By Tina Plett

Real estate is this weird industry where people expect highly trained professionals to work for free (or less).  It’s not just family and friends either, like you might experience in your job – it’s this broad expectation from all of society – bankers, lawyers, buyers, sellers – that real estate agents can and should work for free.

For over seven years, I was that Realtor, getting the call for a free home evaluation. (thank you, Mr. Banker, sir. May I have another?)  I’d eagerly take the call, invest the hours, drive all over tarnation and tromp through snow and mud – and all for free. It took me a while to realize I don’t actually have to do that to myself.



In fairness, free home evaluations are a valid way of drumming up business.  It was a great way to meet people who were interested in buying or selling houses and start a conversation about their needs and how we can help. We could even demonstrate how reliable and effective we were before asking to represent them.

Things have changed. (They always do.)

What was once unique and creative is now commonplace. That means a few things:

  • It’s so common it’s actually an expectation. Why pay when you can get the milk for free? It makes a person wonder if it undermines the level of professionalism Realtors could otherwise be known for. If Realtors were a house on a city block, would their being free make them the cheaper house, or the high-value, more desirable house, for example? Something to think about.
  • People who have representation will still use another agent’s free home evaluation offer. Why? Because they don’t want to “bother” their own agent who they’re paying. It’s more courteous to make some other random agent work for free for no benefit. I know it doesn’t make sense. I also know it makes no dollars.
  • Marketing is about standing out. Doing what is common does not stand out. I’m learning that the more I do things others don’t, the more I set myself apart. (Blogging, going mobile instead of the brick-and-mortar office, offering 3D Virtual Tours of my listings, professional photos – oh, the number of people who don’t do that, but really, really should – and charging for home evaluations) all get more attention for my listings. Which is kind of the point, no?

I’ve learned my lesson. I will not work for free for strangers for no benefit. I’ll work like a Clydesdale for my clients though, and it’s for them I reserve my resources, energy and time. To give it away to anyone else is to take it away from them. Priorities, you know?

A few other reasons I don’t offer free evaluations to any Joe Blow are:

Clients like it.

I can’t tell you how often people have called me up asking for a straight-up evaluation.

“I’m calling you because you’re known to be professional,” they’ll say.

“I want a home evaluation, but plan to sell privately. Can I just pay you for the evaluation and not have to have the conversation about representation?”

The answer is yes. They respect my time, and I respect their needs. It’s an awesome arrangement. And often that speaks to my professionalism more than offering the service for free.  (Counter-intuitive, I know, but it works.)

I don’t work for the bank or the mortgage broker.

When they send people to take advantage of me, (er, I mean use my services for free), they get paid, their clients get a mortgage and I get nothing. It puts no food on my table. No, sorry. I do not work for the bank. (Not at those prices!)

I’m not new at this.

I’ve invested thousands of dollars in my professional training to become the best at what I do. My multiple specialist certifications came at a price. My edgy technology and professional team members come at a cost. And my years of experience are priceless.

None of this is offered by a new kid on the block. It’s unreasonable to expect I’d work for newbie wages. (Would you?) And the adage is true – you do get what you pay for. That’s why I pay, and why you should too.

To raise the perception of our industry.

Real estate agents are professionals. We are resented for our seemingly large commissions, we’re presumed to be rich and are expected to work for free as penance. (Just ask the stranger who asked me for thousands of dollars out of the blue.) It’s an unfortunate and unjust perception. By charging for my professional time and service, I hope to communicate the respectability of being a Realtor. It is a profession, and one that ought rightly to be paid for.

I have no grand notions of changing the industry single-handedly. Free evaluations have always been done and they’ll continue to be done. And, especially in the beginning when one is eager to connect with people and get their face and name out there, it can still be a viable prospecting method. But I do think there comes a time when a person needs to shed old ideas and embrace new ones.

29 COMMENTS

  1. Extremely interesting article and also interesting comments. Curious how many view points there are on this topic.

  2. A person getting paid to evaluate the value of a property is known as an Appraiser. A person that has taken the courses and earned the qualifications to recieve payment for professional services. A realtor is not an accredited Appraiser. Try taking a market evaluation to the bank for a mortgage. Or using that evaluation for a divorce settlement or application for a line of credit. A realtor is a salesperson and recieves compensation upon successful completion of a transaction. Would you pay a sales person a fee to try on a suit? A pair of shoes? To test drive a car? No of course not. A good realtor should know their market and be able to produce an accurate professional evaluation quickly for very little cost or investment of time. A consumer will find those realtor’s and those reator’s in turn will recieve that business.

