Entry by Carole Helwig

Feeling like a commodity...this is not a fairy tale

A few weeks ago, something happened to me that hadn't happened in a very, very long time...I met someone who truly looked at me as a commodity.  I have to say it didn't feel good...and actually got my back up.

My best friend found out at a family reunion that her cousin and family were moving from NY to Central MA.  My friend was soooo excited to be able to refer me and knew that this was my turf.  I was excited at such a "warm" referral...I guess I thought it was a slam dunk.

So I reached out.  It turns out this cousin and family are on their 5th relocation...they pretty much have it down to a science.  She handles the outgoing property (getting it ready to sell and seeing it through to close) and while they jointly agree on the town and house they will be moving to, he handles the incoming (their terms not mine). 

In our first conversation, he set about to tell me how he works...hey wait a minute!  Isn't that supposed to be my line???  OK, let's have it.


He goes on to tell me that until he picks a town he works with an agent in each town...one who specializes in that particulart town.  In this case, they are looking at about 6 towns...yep you got it right.  That means 6 different Realtors.  He told me he want someone who wants his business and who is hungry. 

Well, with twin sons in college, a down real estate market and other challenges in my life right now, I'm not hungry...I'm starving. However, I wasn't going to let him see me drool.  He was already enjoying himself too much.

At this point under normal circumstances, that would have been our last conversation.  However, because of my best friend, I thought I would at least meet face to face and see if I couldn't somehow make nice. 

So, I'm the designated Realtor for the Acton/Boxborugh leg of the trip.  I was meeitng them at the house.  They called 10 minutes before our appointed meeting time to say their last appoitment ran over and they would be about 10 minutes late.  10 minutes past the 10 minute late mark they arrived.

As soon as they walked into the house and we exchanged introductions and greetings, I told them I needed to review the Mandatory Agency Disclosure (required by the Commonwealth of MA to be presented at the 1st meeting to discuss a specific property) and laughingly said I'm sure you've seen this a few times.  They looked at the form, me, each other, back at me and said NO!  Say what????

After I explained in detail the contents of the form and my dismay at other real estate practioners not presenting this form to them (I was the 4th, count them 4, agent they met that day), he told me he would not sign.

So, I politely, but firmly told him we would not be working together.  He said he understood. 

All of this is to say...I have not been made to feel like a commodity in many years.  It didn't feel good.  It felt good to walk away. 

Consulting provides choice...to the consumer, as well as the practioner. 


Carole, thanks for the story. I do commercial work and it is very similar. So many give away their intellectual capital that we have indeed become a commodity in the public's view.

Good for your Carole.  You did not lose anything because you did not have it to lose.  You can spend time more productively now without that pain in the ....

You do not need to give a referral fee.

So I have a question.... Would you charge him a consulting fee instead of collecting a premium high commission? Who would get your commission?  If collecting just a consulting fee, how could you pay a high referral fee?



I'm not sure, Lester.  In this case, my friend is not a real estate friend, so no referral fee was in play.  That is a good question, and one I had not given any consideration to.  I guess if it was a real estate referral, that would be an opportunity to open the dialog with the other agent about the consulting model.  I will be interested in feedback and experiences from others in that case.  Thanks for asking that question. 
Anyone have something they can contribute on the question of referral fees in the consulting model?


Carole's story is one that I'm sure most of us can relate to. And I can tell you that when it's happened to me, it makes me feel icky!

Remember, when the consumer perceives a product as virtually the same, they will shop it by price. It's up to us to help them to understand that we are not commodities. I wrote an entire chapter on this concept in my book The End of 6%

BTW, as an ACRE, you can receive a free copy of the eBook version of The End of 6%. Just pop me an email and I'll get it right out to you.

Mollie's book is easy to read and understand, and got me re-thinking my dialog...and I had been doing fee-for-service and then graduated to true consulting over several years.  it well worth the cost of purchase, even if you weren't able to get it for free! 

GOOD FOR YOU, Carole!!  People like that make me nuts, particularly in THIS market!  I recently had an inquiry off one of my listings, and when I spoke with the buyer (very nice fellow, move-up buyer who doesn't need to sell current property...and his first property was new construction, so he never really worked with Realtors before) he began with sort of the same premace: "'we have a few areas we'd like to look into and would prefer to work with agents who specialize in those areas"...and, yes, he was anticipating working with a few different agents.  Now, Carole, given the specifics of your situation, and the arrogance of your buyer, I KNOW this approach would not have worked...he already KNOWS IT ALL...LOL!

