By Jeff Stern

I recently received a message from an agent who was faced with a tricky situation. Tell me how you would handle this situation if you were in her shoes.

She’d received a call on a property. “I’d like to see the house you have listed,” said the woman on the phone.

The first question the agent asked was, “Are you currently working with an agent?”

“Yes,” she replied. She had an agent. But when asked who, she couldn’t recall the agent’s last name. Red flag number one.

“My agent is not available right now,” she said. The caller went on to say there had been a death in the family and the agent was attending a funeral. “So, I’d like you show us the place.”

The agent replied, “I’m hosting an open house at that address on Saturday. Please come by then.”

The caller couldn’t possibly make it during that time, she said, and again asked for a private showing. The agent was now torn.

She wanted to serve her seller well by bringing serious, qualified buyers. She wanted to help the buyer who wanted to see a house. She also wanted to help her fellow agent by showing the house when that agent couldn’t.

What was the right thing to do?

Unsure, and knowing I’m deeply involved in real estate education, professional standards investigations and hearings, she messaged me for advice. Our conversation led to her making a very wise choice: she declined showing the property to this unknown caller, instead recommending that if they were unable to come to the public open house (that is what they are for), to contact their agent’s broker and ask them to assign an agent in that brokerage to work with them in their own agent’s absence.

The agent and I had coffee a few days later and she told me she struggled all day with the decision to say no to the private showing, at least until the open house. In the end it had been all for nought anyway.

I’ve seen a lot of things, and I must say, this agent should win a reward for her professionalism and ethical behaviour. She wanted to say yes and show the property in order to help everyone involved. Even so, she took my advice and declined the buyer’s request.

The Manitoba Securities Commission Real Estate Brokers Act has rules about things like this, in particular, setting out that an agent from one brokerage cannot be involved with the client of another brokerage. Had the agent engaged the other broker’s client, it would have been offside and she could have been called to task.

The days of showing houses indiscriminately to people who are unknown to the listing agent, let alone pre-approved and who have not met and engaged their own buyer agent, are quickly dying.

Sure, it was fine back in the days before computers in the real estate industry, when listings had a single black and white picture with a few feature remarks and details printed in daily update sheets delivered to broker offices that agents could photocopy. Even when we progressed to a bi-weekly book of properties and daily couriered update sheets, there was a need to go see the place in living colour. But we have internet now. Most listings have whole slideshows of photos and even virtual tours. There’s no longer a need to show homes randomly to every Tom, Dick and Harriett who asks.

Showing randomly to anyone who asks is bad because:

  • It’s a disservice to your seller to ask them to jettison their family for an hour every time someone feels like having their own personally guided tour through a house they may or may not actually be legitimately interested in or even capable of buying.
  • It’s a risk to you, the agent. It is risky not to screen people who want to get you alone in a house.
  • It’s a risk to the seller to expose their home to anyone who asks. Their security system, family schedule and jewellery boxes are easy prey for someone with the mind to take advantage.
  • It’s even a disservice to the person asking for a showing. By allowing them to run wild and free among whatever listings they have a whim to see, you’re not finding out their core needs and wants, and then using your professionalism and knowledge to help them find what they’re looking for… which is kind of your job, isn’t it?
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. No imagine if the profession enacted Jeff’s policies.

    1) Around 60% of CREA members would be unemployed in 12 months
    2) Commission rates would fall because of the huge volume increase the remaining 40% would experience
    3) Buyer Brokerage and Seller Brokerage Offices would become the norm
    4) Homes would be independently inspected and professionally appraised before a listing price was even discussed.

    No no wait…that makes too much sense. CREA and the MLS structure would not trust the remaining 40% would happily agree to pay all the fees lost by the 60% who left.

    Oh Right 125,000 desks owned by Franchise Brokers who pay the Franchisor fees based on head counts which if they fall can see the franchise pulled from them.

    Ah Jeff you really want to live in dream world.

  2. The only time I remotely encountered this I received a call from a realtor who had a scheduled appointment to show my listing. She could not make it due to an emergency. Asked if I could show in her stead. I said of course. I put an open house sign on my car before the viewer got there and gave only public information to protect myself in regards to agency in B.C. Open house rules are a little looser.

    • That’s funny. Sort of. On the other hand, potential buyers do lie. More than once have I been told that they don’t have an agent (always the first question) only to later receive offers from agents who never even saw the property. That was prior to the practice to “cut” commission if the buyers’ agent can’t be bothered.

  3. And on top of that, in the GTA agents need to stop advertising that the “Co-op commission with be reduced by 1%, if buyer is privately shown and offer comes from another agent”. This just enables this behaviour, letting the Agents not doing their client proper service, and sending them all over town while they sit at home, and making the commission on pushing paper. More discipline is required in this area, because we run across Buyers being coached this way.

