By Jeff Stern

I just got back from meeting with oncology doctors. (No, not for me)

A dear friend was recently diagnosed with cancer and invited me to accompany her at the pre-op consultation with the surgeon. She’s a sweet silver-haired lady who is quite alone. I’ve known and loved her for decades and was absolutely willing to support her through this.

I gladly flew right over. (Literally – she lives out of province.)



At the appointment, we sat on hard chairs in a sterile white room, waiting for the surgeon to arrive and tell us what to expect. My friend was nervous. Who wouldn’t be? We were about to discuss removing parts of her body to save her life.

We didn’t know if it would work.

If she needed chemo afterward, how would that impact her body? Her life? Her hair?

What were her chances?

Together we’d made a list of questions, which she held in her hands.

Finally the door opened, and a woman walked in. She looked to be in her early 40s, and was dressed in fine, fitted clothing. She smiled warmly at us, and explained she was a member of the surgeon’s team.

The team? We didn’t come to talk to anyone but the surgeon, which is what was discussed at the previous meeting. We wanted to talk to the person who would be holding the scalpel.

“I know you were expecting the surgeon, but she’s with another patient. I’m here to go over any questions you have.” The warmth of her smiled seemed to fade.

My friend and I looked at each other, concerned and disappointed. The next appointment would be the surgery, and we needed some answers.

“Look, I flew in yesterday for this,” I explained. “We’ve come to see the surgeon.”

“I’ll try…” she said.

We looked at the list (only eight questions) still in my friend’s hand and began asking the questions.

The whole time, we both felt like the doctor in front of us didn’t really care. She was listening and responding, but we felt unheard. Misunderstood. Uncared for. More like we were an imposition asking these all-important questions. That’s concerning when the doctor’s primary job is to take care of you. Especially in such a state of physical danger and emotional upheaval. After all, this was a pre-op appointment. As a physician, one would think every patient that comes through those doors has questions.

By the time we got to the fifth question, her initially warm smile had long faded with an expression that said, “Can I leave now, I have other patients to see.”

“Yes, you can eat whatever you want the day before the surgery. Just don’t eat or drink after midnight,” she responded.

Her answers were getting shorter. And shorter. Clipped.

Then the doctor leaned forward in her chair and snatched the list of questions right out of my friend’s hand. Not asked…. just tugged it out!

Wuuuut? Did she really just rip a notepad out of a little old lady’s hands?

“Here. I’ll write down the answers to these other questions,” she said as she started scrawling on the notepad.

Apparently, she didn’t want to pretend to listen to us anymore.

Once she finished scrawling, she got up, approached the door and said she would ask the surgeon if she could come in.

“Thank you, we’d like to see the surgeon,” I said.

“It may take some time,” the doctor said.

“I’m here. I’ve got time. I don’t fly out until tomorrow morning.” I was not about to budge. We were going to see the surgeon that day if we had to follow her to the parking lot.

Soon after, the surgeon came in. She was an older woman, with greying hair, and she was dressed conservatively. She walked in with an air of professionalism, confidence, genuineness and absolute calm.

Just her presence made us feel much better.

We reviewed our questions with her. She listened intently, answered and listened some more. She nodded, was attentive and at no point grabbed anything from anyone’s hands nor indicated we were an imposition.

Basically, she was awesome.

At the end of the appointment, my friend and I finally felt heard, reassured and satisfied.

My friend could now face the emotional and physical hurdles without the added worry of an uncaring doctor.

The whole thing made me think of my real estate clients.

Buying and selling a home is emotionally taxing, and we all have our list of questions going in.

As a real estate professional, my role is to listen, answer and listen some more. My role is to understand and care about more than just the cold hard transaction. Sometimes I feel like a counselor.

A transaction is a transaction. They are very similar and the paperwork is repetitive.

But the people with their dreams, goals, emotions and motivations are new every time. That’s the part we can’t overlook.

The whole insensitive doctor thing was a good reminder to me of how important it is to treat people as valued, special people – every time.

If we think for a moment that people are all the same, our hearts will grow cold.

We’ll stop caring. When that happens, people can tell.

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.

10 COMMENTS

  1. Jeff

    Puppy-love doesn’t extend to puppy-owners.

    As an aside, I’ve discovered over the years that the same attitude you noted in the oncology doctor’s display of clinical-appropriateness, or lack thereof, often prevails in the world of animal care: highly skilled vets often don’t have any people patience or people-personality skills.

    People are the way they are regardless of their career choice. Of course some animal care-givers do, like human-doctors, indeed have special gifts but mostly that is rare, and if you are fortunate enough to have one, never leave them. Almost impossible to replace. And definitely something to take into consideration when choosing a new place to move to.

