By Ross Wilson

“Insanity runs in my family. It practically gallops.” – Cary Grant

Why do you invest so much time and expense staying connected with people in your business network? Because you want the ideal real estate practice, where people remember to contact you for real estate service. Right? Why would they call you and not the neighbourhood “specialist” or another agent who happened to serendipitously cross their path? Two reasons – familiarity and trust. By diligently staying in regular contact, you hope to establish and maintain a familiar, durable and trusting relationship. Simply expressed, your goal is to be their friend in the business.

Here’s the thing, though, about family and close friends. You obviously share at least semi-regular contact, so familiarity and trust are hopefully ingrained. You’d presuppose they’d seek your services, if for no other reason than your close relationship. Naturally, they’d anticipate extra-special care while having a great time working together, and trust that the potentially stressful process of home relocation would be secure and more relaxed. Since they must pay somebody anyway, you’d expect they’d agree to your usual fee. After all, keeping the wealth in the family rather than paying a stranger makes perfect sense. Unfortunately, as you might attest, this isn’t always how things turn out.

In many cases, they suffer from the belief that you should perform your skilled services – surprise – for a reduced fee or even free of charge. Why? Because you’re family! They conveniently ignore the fact that unlike them, you don’t enjoy the benefit of a regular weekly paycheque. They fail to appreciate that the sometimes-considerable investment of time, money and expertise puts food on your family’s table, a roof overhead and fuel in your car. They fail to grasp that for you, time is money. While you’re labouring for them and critically, not for other paying clients, they’re at work earning their daily bread. To a somewhat lesser extent, it’s not unlike their volunteering to help build your new sundeck, unless of course, they happen to be a carpenter by trade. In such a case, to avoid a double standard, you should probably offer to pay them for their skilled assistance, or at least barter services.

To impress a new stranger prospect, you don your best clothes and professional (hopefully genuine) behaviour and strive to get to know them, to gain their trust and bond as quickly as possible. Since relatives already know you, you’d think the process would be easier, but it ain’t necessarily so. There’s usually no need to convince them to trust you personally, but professionally may be an entirely different matter.

When it comes to serving loved ones, particularly for the first time, you may still have to jump through a few credibility hoops to earn their professional trust. It won’t necessarily be easier just because of your personal long-term blood relationship, which could actually become a hindrance when crossing over from auntie to agent. Though serving family may be more relaxed, keep in mind they’re still clients for whom you’ve undertaken a solemn responsibility, including associated agency risks.

Representing relatives can be more stressful because, I suppose, of the dynamics of long-term relationships. It could be argued that you should be charging a higher than normal commission rate since they’ll probably expect a superior level of service because you’re related. Since they’re comfortable with you, don’t you think they’d contact you with questions, concerns or complaints more often than a non-related client – and at any hour of the day or night?

If your sibling believes you’re failing them, you can watch any chances of a commission fly out the window. And since emotions are difficult to avoid in family situations, maintaining professional decorum can prove problematic. Firing can be as easy as hiring. Compounding the problem is the resulting family gossip, ridicule, conflict and enduring hard feelings within a potentially polarized family. Rumours can travel like a grass fire and family won’t be vanishing after the business relationship is over.

When offered family business, it can be a tough call whether to hold or fold. In my next column, I’ll offer more on the subject for your consideration. Or if you can’t wait, check out my book, The Happy Agent.


  1. Thanks, Carolyne, for your comments. I used the expression “friend in the business” since I heard it from prospective clients more than once in my career. Were those agents actually their personal friends? Who knows. Nevertheless, they preferred to be represented by them instead of my me.

    The fact that many of those consumers chose to work with so-called “newbies” rather than a highly experienced and already successful broker defied logic. But such choices did affirm the attraction of working with someone with whom there’s a “friendly” relationship.

    I understand your point, though. I almost never socialized with my clients and customers, except on those rare occasions when I was gifted with the opportunity to participate in an event wherein I might meet other prospective parties who were contemplating a move.

  2. Love reading your comments. BTW the German expression is actually “Bier ist Bier und Schnaps ist Schnaps” = Beer is beer and schnapps is schnapps. The meaning however is exactly how you described it.

    • Thank you, Sabine. Loosely translated, it clearly means the same in all languages, but of course that’s just my opinion. Different strokes for different folks. Appreciated.

  3. Ross

    I always enjoy reading your REM columns; helpful to newcomers and aged reps as well.

    As people we are all individuals, as human nature dictates, and as such we each have our own ways of expressing our thoughts and opinions. Our Raison D’être.

    In your current column, you write at the end of a paragraph: “Simply expressed, your goal is to be their friend in the business.”

