Clients Speak" (on line reference letters)
    Carolyne L
    The secret is in managing the client's wants and needs, not just the
    A licenced/registered REALTOR(r)
    Proudly putting my name to my work for 29 years :

    CAROLYNE Realty Corp. Real Estate Brokerage (1991)
    Serving Burlington and Brampton ON CA
    When you are ready to buy or sell, please remember me.

    • As one of the top broker/agent in the country for a number of years, I can honestly say that it was a pleasure doing business with most real estate agents I've done business with. I don't know what Steve Jones problem is as I haven't taken the time to read his postings, but based on Carolyne's response, I suggest that Mr. Jones smarten up and take a good hard look at himself in the mirror.

  7. Hi again Steve Jones: Regarding your response to Carolyne L's offering to educate you about how our business is conducted. There are only two ways to broker real estate transactions: the right way and the wrong way.

    Folks like Carolyne who go out of their way to take the time to author articles of an educational nature are by their nature looking out for the public interest; they are offering their services in a very transparent and open manner. Someone who puts his / her name, and subsequently, reputation on the line in this manner creates an expectation that must be lived up to.

    You are attacking the wrong kind of personality when you slam Carolyne.

    You would be well advised to contact Carolyne if you were to need help with a real estate related transaction in her area of operation. I'm sure Carolyne would treat you very well, regardless of your current attitude.

    Maybe as yet you haven't been treated the right way by a Realtor.



    • Hmm Brian, I need to clarify what I meant when I called Carolyne's article "poorly written" and "rambling". I was not just saying this to attack her; rather, her article really _is_ poorly written and rambling.

      The article she wrote is poorly written. Her "thesis" is unclear — is the point of the article supposed to be telling me about the risks of holding an open house, or is the article supposed to be about whether or not open houses will lead to me getting a buyer for my property? The answer to this question is utterly unclear. In one paragraph, she discusses the "purpose" of an open house which, in her own words, is for the agent to score new business (which supports my original complaint, by the way). Then, in the next paragraph and for no apparent reason and without any sort of transition, she starts talking about how dangerous it is to hold an open house in a rural area. Her article is full of basic stylistic errors like this.

      She rambles in her article too, especially when it comes to the issue of safety. She brings up a number of different examples of safety risks and then fails to tie them together. In other words, what was her point of providing all of these examples? I can only guess that she's trying to gain sympathy from the public, i.e., presenting the message of "look at the risks I take on when I hold an open house — pity me!!". Quite inappropriate.

      Any way, what does contacting Carolyne for real estate needs have to do with her poorly written article or the obvious ethical issues raised by scoring clients through open houses? I have no idea why you brought that up.

    • Thank you, Brian. Of course being one of the "better agents" yourself, you would understand entirely – and thanks also to others who sent private notes off the forum – for your continued support.

      Much appreciate you.

      Carolyne L

    • Steve Jones, one thing to note: my consumer education materials are largely written to appeal to the lowest common denominator reader, the average Joe who may have a house to buy or to sell. My work is not intended to be esoteric in any fashion, and is often written on the fly – original intent – marketing materials – subsequently shared with colleagues and would be clientele.

      Perhaps since you have such unprecedented knowledge of the real estate industry and would be privy to help making rules for others to follow, yourself, maybe pick up a pen, grab a piece of paper and enlighten the world, yourself.

      We can never know all there is to know, and you might just sincerely help someone. Those of us "on the road" so to speak, just try to play by the rules, we don't invent them… btw – safety first is ALWAYS a major concern. One day, unknowingly, you may encounter the need to protect yourself, yourself.

      Carolyne L

    • Hi again Steve: The primary purpose of an "Open House" is obviously to present said property to potential buyers. From a purely mercenary perspective it would be foolish to not try to market the property in a positive light; it requires much less time and effort to promote said property while all are on-site than what would be required if one ignored potential interest from the prospect(s) and thereafter tried to steer them away to begin looking all over again at other properties. Few would turn down a potential sale (a double end commission) from an on-site open house promotion in hopes of taking a chance for a sale in the future. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

      Having said that, Realtors know what the odds are regarding an open house producing a sale of said property as the direct result of the open house…poor. That's just the way it is. However, many buyers visit open houses for the precise purpose of finding a knowledgeable, honest, not-in-your-face Realtor who suits their style and expectations. This is the side effect, expected or not, of an open house; it goes with the territory.

      In the greater scheme of things, the very worst kind of sales personality will try to sell anything to everybody. Is this the kind of Realtor that you would want working for you? If they'll do it with you they'll do it to you.

      My point regarding contacting Carolyne 'if' you were ever in need of assistance in her geographical area of operations is this: If you are going to judge someone's character by way of how that person expresses one's self on paper, what is on paper is all that you are judging; you have not interacted with that person on any meaningful level and thus form your opinion from a pre-determined negative bias without actually knowing the person.