    Often the worst offenders are doggy-do groomers offering a day at the spa for your pooch. They take good care of the pets it seems and that’s a good thing, but hard to find (an important thing for pet-loving agents or all agents to help with when homeowners are relocating whether in town or from out of town – got a good one? SHARE!), and sometimes the groomers even follow instructions. But mostly they don’t care about the owners. Clinicians, again. It’s a people-personality thing. You’re either born with such a gifted people-sensitive personality or not. Seems like it cannot be taught or otherwise acquired.

    But largely the staff or the business owners don’t give two hoots about the pet owner. Doesn’t matter if generous tips are provided or not. These people, if they have a good personality often leave it at home when they go to work; it often isn’t easily identifiable or visible. I find many people are short-tempered and have no patience with questions-askers.

    It’s not an easy job or easy business to run, but rather than treating the animal owners poorly, get another career. Just sayin’ ….

    It’s a mass production business. In, out, next. Your next appointment is… Not many “parlours” are clean behind the scenes. Would scare the public away if they would see; and, so long as puppy looks cute when exit time comes, that’s a giant days’ work done.

    Likewise dog walkers and sitters. Best you should use a baby-cam or smart phone app to keep your eyes on your pet, to experience the truth.

    I’ve always taken good personal care of my animals, but recently due health situations I needed help. Being in a new location was awful trying to find someone who met my standards.

    A dog walker came back with my senior pup covered in burdocks. What a stinky mess. Poor pup. And distraught mum. I never let her off-leash when out walking. I was informed she had “eaten” something on the sidewalk but the walker didn’t know what. I was terrified. Next!

    My comments posted to the writer at this old REM article might be useful to agents and public readers.
    http://www.remonline.com/pet-care-think-creatively-about-your-clients-pet-needs/

    Carolyne L 🍁

  2. Jeff,

    You certainly are to be congratulated for your sensitivity.We all don’t talk enough about such things. I have just been through that dreadful doctor episode personally. There’s no words to explain the feelings inferred by the doctors. So clinical. Perhaps good clinicians. But insensitive people. Cold like ice.

    I often refer to what you describe in one of your replies to another comment, as top down management.

    Peer interaction often starts with how the boss or the teacher behaves, not just within the confines of his own office or Board, but how he treats peers among, sometimes seeing them as the enemy. Can’t imagine why. Except that an opportunity had been missed by the listing brokerage to sell the property from with inside the listing office.

    There will always be another listing another day, and everyone should give abundant thanks for business, however it comes, and of course it is the listing company sold sign on the lawn, leading the public sometimes not understanding how the system works, to believe the listing company actually sold the property.

    When a peer brings an offer on a company listing, not only the listing agent but the office should not only treat that peer with respect due naturally, but my goodness, what a missed opportunity to recruit.

    It’s always opening fishing season in the industry. Not blatant recruiting of course, but if agents see how well business is conducted if they ever have reason to change companies guess whose office they might remember?

    It brings to mind an example where I was prowling the streets on a Saturday after four pm, in a given area as my buyer was desperately needing to buy in a specific subdivision. Both my buyer and I were constantly scouting that particular subdivision of about 1200 homes, but only certain streets, looking for the possibility of a new for sale sign having just been installed that might not appear in the MLS system of the day until a couple of days later.

    Sure enough we both found a new sign that hadn’t been there just hours before. We were calling each other. The buyer definitely wanted an appointment asap.

    It was now Saturday about six-ish and all offices were closed but most had answering services to track down agents after hours or to book appointments. Pre cell phone days. But some of us had in-car phones.

    I had left several msgs over a couple of hours, and my buyer even called directly the number on the sign, and asked the listing agent to call me, his (sub) agent.

    He was planning on making an offer. We even constructed an offer contingent upon the buyer viewing the property interior. I knew the floor plan well, and even had a copy of the builder’s plans because I had sold others of that model over the years.

    Subject to the interior “condition” meeting my buyer’s requirements, this was going to be a sale. No call back. On the off-chance the listing agent had gone out of town for the weekend, and didn’t tell anyone, I took a chance on messaging the branch manager to see if he knew how to locate or connect with his agent. I knew him and actually had his home number from some other discussion at one time.

    That I was needing an appointment to show, but already had a signed offer in hand and the buyer had a copy, I told him. “Not my problem” he responded. Talk to the listing agent.

    I can’t type the words here: but the conversation was – “forget about it until you can find the agent. When he’s good and ready he will call you. You might have to wait until after the weekend. Don’t you know it’s supper time, and no I am not going to go looking for the listing agent!!!”

    WHAT??? There was a shortage of listings. And my buyer, a past client, was deadly serious. Everything from the outside passed his wants test.

    Now it was time for me to be shocked. My buyer was furious. He put his copy of the signed offer in an envelope and marked on the outside, THIS IS AN OFFER ON YOUR HOUSE. And taped it to the window in the front door. Please call your agent! (It was NOT my bright idea, I confess.) He called to tell me what he had done.

    The cat was out of the bag! The seller called his agent and got an immediate call back. So did I; asking who the “H” did I think I was? I said I couldn’t take the credit for my buyer’s audacity.

