Professionalism Requires Prioritizing Clients Above Commissions

If the real estate industry is serious about holding practitioners to a higher standard, customer service must be more important than sales numbers.
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It’s critical to hold industry professionals to higher standards. That idea brought together the brightest real estate minds to discuss the changes the industry is undergoing at a Palm Springs, Calif., conference in March. They distilled the group’s insights into a dozen actionable takeaways, dubbed the “Parker Principles.” The principles, which include finding more available housing and giving back through service, are both broad and specific. But the third principle is particularly compelling: “Create a transparent chain of industry accountability to benefit the consumer.” But that transition won’t happen until agents focus more on client satisfaction than sales numbers.

Agents become a powerful force when they understand that their choices directly shape their futures. You need a player mentality, as opposed to a victim mentality. Victims believe everything is beyond their control (interest rates are too high, inventory is too low, the seller isn’t compliant). You can’t deliver for your clients until you accept the fact that you don’t create the market—you respond to it. Being a player means recognizing that your job is to help people buy and sell homes, regardless of outside forces.

More importantly, prioritizing service means holding yourself accountable. That means following through on your promises, answering questions in a timely fashion, knowing your contracts, keeping everyone on track—in essence, treating this “job” as your business. But with accountability comes transparency. For some agents, that’s a hard pill to swallow. After all, transparency requires a certain amount of vulnerability. It means letting clients know you don’t have all the answers, staying within the boundaries of your expertise, and laying out the best options for clients, even if those options don’t benefit you directly.

To create client relationships that are grounded in trust, clarity, and service, here are four tips:

  • Let accountability flow both ways. In this low-inventory environment, where bidding wars are commonplace, buyers who don’t have an accountable agent are in for a frustrating experience. Sellers, too, may end up accepting a higher offer that never closes without a transparent agent’s guidance. Agents must know the process and keep everyone focused on the end goal. But buyers and sellers are also responsible for making the final decisions throughout the process and voicing questions and concerns to their agents. Bringing it full circle, agents are then held accountable for being transparent on those issues.
  • Supplement data with your own knowledge. Third-party real estate sites have armed clients with unprecedented amounts of information. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing: Educated clients have a better idea of what they want (and can afford) and are easier to work with. The downside is that agents are sometimes seen as interchangeable commodities rather than trusted resources. That said, the average person will sell their home every five to seven years and move almost 12 times in their lifetime. Some agents close that many deals in one month. You have so much industry knowledge. Focus on the relationship, not the commission, to create the environment for you to become the go-to resource. By listening carefully and actively, asking questions, providing clarification, and paying attention to body language, you can develop trust.
  • Use a time-tested buyer process. Transparency starts with asking the right questions, but agents don’t need to interrogate their clients. Do a quick survey about your clients’ wants, needs, and general priorities, which will save time, make the transaction run smoother, and enable you to deliver more value. Knowing your clients’ expectations creates better understanding and trust, which helps the overall transaction.
  • Arm yourself with teammates. Real estate shouldn’t be a solitary endeavor. In fact, collaboration is a key ingredient for better service. Rather than constantly trying to compete with colleagues, focus on working with them to find solutions to client problems. It doesn’t matter who gets the credit; it matters whether the transaction closes. Escrow agents, qualified lenders, and reliable inspectors all improve transparency, but a good real estate team is necessary as well. Team members can help with open houses, step in when you’re challenged for time, brainstorm potential solutions to problems, and hold you accountable to the goals you set. Sometimes, it takes a village to close a transaction.

The Parker Principles laid a path for the real estate industry to transition from sales to service; it’s up to agents to rise to the challenge. Clients ultimately want an agent who can get the job done so they can move in and move on with their lives. As they evaluate you, they’ll wonder whether they can trust you to accomplish that goal. When mistakes happen, clients aren’t interested in who’s at fault—they just want the issue resolved. So be proactive to prevent problems before they arise. If in doubt, ask questions, and always look for opportunities to collaborate rather than compete.

Editor’s note: Opinions expressed in commentary articles do not necessarily reflect the position of the National Association of REALTORS® or REALTOR® Magazine. Submit commentary ideas to managing editor Wendy Cole at