By Jeff Stern

It was 10:40 a.m. on a sunny Saturday when my phone rang. It was someone I didn’t know, wanting information. “Hi, I want to know how many bedrooms that house has.” This part is normal. It’s also the part where the real estate professional can feel that twinge of suspicion in their gut.

It’s the feeling you get when someone you have (thankfully) not seen or talked to in decades suddenly catches your eye in the mall, walks up to you with open arms, and says a big loud hello as though a long-awaited reunion is taking place. After the initial cringe finds the base of your neck, the first thoughts are somewhere along the lines of, “What do you want?” and “What are you trying to pull?” Know the feeling? It’s a bit like that. Here’s why.

In my almost 30 years in this industry, I’ve found that the stranger who calls an agent with whom they have no previous connection is usually coming at it with a hit it and quit it attitude. They want information, not connection. Access, not relationship. They see the agent to be the key person and nothing more. And they have no idea they’re missing out.

We don’t become real estate agents simply to unlock houses for strangers and let them have a peek. It was never our dream to be Google personified, dispensing information like a soulless vending machine. And it sure as heck isn’t for the money, either. Ask anyone who’s been doing this for five years or less and they’ll testify to that.

We typically have the heart of a counsellor; someone with empathy, who wants to walk someone through a difficult or challenging situation. We have a genuine, heart-level desire to connect with and help people. And, often, we have a secondary passion for something related to homes; interior design, architecture, investing or a particular zeal for the roots one puts down in a home.

Real estate, for us, is not an occupation, it’s a lifestyle of helping and a mission of the heart. We serve. We protect. Defend. Empower. This is our creed.

So, when someone calls saying, “Please pass the keys”, we cringe because we know the person on the other end needs help but isn’t aware they do, or is just not ready to receive it, and thus are the people most in danger, which only makes us want to help them more.

In contrast, I got a call on a property the other day. I asked the young lady my regular questions: “Have you been pre-approved, when would you like to be in your home, how long have you been looking” to better understand how I can help her. She answered them happily, seeming to appreciate how invested I was in helping her. The call morphed from an information exchange into a conversation – the kind mutual sharing humans enjoy.

At the end of the call when we were arranging to meet, she said, “I can see you really do care. I really appreciate that. You are definitely who I want to help me.” Those are the calls agents live for.

As a home buyer or seller, I want to encourage you to test us on this. Open yourself to the heartfelt assistance of a real estate professional and see if you don’t discover the empathy and problem solving prowess I’m talking about. Then watch your agent work their magic as they get you out of pickles, help you side-step landmines you didn’t even know were there, and get you the most perfect house for your current and future needs.

Test them. I’m serious. I teach this to soon-to-be-agents the Manitoba Securities Commission Pre-Licensing Course in this province and cover this in my lecture and I’m telling you – this is who agents are. They’re superheroes in a dress shirt.

If you’re an agent, I want to encourage you to keep giving your best to those who will receive it. They’re out there, those who are truly open to sharing and learning. I know because I’ve found many of them! Don’t get discouraged. Don’t stop trying to help.

The majority of my clients – around 95 per cent – end up living in their homes longer than they thought; they don’t sell them in the typical five to 10 years as is about the average in Canada. I think that’s a testament to our working together in that optimal, ideal way – to their sharing their true motivations and needs and listening to my advice, and my listening to the heart behind their words and understanding who they are and what they really need. Sometimes, even more than they do.

When clients and agents strive for that genuine connection, both walk away satisfied and enriched.

But it’s true what they say; it really does take two. Superman’s power is only really worth something if he has someone to rescue. Without that, he’s just a guy in spandex.

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.


  1. Jeff: Many years ago I learnt a good guide from one of the then famous real estate trainers: It’s called the CITO principle = Come In To my Office.

    At opportune moments, I apply this line of discourse. If that doesn’t work: “Could we meet for a coffee at a place convenient to you?” You get the drift.

    Some will actually take you up on your either offer. Then you have a bit more chance to show that, for the genuine buyer/seller/investor (my acronym for this group is V.I.P. = vendor/Investor/purchaser), you are a sincere, knowledgeable, licensed . . . Realtor(R)). They have a lot to benefit from you. Thanks,

    • Thanks for your response Cummer. I too had learned the CITO principle. That was from the Floyd Wickman Sweathogs and/or Leaders Choice training program as I recall. I still use that to this day. It was great advice decade’s ago and still very relevant today. Those that take us up on it benefit from what we can offer and those that are hesitant, hopefully one day receive the guidance they seek or do not yet know they will seek. It is all about offering personal assistance that is all about them. If we give the consumer what they want, they reward us with their business.

