I was recently interviewed for PropertyWire.ca about the difference between working for friends and family versus clients. For me, there is no difference. I love my career so much that you’ll get the same exacting prudent professional guidance regardless of who you are.
However, if there’s one thing my friends and family have taught me over the twenty years I’ve made real estate my career, it’s that from start to finish – even when mired in all that money – stress – bidding war – mayhem – the experience can be fun, uplifting, and even hysterically funny. The best stress buster is laughter, and when searching for a new place to call home, sometimes the decor crimes of hapless sellers are all one needs to keep one engaged in the lighter side of real estate. Don’t get me wrong… I’m not maniacally bashing everyone’s choices in the way they decorate their homes, but sometimes one just can’t help but point, raise one’s eyebrow and giggle.
The poor work executed by Flippers and Home Stagers who should, as far as I’m concerned, know better provide ample opportunities to taunt. Click HERE to read an October rant about ‘Tit Lamps’ (which I loathe), and HERE to read my shocking dismay over bad tile jobs and HERE on overkill recessed lighting! GRRR!
If you’re curious to read about how I operate my business, regardless of whether you’re my friend, family member or client, check out this PropertyWire article below for urbaneer.com’s most recent press!
And don’t forget, we are always here to help!
When Family and Friends are Clients
Heather Wright, Real Estate Journalist
Published for Propertywire.ca, a resource for Canadian Real Estate and Mortgage Professionals, January 27, 2012
You spend a great deal of your professional life trying to build up referrals, trying to connect with clients and letting them get to know you so that you can build a long-lasting relationship.In theory, wouldn’t it be better, if not easier, to do business with those who already know you? Theoretically, yes; in practice- not necessarily.
From waiving commissions to seeking unreasonable prices to moving real estate mountains, there are some challenges when crossing over the professional/personal divide, but there are some solid opportunities as well. The key is to have rules by which to operate, that includes focus on the task at hand, as well as respect for the shared history or connection that you share. The way in which personal relationships cross over to professional ones depends very much on the individuals themselves, more so than any professional standard. As such, the rules of professional practice do not necessarily apply when your clients have a personal connection to you- both from the point of view of the client, and from the REALTOR® themselves.
Same, but different
There is an important parallel to draw between the business side of real estate and of personal life; arguably, the success of both lies heavily in the strength of relationships.
Ultimately, making your mark in the real estate business has much more to do with how you conduct yourself as a professional, regardless of who the client is. Steven Fudge, Sales Representative, Bosley R.E. Ltd (www.urbaneer.com) says that while friends and family may hold a special place in your heart, all clients share priority, each deserving your best effort. In this sense, the terms “client’, ‘family’ and ‘friend’ are interchangeable.
“For me there is little difference. Outside of perhaps having one’s family member or friend rely on your guidance, trust and assurance more quickly, my level of detail, execution and commitment to service remains the same regardless of who I’m serving.”
Strategy for incorporating personal relationships into the professional fold has to match professional philosophy- and this philosophy has to be understood by all parties. Also, it is important to communicate to friends and family that become clients that they are- in fact, clients- and should feel comfortable approaching you in the same way as your existing clientele does.
Mike Cunningham, REALTOR®, Bosley Real Estate Limited says: “I’ve always established a business relationship with these kinds of clients… Friends should be aware that they are my highest priority and that I am available to them at any time. This isn’t always easy but I feel that it’s necessary to show them how hard I am willing to work for them.”
One of the challenges in the real estate business is cutting through the competition, and presenting yourself- and your qualities- in such a way that people will want to do business with you. In a business where a client must place their trust in you, it can be rather a tall order to do so just on blind faith or a gut feel. Sometimes, putting forth your best professional face can feel a little contrived. When people already know you though, the pressure is off. You don’t have to convince them to trust you, because they already do- because they have been part of your real life experience, where you have likely demonstrated that you are deserving of their trust.
Among other things, already knowing and understanding each other can expedite the relationship, and time can actually be spent doing, rather than setting up the framework now for action later. Says Jay McInnes, Sales Agent, Macdonald Realty: “When working with a stranger there is a “getting to know you” process involved. You are probing for their needs, wants and desires as well at their dislikes. This process takes time as you must really get to know your client, in my opinion, to be able to properly provide them with this type of service. “
“There is also an automatic level of trust when coming into the situation as opposed to having to building the trust from the start with a new client. That process can also take a lot of time depending on the client.”
Self- imposed pressure
Pressure does not just come from high expectations from friends and family; many feel that, because they have a personal connection, their desire to exceed expectations is even higher than it is with regular clients. Cunningham says, “I find that working with a friend or relative is more stressful than working with a stranger because of the added pressure that I put on myself to do a great job. The last thing I would want is to disappoint someone that is close to me, and then have them feel or speak negatively to our peers about my abilities as an agent. That said, most of my clients at the moment are close friends and I find that I’m working harder than ever to help them.”