  3. Excellent, finally somebody to step up for us…I am located in Montreal, Canada (Quebec) and here is much worse, than the other provinces. Buyers do not have any obligations toward their agents, so they take us for tour guides … They use sometimes 2 – 3 agents to visit with, spent months and months for looking and by the end, they just make an offer with the listing agent. They’ve learned enough during this time from our colleagues who gave them priceless information, trying to help them bes. As you said – regardless of who the buyers are(in our case to add to all other categories) – intellectuals, ordinary people, etc. – they act in the same way!
    I do not know any other profession, when the people are working endlessly, hoping that one day they (EVENTUALLY!), might be paid. Ridiculous and shameful for all Quebec organisations, connected with the real estate. We pay professional fees to protect the public from a potential errors, who’ll protect us from the “public”? Wake up Quebec real estate agents and let stand for ourselves.

  4. If you do not respect yourself enough to realize that your time is valuable (and you publicly project that lack of self respect onto the public consciousness by offering your time and services for free), then why would you think that anyone else would respect your time and services? Who in his/her right mind respects someone who does not respect him/her self? (A door mat is for wiping one’s dirty shoes on. Better to be the wearer of dirty shoes. Martindale: 2018) If you do not possess the requisite self respect that is required for the successful impression of your personal stamp on the real estate business platform, then you are in the wrong business. I will bet dollars-to-Timbits that that truth is never fleshed out during the never-ending churn at real estate university. Is it no wonder that it is so easy to take money from those poor souls with a self-respect deficiency? Like the old saying goes: “You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.” There are a lot of sows’ ears out there.

  5. Well done just about time realtors should be paid for clients or potential clients wasting there time and $ thanks Vince

  6. What a wonderful article! TRUE IN EVERY RESPECT! I’ve been teaching what you wrote to new and experienced agents for “decades”. Clients do appreciate seeing us value our own time and using it to its fullest potential. THANK YOU FOR WRITING THIS!

  7. I would be very careful about charging a fee for services such as this unless you have confirmed with your provincial association and or your errors and omissions insurance to see if you are covered to perform such services. In Manitoba most agents are not unless they carry additional insurance.

    • I wrote this article in January 2017.
      Reg, you are correct. In June this year we were sent a notice by Manitoba Real Estate Association which made me aware that we are not insured to give an option of value except for marketing purposes.
      I have made the local Credit Union aware that I will no longer perform CMA’s for them. That does not stop the CU from offering the free services of a Realtor.
      I like what Kim Nilsson wrote;” I finally made it my practice not to provide market evaluations and/or ‘compete’ for listings where the prospective seller asked to meet with me and wanted me to bring my suggested price. I just apologize but explain that I don’t do that; if we are working together, we’ll arrive at a list price together, considering all the available information.”
      It is just that simple.

    • Jeffrey, you inspire me. 50 years of working in the real estate industry and you are still hungry to learn something every day. You have a wealth of experience coupled with a commitment to keeping at the forefront. Thank you for encouraging me and keep encouraging the agents in your office.

  8. Unfortunately though with yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling, sold info will be much more readily available. Time to update our websites!

  9. Thank you for this Tina. It is a strange and time-wasting practice that is rampant in our business. A few years ago I finally made it my practice not to provide market evaluations and/or ‘compete’ for listings where the prospective seller asked to meet with me and wanted me to bring my suggested price. I just apologize but explain that I don’t do that; if we are working together, we’ll arrive at a list price together, considering all the available information.

    Some agents flourish in this skewed system wherein they provide an unrealistically high price at that first meeting (making the consumer very happy), get the listing and then reduce to the price you would have suggested after a period of time. Consumers just don’t realize that process up front and see a lot of signs up for that agent since the houses don’t sell immediately and the ‘advertising’ created by the amount of sign exposure works well for the agent.

    If you are really working for your client more than yourself you won’t do this but the system is working against higher ethics in this example.

    • Kim I love how you explained how you handle the “free CMA” request in the first paragraph.
      It does not make sense to work in hopes to get a listing. Get the listing and then you have something to work for. Change the order. That is the solution right there.

  10. Well said
    When you don’t charge for something it has a tendency to diminish the value
    Its time we got paid for our services

  11. Realtors pay hefty fees, technology, their time above they have pay the expenses and fulfill there family needs. For all the above how can anyone service by providing a free service??

    • We know this. The general public does not. They have seen all the “free home evaluation” advertisements out there. They are just wanting to take us up on that.

  12. With well over 100,000 Real Estate Agents licensed in Canada, more than half in the GTA and the various Real Estate Councils churning them out daily, sometimes you have to do these things to get recognized, especially if you are newer in the business.

