Working for Free

This might sound like anathema to some colleagues, but I’m going to say it anyway. Nothing better for a Realtor’s soul on occasion than to do a little pro bono work.

I’m not talking about all the charitable things Realtors do. Making donations. Serving on Boards. Putting in volunteer hours. I think the real estate community ranks right up there in terms of its commitment to the larger community we live in.

When I say pro bono… I really do mean donating free time, free advice and perhaps even an occasional free transaction to someone in need of real estate help. No strings attached. No agenda. No moolah.

And this is where we get into the grey area. For some Agents it crosses a line. Spending an afternoon pouring wine at a fundraising event is one thing. Spending an afternoon giving away for free, the same advice that usually earns Agents their livelihood and allows them to buy groceries, pay college tuition and make their own mortgage payments – is quite another.

It can feel like a violation of professional integrity. Something that undercuts the way the average person views Realtors and the value of their work (largely misunderstood concepts in the public domain.) If it’s available for free, why value it at all?

The thought of free work pushes emotional buttons for many Agents. Mostly due to memories like:

That time they drove buyers around for months looking at every new property. Sacrificing weekends and evenings. Then out of the blue the clients stopped into an open house, wrote up an offer with the Agent there because somehow they thought they’d save a few thousand bucks.

Or the last time Sellers of an overpriced listing refused to lower the price while demanding bigger ads and more open houses. Then, after the listing period expired they relisted the property $200,000 lower with another Agent who put it into escrow in a week.

When an Agent gets a few of these crushing experiences under his belt he often locks his boundaries down tighter. Becomes almost unyielding in the way he spends his time or allows his clients to spend his time. And in an ironic way, it reinforces the stereotype of the real estate agent as salesperson. They: “Don’t want to do anything unless they get paid.”

Real estate agents sell time. Time is their currency. They don’t own the homes being sold. It isn’t their money getting exchanged for grant deeds. They receive commissions for time spent – assuming something actually transacts. Realtors broker homes . Realtors market homes. Sellers sell homes.

The word “sell” is so charged with baggage that it’s almost impossible to un-tether it from all the veiled assumptions, hidden expectations and loaded suspicions that precede it into an actual relationship between real people.

Sometimes the first month I spend with clients is mostly about convincing them that I‘m not trying to “sell” them something they don’t want to buy.

The stigma attached to “selling” never completely goes away. It’s painful when clients reject your best advice. Not because it isn’t good advice. But because they think you are trying to push your own agenda rather than speaking to theirs.

Agents often become hyper-conscious about how clients perceive their motives. They temper their advice. Sugarcoat it. Spin it with vague, diplomatic reasonings. Worry obsessively about blurting out what they really think before editing it into some pallid version of real estate lite.

So Agents, I’m extolling the virtues of pro bono work. For your sake as much as anyone elses’. Go ahead. Try it. You might like it.

You may find it’s an incredibly liberating experience to sit down with someone and tell them what you really think without worrying that somewhere in the front or the back of their heads they are assuming you are saying what you are saying because you want to make a sale. Like I said. Good for the soul.


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