      You are a very good critic, but to be good one needs to be looking for all that is wrong, for any and all imperfections. None of us is perfect, but some at least try to do their best with what they have to work with.

      By the way, I have fallen victim to what I said one should not do by judging another by what / how he has written an article; are you an academic? If so, I can understand your concern regarding how the world should work (theory) vs how it actually works (reality), and how it always will work all the time there are humans about. Frustrating isn't it?



    • Brian your subtle jab at me by suggesting I am putting forth theoretical arguments and not realistic ones is noted, but it doesn't apply here. Just because I'm criticizing a long established industry practice doesn't make it an academic criticism that cannot apply to reality. This is how reform is done.

      Carolyne I am sorry to hear that you regard the average homebuyer/seller as a "lowest common denominator". Yikes. And, by the way, writing for a lay audience doesn't excuse disorganized, rambling, and otherwise poor writing.

  8. Hi Steve J, I guess you would be just as upset with your agent if he brought a buyer to your home that he became acquainted and signed up as a client at an open house he did for someones else. Would you tell him that buyer was obtained by a breach of his fiduciary duty to his other client and you wouldn't look at an offer from him.

    • Obviously I wouldn't be upset if my agent brought a buyer to my home that he became acquainted with at an open house he did for someone else, but I'm sure that the "someone else" would be suspicious and upset. The issue of abiding by fiduciary duties is the agent's problem, not mine. If you knew how fiduciary duties worked, you would know this.

      What's your point?

  9. Hi Steve Jones:

    Yours is a fairly common attitude held amongst the public at large about commissioned sales people in general, and Realtors in particular.

    I would agree with you if a listing Realtor failed to disclose to the seller client two things: that the odds of selling a house via an open house are one in fourteen (according to local statistics), and that an expected spin-off effect of an open house is to try to secure buyer clients. It's all about educating the client…up front. If this is done, the moral and ethical standards have been met. The seller can then make an informed decision regarding the efficacy of conducting an open house, or not.

    You 'should' expect Realtors to know 'everything' about fiduciary duties, but you can't take it for granted that every Realtor will put them into play when a commission is on the line; that's the potential fallout from the nature of commissioned sales income…everywhere that there are humans.

    Do your own due diligence, and find the kind of Realtor that meets your deserved expectations. They do exist. Contrary to public opinion, we are not all the same.



    • I agree that using an open house to score new clients is OK with the informed consent of the seller, but given that we all agree that homes rarely sell by open house and that open houses are primarily a marketing tool for agents — i.e., a way to score new clients, and given the great potential for risk, namely directing prospective clients away from the property either intentionally or not, I fail to see why any truly informed client would agree to an open house.

    • Hi Steve: I'm sorry to read that you have decided to cut yourself out of this discussion; we need strongly held opinions from members of the public to be expressed within this forum; it keeps us on our toes.

      To answer your concern re…"I fail to see why any truly informed client would agree to an open house."…I belive the answer to be plain old human nature based upon that deeply held feeling described as HOPE, the same feeling that one expresses when justifying purchasing a lottery ticket…you just never know. If you don't buy in you are guaranteed 'not' to win. If you don't hold an open house you cut yourself out of the possibility of selling via that means. One in fourteen odds of selling via open house are much better that one in fourteen million for winning the lottery. HOPE everlasting…the foundation of human endeavours.



  10. Steve – I think you are missing the point. Debbie is reminding us that EVERY interaction is a prospect and her open house system is just a more creative way to interact with clients.

    I love the idea of customized info sheets in each of the rooms. I have walked through several open houses and yes each one feels pretty much the same , save for a few with chocolates and cookies. But cookies don`t really sell a house , location and price do. Thanks for the tips Debbie!

    • A realtor who's cognizant of his role as a fiduciary will not treat "every" interaction as a prospect. That can be both a breach of real estate board rules of ethics and a breach of the fiduciary duty of loyalty owed to the client.

      If I ever found out my realtor was using the open house of my home to pick up new clients, I would bar him immediately from holding any more open houses. What if he's dissuading people from offering on my home in the process? He may not be doing that, but how do I know for sure? The appearance of wrongdoing is bad enough.

      Even if I permit it, shouldn't I get a "cut" of his commission earned from new clients made at the open house? I did after all "lend" him my house for his "marketing campaign"!

      Things like this are why realtors have a bad rep. They just don't get it. They don't even know that they don't know. They don't know that the traditional means of finding new clients and prospects often comes at the cost of existing clients. It's unethical, and most realtors just don't get it. Pity!

  11. Using open houses to gain new clients is a breach of your fiduciary duty no? You are abusing your client's trust and confidence placed in you to sell his home to find new clients at his expense.

    But I wouldn't expect realtors to know anything about fiduciary duties ;)

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