My response after speaking with him was to email him a pretty comprehensive explanation of the "real world"...the whole "how hard would YOU work for a client who's not loyal and where odds are 10x1 that you'd NEVER get paid", but, more importantly, particularly in THIS market with so many distressed properties and distressed sellers on the market, and lenders presenting so many new challenges with their ever-changing guidelines, "fluid" rules, appraisal problems, etc., the RISKS to buyers when they do find a home are much higher than they used to be of getting into trouble.  And while I certainly know some communities better than others, what I really do specialize in is THE PROCESS!  Consumers need an EXPERT GUIDE through the entire process.  The days of the ORDER TAKER are gone.  

My particular buyer????  He did only work with me and we're waiting to close on his $400k+ home!

Good for YOU Judi! I always believed that it's precisely when the market is tough that we need to hold ourselves to a higher standard. I know a lot of agents say that they can't afford to be picky - that they need to take whatever they can get. But my experience is that people like you and Carole describe need to be advised as you have. To work with these people on their terms is time that could (and should) be better spent with those that appreciate what a true professional brings to the table.

This is why I constantly say that the consulting model goes far beyond how you get paid - it's a way of doing business that refuses to be a commodity. It's why it is vital to let prospects know that you offer choices - even when you're 100% sure that they are going to go the traditional route because in letting them know that you offer other choices, you establish a professionalism and options such that if they want to go contingent, they do so respecting that there are plusses and minuses for them as well as you. 

I remember one buyer in particular that I worked with - he was a relo and wanted to go with the traditional commission but 10 homes later, when we found a house that met his criteria and was priced right, I commented that it looked like a winner. He turned to me and said "You just want me to buy this house because it's more expensive and you'll get a bigger commission." I was then able to remind him of our opening meeting and say "You know, I'd be happy to switch to an hourly fee anytime you'd like - let's see...we've already spent x hours together. If you'd like to pay for my time instead, it will take my motivation right off the table!"

You never saw someone backtrack faster and he never again voiced that refrain - he not only closed on that home but sent me at least 5 referrals.


That's a great story and congratulations on your upcoming closing! 
Mollie...great retort and don't you love it when you can just shut them right up! 
Of course, it's more like, don't you just love it when they finally get it? 
All of us have stories, and it almost doesn't matter how long you've been in the business to be able to contribute to this discussion.  It's more a matter of how many times we've had it happen to us.


I love it!  My last last two consultation's where I told the owners that I didn't want their listing, resulted in two listings! Holding yourself up to your own benchmark becomes obvious to the consumer and provides them the confidence and comfort to make a commitmemt to you. It doesn't come overnight with this model, as just like in sales, you must know both your product offerings and your scripts. Practice.

Carol, it may make sense to insert a disclaimer in your referral forms where it states referral fees are only paid on sales transactions (not fee for service work). As far as the Agency Disclosure, I also practice to the letter of the law (to my advantage) and I'm suprised at the number of agents (most) who don't present Agency during the first substantive meeting. I will inform consumers that while it is their decision to sign or not sign, it is not my decision to present the form, and many times leads the consumer to wonder about that last agent or any subsequent agent they work with. It can only serve to give you credibility as a professional, and nothing less.

@ Judy - You are so right. When you put yourself out there as the expert, you will win more and better clients in the long run, and without wasting much of your time.

@ Mollie - HEY!

Randy - haven't heard from you in awhile - glad to have you back!

Never really left, just took some time to close my brokerage and join another. It's harder shutting down than it is opening up! Anyway, now that I am away from a franchise and operating as an independant, I have much more freedom and control over my service offerings. It's gonna be a much smoother ride ;)


That's great Randy. Let us know how you're making out.

Carole - I'm so glad to know that other Agents insist on working within the law!!!  Good for you, to insist they sign that they received that disclosure.  It amazes me how many times I find out that I am the FIRST agent to present this "required" piece of information to prospective clients PRIOR to performing ANY brokerage services.

What I do, to avoid wasting my time nowadays is to introduce myself via an e-mail (most people do e-mail nowadays) and send them the Law of Agency pamphlet.  I let them know that per Washington state law, I am required to present this pamphlet to them, PRIOR to me performing ANY type of brokerage services.  And, I ask them to sign the page that I keep for MY records, in case I am ever audited.  Some people can't FAX it back to me, since they do not have a FAX.  Others can't scan it and e-mail it back to me, since they don't have a scanner.  So, to eliminate excuses why they can't sign it and return it to me BEFORE we meet, I am set-up with Authentisign, where I send them an invitation to become familiar with and let them use it to sign this form and also decide if they want to use it for our future real estate transactions.

P.S.  Authentisign is a service though out MLS that allows people to sign electronically.  Sorry, I didn't explain that.

out is supposed to be "our"

This page contains a single entry by Carole Helwig published on August 5, 2011 9:36 PM.

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