Perhaps the greatest challenge threatening the smooth sailing of business when friends and family are involved is the sense of professional boundaries and of defining expectations. While a personal connection provides strength in some areas, it can convolute what may or may not be appropriate and/or reasonable in others. And when boundaries are not respected, or expectations miscommunicated, they can start a chain reaction of events that may diverge in their paths, but ultimately can lead to an unhappy ending.
Laurin Jeffrey, Real Estate Salesperson, Century 21 Regal Realty agrees: “There are way fewer boundaries than with strangers. And it can lead to problems. I have had relationships damaged for years because of working with family.”
Jeffrey makes an important distinction too, in that there is often a difference- in terms of expectations when working with friends vs. working with family: “Family always expects more, they want miracles. They want it for less, or to sell for more. They really expect more than strangers. Friends are usually the best, they are cool, they are happy for anything. Best clients, in my experience.”
Jeffrey says too, that this is an area in which that it helps to treat the client relationship as subjectively as you can, using much of the same strategy as you would with anyone else.“You try to treat them like any other client. You try to educate them, to prepare them. You want to be able to manage expectations so everyone is on the same page. But as with strangers, that is not always possible. Some people are reasonable, some people aren’t. Regardless of blood ties.”
It is always best to manage expectations by setting limits, but that may be easier said than done, especially when it comes to dealing with family, who may automatically expect that they have an all-access pass to you- or that you are able to move mountains on their behalf, simply because of a personal connection. The danger with misguided expectations is that they can be unreasonable- which will inevitably lead to disappointment.
In business, disappointment can dissipate quickly; in the personal realm it can brew and ferment with catastrophic, long-term consequences.
Put the ball in their court
Fudge says that best way to manage expectations is to erase them, effectively neutralizing the threat that potential misunderstanding presents. He says that there is a natural evolution from personal to professional relationship, and if you build it, they will come. “When I started over twenty years ago, I made a point to establish and operate my business without any expectation that my family or friends should be obliged to use my services. Furthermore, to respect my friends and family, from the beginning of my career until this very day I do not take business cards with me to their social functions nor do I use it as an opportunity to prospect for business. Instead I keep my lips zipped about my career and instead engage people about everything other than real estate.”
“Should other guests eventually discover I am a REALTOR® they are often relieved and ultimately delighted I didn’t selfishly promote myself to a captive audience. I think friends appreciate and value I always put their friendship first and, as a result, over time many do enlist and/or refer my services.”
Emotions Run High
When a relationship has originated from an emotional source, there runs the risk of emotional interference along the way. Friends and family may feel more comfortable with you in terms of expressing themselves, making managing disappointment, and keeping a professional relationship on an even keel more difficult. When it comes to bidding wars, setting a property up for sale or dealing with other issues, it is imperative to approach each situation as an educator; you have the experience and the knowledge to guide your client towards taking the right steps, and it is important to remember that is why your friend or family member is ultimately doing business with you.
Fudge says that this is something that he runs into on a regular basis in his booming Toronto market: “Buying and selling real estate is an intense emotional roller coaster ride, especially when it involves a property with a big emotional investment attached to it. It is crucial with everyone you’re doing business with to understand what any property’s realistic market value might be, and then get a tacit agreement that said sum is what will be negotiated in advance of any offer.”
McInnes says that it helps if you can don your REALTOR® hat, and help mitigate the emotional factor from the get go. The temptation to react emotionally for the REALTOR® exists, especially if your client has an emotional connection to you. But this is one of those situations where people are counting on you to be the professional: “Always tell the truth, cater your answers to the sensitivity levels of the client and try to break all emotional attachment from day one.”
Business and pleasure
The beauty is that, if a Real Estate Professional really engages, delivers on their promises, and takes the time to really get to know their clients in the name of building a long term relationships, then chances are a friendship will develop. Trust, accountability, integrity are all items necessary to procuring a client. These are all elements necessary in the maintaining of a personal relationship as well, so it is easy to see the evolution.
McInnes agrees: “In my opinion if you treat the business relationship professionally it will not negatively affect the personal relationship. Also if you treat the business relationship professionally you can make friends and create a personal relationship with new clients.”
At the end of the day, it comes down to being yourself, professionally and personally- and letting the connections happen. Fudge says, “Interestingly, my friends and family have helped me learn that, when I am more light-hearted and fun my clients inevitably become friends. I’ve benefitted from working with friends and family as they’ve taught me that being ‘my authentic real-estate obsessed self’ with everyone all-the-time is what makes me successful. “
Media & Press