    An appointment to present properly, face to face was made for an hour’s time and the sold sign went up before dark.

    Ethically speaking I couldn’t tell my buyer that the word on the street was that the brokerage was possibly in financial difficulty. But based on how the appointment situation was handled, I reconstructed the buyer’s APS to be re-presented in person, and inserted a clause that the buyer’s brokerage (mine) would be paid directly from the seller’s law office through the invoicing presented by the buyer’s law office (my corporate invoice).

    It would appear that no one in the listing administrator office even read the copy of the offer contract; I half expected a call telling me I couldn’t do that. The listing agent was so happy to have a full price signed offer with the perfect closing, I don’t think he even understood the payment clause. But he hardly spoke a few words. I find agents, like owners, sometimes only have eyes for the offer price.

    No one said a word. (Old concept: the first one to speak loses the move forward opportunity). The seller signed and accepted the offer with almost no discussion, and it was a done deal. No complaint. No detailed discussion about not being able reach the listing agent. But his body language said it all. He was plenty annoyed. Good.

    On closing day my buyer’s lawyer called my office and said your commission cheque is ready for pick up for xyz transaction.

    I personally collected the cheque and took it straight to the bank. A few days later I DID get a call – from the listing broker manager. He was climbing the walls saying his office commission had been short-changed by the law office, that I needed to return that law office invoice paid cheque (that had been calculated as an adjustment in closing figures – i submitted a copy of the listing with my invoice to the law office, showing sub-agent commission) immediately and of course let the law office pay the listing brokerage the way of the day as systems always worked. But only paid the listing portion. Of course I refused and he had to adjust his accounting system. Smoke was coming out his ears. All kinds of threats.

    I never heard another word, and I credit Rui for bringing this unique billing possibility to the light in a BOR meeting just a few weeks before. Had I not attended that meeting I never would have known about the possibility of inserting the pay direct clause in a transaction.

    I guess this could fit into the oft-used expression that she (me) works in an unconventional manner. I never used that clause in its exact format ever again, but always had it in my arsenal just in case called upon. It was just prior to buyer broker contracts coming into the industry.

    Carolyne L 🍁

  3. Great article. Problem is that most Realtors don’t behave in the manner as professional. Realtors jump out to answer the phone the moment it rings, even if they are at funeral, they don’t make the client wait a minute, let alone months , before setting the appointment, and their remuneration?? DO they really want to be paid? Oh no commission cutting is normal. They can work months on a listing and not get paid if sellers change their mind even when they brought an over asking price offer. Something needs to change in our industry if it wants to be taken seriously as “Professional”

    • Thanks Sardool, I agree some don’t have the social respect as I refer to it as, and hope over time more will come to the realization that their actions cause further erosion to a profession already under fire. I also teach the Manitoba Real Estate pre-licensing course and in one segment of the class, we discuss ethics and professionalism and make mention that their behaviour towards their peers is paramount to how they will be perceived as well by the public.

  4. Excellent!

    You are a true professional, Jeff, in possession of a great understanding of human nature who does not use that knowledge to manipulate the uneducated in a mercenary manner. You are most definitely not a money-monger (unusual for a commissioned sales person). I will bet dollars to doughnuts that you seldom think of the commission at the end of a transaction. You are the antithesis to the Terry Paranych types (pre hearing decision) who, unimpeached, continue to permeate this business.

    You would be a great Real Estate Czar overseeing and rooting out of the ruthless behaviours of too many Realtors Canada-wide. This would be a circumstance whereby I would support a full-blown dictator (you) who would hold ultimate firing power over CREAcrats and the provincial bureaucratic organizations’ mandarins etc. So-called internal Realtor-endemic/Realtor-specific democracy is not working for the benefit of the public interest at all, in my opinion. There is too much lip service. Too many Realtors have the exact same attitude toward their potential clients and subsequent clients as the poor-bedside-mannered doctor displayed toward your friend in need. Knowledge is not in-and-of-itself power; only the positive use of knowledge for the betterment of all is power to be admired and aspired to.
    Yours is one of the best, honest-to-goodness reads I have experienced herein in a good long time. Your friend is lucky to have a true friend in your person.

    Bravo!

    • Thank you Brian, I’m at a loss for words at the moment because of your kind words. I always look at how I can learn and grow from personal experiences and believe strongly in openly sharing my revelations in hopes of helping others. Again, thank you.

    • Thanks Lina, it sure was a wake-up call for me and I most certainly was prompted to reflect on how I am with prospective as well as current clients. It is easy to take things for granted and to become “robotic” but this made me aware of this and to treat each new encounter on just that, a clean slate with new questions and concerns by the people turning to me for assistance

  5. Well said. And I couldn’t agree more, Jeff. You might enjoy my book, The Happy Agent. I believe you’ll find much commonality with my life and business philosophies. Thanks for sharing.

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