  2. Answer the question, the Listing Agent has no right have the right to ask the question. As a consumer, I do not need to tell anything more about myself in telephone enquiry, if I am asking information regarding the property, It is clear the Listing Agent did not provide the required information in the listing and the LA is just fishing for more information. I would be asking they question FIRSTLY, are you representated by a licensee and / or a Realtor? That would set the TONE- Get it
    Manitiba has always been at the bottom of being progessive in real estate, just look how their “title system works” …. like it wasi in the 1900s.

  3. A question for MIn… why would BC have a rule that doesn’t allow you to ask if a person is pre-approved, or their motivation or urgency? Pre-approved saves everyone concerned time…buyer, seller and agent. Motivation… same thing. Urgency would help the agent help the buyer. Having to buy yesterday tells the agent to get the lead out.Why would anyone other than a time water object to those questions?

    • I too am interested in hearing more from Min about this BC rule. I wonder if it has as in my reply to her comment to do with their not being able to provide dual agency representation. It is always interesting to learn of requirements in other jurisdictions.

    • Don, wouldn’t that be a question for the buyer’s agent to ask their client and not a listing agent. By asking certain questions of the buyer you could unintentionally place yourself in a dual agency situation. In BC that would not be good if they have made dual agency illegal. Hopefully the rest of the provinces will follow BC.

  4. In BC, the real estate rule doesn’t allow us to have the kind of chit chat (ie. Asking if a person is preapproved, motivation to buy, urgency of buying, etc will save ourselves a seat in front of the real estate council) you mentioned in your article. Otherwise, you approach is great in securing a client, who appreciates your skills and professionalism.

    • That is interesting Min. I suppose that is due to your no longer being able to provide dual agency. In Manitoba we have Limited Joint Representation which both parties must consent to.

  5. Thanks Jeff. Your article went in a different direction then I thought you were setting the tone for, I thought you were building up to how to deal with the “imposter” phone calls. The phone calls that has all the ear markings you described, but its that next level feelings of interrogation you get when you immediately realize this person is only pumping you for information about your services or the home you just listed and they need that information for some other agenda. The imposter can be anyone from a realtor working behind the scenes coaxing a client or a buddy to bring them back information on a specific service you provide or how you came about the price you have listed or it’s another homeowner in the neighborhood fulfilling their curiosity. The point is they never intend to use your services or buy that house they called you on and their pleasantries are fake and the questions are scripted …so do you just call them out on it?

    • Corey, I never thought of that scenario but yes, I have, like the many of us fielded calls with that probing undertone but thanks to our fiduciary duty owed to our client, I have never shared any such information. I am always respectful, but equally clear that unless the caller is willing to meet with me, the conversation will not include any property details not found on public websites. The public should be free to do their own research and make inquiries yes, that does not mean I have to provide information that is reserved for agent/client relationships which a call does not generally create.

  6. Very good article Jeff. You really show the difference between an impersonal transaction and true client service.

    • Thanks Connie, society sure has moved towards the impersonal in so many facets of communication and perhaps our industry due to this shift may fall victim to it which would sadly commoditize us thus I choose to not follow this particular path in which I maintain and continue to build relationships and be the trusted advisor. This may make me extinct in the future, but I will go down fighting.

  7. Thanks Jeff. Yes, the business really has changed since I went into the Real Estate business in 1984. We have to train our clients to expect better service and to know how to recognize it when they see or get it.

    • Love your way of thinking Donna. I agree it is up to us to train our clients on what to expect which would increase our public perception as well as our professionalism. People don’t know what they don’t know and we can be the catalyst for higher quality service by educating our clients. Thanks for your input.

    • I agree there are a lot of email inquiries as well so I have a form I reply with they complete before I share any additional info not publicly displayed. The same goes for online with no, or wrong phone numbers. We are in the people business so until robots or AI replace our expertise I only respond in person to person conversations.

      • Would you be willing to share your form? I reply to emails as well with a half dozen basic question that then require a call. If they don’t call or provide a phone number for me to call back. I drop it. Mind you, I am in the Toronto market and can get dozens of emails a day on a hot listing, and I tend to be more a of listing agent which gives me more control of my time.

  8. You hit it out of the park on this one Jeff! Great read. I wish more agents find the value in pre-qualifying a cold call customer inquiry instead of just jumping to the pump and bending over backwards to just open a door to the lookie lu”s of the world.

Leave a Reply