    • No you don’t, Dick. I started teaching real estate agents how to get more and better listings in February 1968 (50 years ago) and have always taught to “List First & Price Second.” When sellers ask for your price before they agree to list with you, tell them “NEVER ever select your agent on price or commission. ALWAYS select your agent on the merits of their marketing strategy and then, with your agent, discuss and select the listing price.”

    • Dick, I have done it. I thought it was expected of us and I did it without thinking. But I started to become resentful. You can work for free. That is your choice. If you however start spinning your wheels and come home without bread for the table then you can make the decision to change the order you do your work.

  13. Oh dear! We keep calling ourselves “professionals” but we really are not…..as long as we give free services, run around like trained seals giving hours of our time, often with the result they deal with someone else., and if/when we get paid it is on a commission, basis. We have to go through ridiculous “updating” tests( now on the Net) every two years to keep our registrations, that is, to keep working.. Tell me how that compares to doctors. lawyers, dentists, engineers. the TRUE PROFESSIONALS! They do not have to pass courses every two years to keep working! Yes they keep themselves updated naturally but their working life does to make them continually write tests (or whatever) to “keep their jobs” Yes of course they have standards and an Associations to protect the public as they should. We are a BUSINESS and I make no apologies for that,. We are very little different from any other commission-paid salespeople.Oh I know, it “sounds fancier ” to say “I’m in real estate” but “no sale-no eat” still applies.Also I do have to v comment on the huge bureaucracy we have created. (You can make your own comments about that!)So to conclude,do we really WANT to be a PROFESSION where we charge a fee to talk to us? We wouldn’t make nearly as much money and I daresay not learn as much about human nature! NO I’m happy being in a great business where almost all of us perform PROFESSIONALLY and that is as it should be!

  14. How interesting, Tina. Thoughts travel the ethers. Was just thinking about this topic.

    Being a rural agent, you have a much more valuable service field than many of us. And of course not unimportant, you have your rural history to draw on. Preparing value-comps must be much more complicated than working with cookie-cutter subdivision houses.

    It’s one thing for an agent to be a new agent, but I can’t even begin to imagine being a new rural agent. Much less, wearing snowshoes and driving a four-wheel drive vehicle that might allow for a snow plough attachment in case needed to access a rural property in season; or a vacant one as you have sometimes noted.
    I can’t even begin to wrap my head around being a rural agent.

    In Ontario we are forbidden to call ourselves specialists. Yet many do use that term in their marketing. I used it too. Until it was drawn to my attention the term was not a designation, and not permitted. Absolutely forbidden. Yet it seems that would be a useful and valuable moniker, since many agents do in fact specialize: waterfront properties, historical sites, horse farms as opposed to cattle farms, and such.

    It would certainly be helpful to the public. I have never understood the forbidding of use.

    I, too, finally learned to say no, round about year seven. Mortgage brokers and bankers were the worst offenders and of course they required the info pronto. And of course appraisers.

    There was one appraiser woman from a trust company who was calling me weekly. I always made time to fit in a return call to her. Initially, let’s be honest: I was flattered. She had been around for years. Not only did I answer her questions, I faxed any pertinent supporting information. Many of her questions were not even about my transactions. In all the years she picked my brain, I never even received a Christmas card.

    Then one day a lightbulb went on. I had saved her countless trips to view properties and figure out her own information about comps. A few times later when I returned her calls, curiously I was always just on my way out the door to an appointment. And apologized I didn’t have time to talk. Perhaps another day. After doing this a dozen times, I guess she eventually got the message. She stopped calling. Literally after years of picking my brain.

    She had never made a referral to me, and sometimes said that the agent who was involved couldn’t answer the questions for which she was calling, or was a new agent, or sometimes she just didn’t want to bother the other agent, and I was always nice to her and answered all her questions promptly. And returned her calls swiftly. Others didn’t do that either.

    So, as always, you make a valid point.

    Cordially
    Carolyne L 🍁

    • Carolyne, thanks for acknowledging that doing a CMA on a rural property can be a different challenge when there are no comparable properties. It can take me hours to do the research. However, I absolutely enjoy driving all over the countryside. It is a stress reliever for me. Sometimes when I am driving in the rural areas I laugh to myself and say, “and they call this work?” Beats being stuck in some stuffy office all day looking at the same four walls.

  15. I love this. Well said. This truly is the case for all industries. You get what you pay for and by giving things away you condition the clients to expect it. When words get around, it then becomes the norm. I strongly believe in being the professional and price accordingly.

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