    • Two totally different things here Ryan: The GTA Reps are trying to STOP Buyer Agents from using Listing Reps services for free. They are saying “if I show your client the property I have listed while you are away at a funeral or sitting at home or on vacation and they did not come through the open house but wanted a private viewing and you failed to make an arrangements with me prior to “then I will reduce the commission payable to you by 1% should my showing result in you getting an offer”; that’s the Listing Agents Co-operation fee if you like.
      If anything, this practice should actually help, as the lazy reps who tell their clients to just call the Listing Rep actually have to get up off their back sides and show the property themselves or assign a representative from their own company to show it and agree to some sort of fee for that service or they also have the option to contact you, the listing rep instead of the client contacting you and they can respectfully arrange a showing if the reason they are not available is legitimate & they can even ask for a lesser fee if you will oblige with that service to their client who by the way, they already have under a Buyer Agency.
      Otherwise as the Listing Agent, charging 1% to show the home for these absentee agents is a bargain. These absentee agents who only show up with the offer, sometimes never having even seen the property themselves, do not deserve to be making a full commission of 2.50% or more for making excuses to their clients as to why they cant come out to show a particular home.
      Why should I, as the Listing Representative leave my family to show your clients my listing without being compensated accordingly? In old style Real Estate we frequently co-operated by simply calling each other and explaining the circumstances, I showed my listings for many co-operating Reps over the years and I did not ask to get paid, but it was about mutual respect, don’t use me!

  4. In BC this is no longer an issue, dual agency is banned and we are very cognizant of implied agency. Showing the home to a Buyer like this (if they were legitimate buyers in the first place) could create implied agency and then you would have to recuse yourself from representing your Seller if this Buyer actually brought an offer. In most cases, you simply do not show Buyers you own listings.

    As of June 15 2018, crossing the line on dual agency in this Province can cost you and your Broker fines of up to $750,000 levied by the new government operated Real Estate Council of B.C., not to mention additional sanctions from your local Board Office.

    This is a very new world for Realtors in BC, but suffice to say willy-nilly showings from unknown Buyers is a thing of the past in this Province.

    BTW, I am not saying I agree with our new protocols here, but one benefit is that virtually all Buyers are better vetted by Agents, prior to any showings. Agents here are required to “establish terms of engagement” in writing with Buyers & Sellers prior to providing advice or services. Those agents neglecting to do this are potentially subjecting themselves to life changing fines.

    • False and Blatantly false. BCREA convinced OSRE to change the historical definition of Agency from a Brokerage level of representation to a Simple Sales Rep definition. This means the Brokerage can now represent the buyer and seller in the same transaction, which of course means they really should not be representing either.

      Lets not muddy the waters on what Dual Agency is and has been for 70 years and all the case law that exists on this topic. Dual Agency is now Undisclosed in BC and the public has been conned by BCREA who out of fear of losing memberships now that access no longer requires BCREA membership, because the public has been kept in the dark.

      Now in BC Joe and Sue Smith who have been married and happily selling in BC for 20 years can now earn Double Commissions without needing to disclose their clients that the commissions will go into the same bank account. Joe and Sue are smart only putting Joe’s name on the listing although Sue holds the open houses , meets the buyers and sell them the home without ever mentioning how the rules previously prevented this from happening.

      This is what happens when the brokerage business has become a desk rental business. Anything that allows the brokerage to keep desks rented is all that matters.

      Sorta like the stats released by BCREA which have not changed at all since Buyer Agency became law. Apparently the entire 125,000 membership of CREA no longer has a single member who remembers why those crazy SNLR, DOM or ASP were created in the first place……certainly had ZERO to do with helping BUYERS!

      It is amazing to watch how readily regulators are conned by BCREA efforts to protect their members at the expense of the consumer. It is actually pretty unethical when you come to think of it.

      Sorta like the Benchmark Price…..remember…..originally created to hide commission gains on rising home prices not as a better measure of price? I guess kept the original documentation CREA handed out on why?

      Sure Dual Agency for Joe and Sue is awesome as it allows them to double their income!

      • Nelson,

        How is this different from the team concept where all the transactions are put in the team leader’s name and count for their advertising as being area number one reps.? And thinking the “independent contractor” definition might find themselves getting audited brought on by such?

        Carolyne L 🍁

  5. Great advice Jeff. We do have to be careful about who we allow to visit our clients’ homes. It is even difficult to get good (or any) feedback from visiting brokers with their clients. Buyers who come without brokers are usually window shopping or comparing the listing to their own home that is on the market. By requesting that an unaccompanied buyer find a broker to work with we are also protecting ourselves and the vendor.

  6. I 200% agree with this logic and this agents decision to decline the showing.
    1. If your that serious, that you can’t wait for an Open House within the same week, then you generally KNOW your agents name. (In my experience, that level of serious is ready to write an offer sooner than later)
    2. If you can’t respect the time (and loyalty) of others, would you even want this person as a client…

    I am personally noticing more and more agents are standing their ground- even going as far as to “fire” bad clients. Sign of the times and and the pivot point I think is needed to re-establish the value and professional aspect of this career!

    One final note, these “sign calls” have seemingly become an opportunity for otherwise unqualified people to gain access to homes they would likely not be able to view with their “own agent” b/c the homes are likely out of their budget. Our duty is to protect our own clients homes as well.