    Just a personal comment, not meant to be offensive or critical: I felt a big personal “ouch,” when I read that line. As is the human element we do each function differently, and that’s a good thing in life.

    When in my career of nearly four decades, I met new people (would-be customers/clients), the farthest thing from my mind was thinking about becoming their “friend in business.”
    Their “representative,” yes. Their friend, not likely. Maybe I dwell too much on the semantics of our English language; I hope not.

    My only goal was merely to acquire their respect and confidence that I could perform in a timely, efficient, and productive manner, by which to meet their goal. There’s a big difference between being friendly, and becoming their “friend in business.”

    I never interacted socially with my doctor and family, my dentist, chiropractor or office landlord. Yet they all did repeated business with me and sent their colleagues, extended family members, and others, referred to me.

    I attended many seminars over the years where promoting building friendships within a business relationship was suggested. I always found the topic off-putting.

    I love everyone in general until given reason not to, meaning I respect them and their wishes. But never with the goal of “bringing them home,” entertaining them outside of business, or revisiting them on a personal familiar level following completion of my job. I was hired and abundantly well-paid to do a specific job.

    I never ever considered my role to be such as to try to develop a “business friendship.” I interpret that to include inviting or being invited to events outside business per se: perhaps a trip to the cottage or out on the yacht, or to celebrate great gramma’s birthday event.

    What I did discover was that certain cultures want to adopt their agent Into their family. That could easily fall into the Google definition. It could be a little like marrying a spouse, only to find out you were marrying the whole extended and close up family, expecting you to now live by their customs and family rules, to the exclusion of your own. What if the in laws didn’t see eye to eye in business or pleasure? Oh, dear! Of course that does happen in real life.

    Maybe I had it all wrong. Maybe a personality defect. I was known as one who was strictly business; all the time. Sometimes interpreted as cold and/or clinical (but never uncaring). But I managed to get the job done, and was often offered repeat business. Largely because it became known that I wasn’t a social butterfly.

    Could I have done things differently? Better? Most likely. But each of us does function differently. I would be a little concerned about advising newbies to get too up close and personal with people they just met in business, with the goal being to “be their friend in business.” Although I agree completely: different strokes for different folks.

    The world we live in today can be dangerous, and at the risk of sounding paranoid we need to choose our friends carefully, both in and outside business.

    I can’t say exactly how many but genuine several times people told me they had a best friend agent, even newly licenced, or were closely related to an agent. But they elected to do business with me, explaining that as a result they might have even lost a friend, or relative association. That was sad to hear, actually. But they were obviously confident they were hiring for representation not looking for building a new friendship in business or supporting an existing relationship.

    I’m sure your business friendships served you well in your long career. But it might not be advisable for all agents to tread on that water, even so it can take years to develop longstanding relationships and agents might be in a hurry to build their business base, thinking the friendship route would get them to their goals faster.

    Google says:
    familiarity breeds contempt
    phrase of familiarity
    extensive knowledge of or close association with someone or something leads to a loss of respect for them or it.

    There’s an old German expression: “business is business and schnapps is schnapps.” I let that be my own personal guide, even so I’m not German.

    Indulge one perfect example: a young professional Brampton couple with several wild-child progeny wanted to sell their house, and would need to buy another larger one.

    Her mother was licenced and worked only a half hour away in the next door town. A smart woman. Rather than get involved in family business, she referred them to me. It could have been very difficult and awkward but the mum was smart enough to recognize that I could say things that likely they would have found disrespectful or hurtful coming from her. It was a difficult sale, but the owners were smart enough to listen to my demands as to what needed doing (even so her sister let it be known she thought my ideas were untenable!). I got the job done WELL, and was well rewarded and they even bought one of my new listings, and both the buyers and sellers were thrilled. The senior sellers had done everything I suggested: simple thing like painting the front door a better colour to enhance the pretty brick and put oversize potted plants at the entrance since there was no landscape, and they referred their divorcing kids to me, to sell their house, where that house had been previously listed but didn’t sell.

    They, too, followed my firm advice, and a sold sign promptly appeared on their lawn. Their prior agent had not at all instructed them on what MUST be done. Yet he was a friend.

    In this case like so many in my blessed career, there were three houses involved (the big house new listing had been a longtime neighbour of one of my recent sales). So those three houses equals six ends. Four of the ends were mine at 6 and 7 points. Top dollars net to sellers and I was well paid. I earned every penny, and each sale brought me a wonderful testimonial that I treasure still to this day; but I never befriended any of them, nice people that they were.

    Kind regards
    Carolyne L

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