  7. Our selling clients expect us to show their properties to qualified buyers in a professional way otherwise you are inconveniencing a lot of people. Often times buyers say to me their agent is too busy and I say your agent is the brokerage not the person, call the brokerage and ask them to assign another agent to your file.

  8. Who knows who’s really on the other end of the phone, when there’s a request to see a property?

    A few years ago in my area (Brampton, Ontario), there was a woman who would call from Orangeville (about 30 minutes from Brampton), requesting a Brampton agent show here an Orangeville property.

    There’s always the desperate realtor who would say “yes”. So, off he/she would go, and make the 30 minute drive, and show her the property. After the showing, the “buyer” knew the agent would be heading back to Brampton, and would hitch a ride, as her “car just broke down”…

    On other occasions, the same person would do the reverse, and ask an Orangeville agent to show her a Brampton property, picking her up in Orangeville and showing her the Brampton home….but this time she would say, I am going to visit a friend since I’m here now, and the agent would drive back solo. Then when she needed to get back to Orangeville… guessed it…..a different agent was contacted for a showing.

    Realtors as her personal FREE taxi drivers!

    She was eventually caught.

    So, truly sage advice, Jeff.

    Everyone needs to raise their standards, or possibly become the next charity Uber-Driver!

    • What you described local agents experienced with this “buyer” is quite common. I recall about 10 years ago hearing the same thing in Edmonton and one day 2 agents from different sectors were talking and things clicked. Quite ingenious on behalf of those that would stoop so low yet perhaps deserving of those that fell victim. I teach a course on how to present Buyer Representation Agreements to would-be clients so they will see the benefits they receive and want to sign it and in that course I emphasize the critical sit-down before showing any properties. Having used these agreements since the beginning of 1996 I have had more referrals by my clients and even was interviewed by the CBC when they were doing a story on these agreements as their news editor felt they were not good and after my and my clients on camera interview the reporter said “I don’t think we have a story here” and the story never aired. Firing up our chariot for every Tom, Dick and Harriet that calls (I wrote a blog post on that subject) serves no other purpose than to erode public perception of our industry thinking we are like an Uber.

    • Amazing! I’ve never thought someone could think at doing something like that, using Realtors as free taxi drivers!

    • I remember that so well Tony, I recall an agent from the office I was in doing just that. I asked him at the time why would that lady not have an agent from Orangeville show her the house?
      His answer was “I don’t know”.
      To command respect you must believe you are worth it! He was spending all his time chasing after people who had no loyalty and in this circumstance, I believe were just using him.
      My believe through many years of trial and error.
      If a Buyer calls me on someone else’s listing I will gladly provide all the information and even show them the property provided they are willing to come to my office to meet me and be pre-qualified.
      If they are calling on one of my own listings and are not willing to meet me at my office then I am sorry but I do not show the property unless they wish to wait until open house day when all are welcome to come through provided they sign my registry and if I request it, show me some ID.
      If for some reason I am alone at an open house, (which is very rare) and I feel uncomfortable or someone is making me feel uncomfortable, I go with my gut & it would not be the first time I have refused entry to an open house or actually closed it.
      Lived through too much and seen too much to let myself be a target!

      • Hey Rosemary, so true.

        We can’t exercise enough caution, and if one uses their own common sense, it usually turns out alright. When we make dumb decisions, that’s when we waste a lot of time, and money….or sometimes worse.

        I didn’t realize that you had worked with one of the “Uber drivers” :-)

  9. Thanks for your comments Brian. In one breath we want to be considered Professionals and in another, some are so eager to jump when asked which no other profession would provide their services and experience without first qualifying. If one is so desperate for business they will succumb to this, their desperation will likely shine through anyway which won’t bode well in the end. Just this afternoon I took a new listing and my newly acquired client and I had “the talk” I’ve had for 20+ years and he too expressed his pleasure in me vetting any prospective showings for his property and said he appreciated the fact I would ensure that when an offer comes in I will do all I can to bring a buyer can actually get financing approval. Some agents are afraid to ask the qualifying questions for fear of turning the caller off of using them and run tirelessly in “hopes of a deal”. Would a lawyer or accountant take on a client and provide services without first establishing the terms of the engagement? Funny thing is that we as real estate professionals don’t take a listing without doing so and are comfortable in our skin to ask for the signature so how different is it to do the same with any prospective buyer? In doing so, wouldn’t we shine above those other agents (the call runners) radiating professionalism? Wouldn’t that caller who has a home they would then sell not be impressed by this diligence and be compelled to hire them for selling their home?

  10. Follow up to my previous post:

    Only desperate Realtors show listings on a willy-nilly basis, which is really no basis at all. That would be like throwing darts at a dart-board blindfolded, from fifty paces.

  11. Good advice Jeff. Kick the tire-kickers to the curb; they waste everyone’s time. Realtors are not used car salesmen/saleswomen; they are gate-keepers. This is one instance whereby the rusty, noisy gate hinges should not get the grease.

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