You Can "Sell" ANYTHING You Believe is a Good Deal for the Customer

Education & Training with Sell with Soul

I've been watching and commenting on Leslie Rojohn's fine blog called "Time is Money-- Unless You're a REALTOR" - about charging retainer fees. Maybe you saw it, too, since it was Active Rain's headliner of the day last Thursday or Friday.

As typically happens when any topic of non-contingent compensation is featured, the comments came in fast and furiously, most Questionalong the lines of "Sounds great, but it will never happen. If buyers (or sellers) can get it free down the street, why would they be willing to pay for it?"

Indeed. Why would they?


That's not a rhetorical question - I'm asking it. Assuming you like the idea of getting a retainer or upfront fee, WHY would a buyer or seller be willing to pay one for your real estate service?


No answer? Well, then there's the problem!

Unless you're some super-duper salesperson who can sell the proverbial snow to an Eskimo, you need to believe that what you're selling is good for your customer. Great, even. AND IF YOU DON'T BELIEVE THAT ABOUT YOUR SERVICE OR YOUR FEES, no one else is going to believe it either!

Of course, this applies to any product or service someone might be pitching, but for our purposes here, we're talking about non-contingent (aka retainer or upfront) fees.

"Sounds great, but it will never happen. If buyers or sellers can get it free down the street, why would they be willing to pay for it?"

Well... in the last few years of my active career, I offered my sellers the choice to pay me $500 upfront... and most took me up on it - happily. Was the guy or gal down the street also charging $500 upfront? Nope. Were my seller clients so filthy stinkin' rich that they had an extra $500 lying around they wanted me to have? Nope. Was I such a super-duper salesperson that I was able to overcome their objections with a masterful script and a mega-watt smile? Oh, heavens NO!

Most of my sellers paid the $500 upfront fee because I made it a good deal for them to do so. And they recognized a good deal when they saw one and cheerfully wrote the check. And because I knew what I was offering was a good deal for them, it was no problem at all for me to "sell" them on the idea.

So... instead of moaning and groaning about how unfair it is that we Work for Free (which we DON'T) and that "no one will ever be willing to pay us non-contingently unless everyone else does it, too," get out of your own way and think about how you could make getting what YOU want also be a good deal for your customers. And you'll be able to sell it All Day Long.




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  1. Lynn B. Friedman 03/04/2012 01:18 AM
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Gary L. Waters Broker Associate, Bucci Realty
Bucci Realty, Inc. - Melbourne, FL
Fifteen Years Experience in Brevard County

We get paid what we is really about our skills. Like choosing/evaluating clients, evaluating marketing actions, managing transactions, managing people.  Our income is directly proportional to our skills set.

Jan 17, 2012 12:24 AM #1
Brenda Mayette
Miranda Real Estate Group, Inc. - Glenville, NY
Getting results w/ knowledge & know-how!

Another great post, Jennifer! :-)   Perceived value is a huge concept we often miss out on... Pay for something & our committment to it is often enhanced. What a concept for the relationship between Realtors, Buyers & Sellers...!

Jan 17, 2012 12:25 AM #2
Ellie Shorb
Compass Real Estate - Chevy Chase, MD
Realtor DC, MD & VA Luxury Home Expert

When one provides excellent service and can stand behind it, the $ flows in as it should.

Jan 17, 2012 12:28 AM #3
Loreena and Michael Yeo
3:16 team REALTY ~ Locally-owned Prosper TX Real Estate Co. - Prosper, TX
Real Estate Agents

I want to act as a consultant on a real estate transaction. I personally think it's a great way for me to "expand" my services without the "physical" commitment of constantly needing to be there.

It all begins in the mindset, right?

I wont say it wont happen but I foresee this happening in the Seller's world first.

I may pick up, learning and understanding the ACRE program now that I have some time on my hands.

By the way, I have one buyer client that approached me about paying me an upfront me for my service - to make sure he will get my commitment to serve him well. After 2 meetings, he ditched me faster than I could catch on. So far, no other clients have offered me to pay me an upfront fee/ retainer services.

I like the idea for sellers, I need to figure out how that works for buyers. I can see buyer's in a brand new home dealin with a builder.

Jan 17, 2012 12:31 AM #4
Ruthmarie Hicks
Keller Williams NY Realty - 120 Bloomingdale Road #101, White Plains NY 10605 - White Plains, NY

The problem Jennifer is a bit more complex than that. What is perceived and what is real are two very different things.   There are plenty of terrible agents in my area with a great deal of perceived value.   They have high gross sales even though they left a carnage of expired listings in their wake.  They've been puffed by reputations that they don't deserve.  Prying enough clients loose from people like that has been a struggle for many an excellent agent - and many fail in the process. 

The question is why?  The answer lies with the confusion the public has about what it is that agents do and how much work is involved.  They think we are glorified door openers and there is little that is going to change that perception.  We also stick signs in the ground as our other sideline.  

The other problem, and it isn't trivial, is that we are such an overcrowded industry that 70% of our time is taken up in self promotion.  I wish this didnt' have to be the case, but in my area it IS the case.  So in many ways - I question our value when so much has to be put into brainwashing people to use US and not th guy down the street. 

Note: Its not that I don't offer value, but it takes so much to just get a real CLIENT that there is a serious problem here.   

Jan 17, 2012 01:29 AM #5
Jennifer Allan-Hagedorn
Sell with Soul - Pensacola Beach, FL
Author of Sell with Soul

I'm not talking about "perceived value" I'm talking about real value - that YOU believe with all your heart you offer. And not because you convinced yourself you provide something special, but because you DO and you know what you're offering is a good deal for the consumer. Of course, lots of other factors come into play as to whether someone will hire you or the guy down the street, but to categorically state (as was done many times in the blog I referenced) that NO ONE will ever be willing to pay a retainer fee yada yada yada simply isn't true. If it's in their best interest to pay a retainer fee, they'll do it all day long and you won't have any trouble offering it, explaining it or "selling" it. IF IT'S TRULY GOOD FOR THEM!

When I was a new agent I quickly realized I had ZERO sales skills. No way I could "sell" myself to anyone if I didn't believe in my heart and soul that I was the right (wo)man for the job. So, I set about making myself (which was my product) the very best "deal" I could possibly be so that hiring me as someone's real estate agent would be a no-brainer for them. I remember laughing to myself that because I sucked at sales, I had to "resort" to providing great service. And once I put all the pieces and parts into place to provide exceptional service, I had no problem at all "selling" myself when the opportunity arose.

That's a bit off-topic, but what was missing in the debate, in my opinion, was the idea that upfront or non-contingent fees can be GOOD for the consumer, not just good for us. And if that's the case, the consumer will pay them cheerfully.

Jan 17, 2012 01:48 AM #6
Ruthmarie Hicks
Keller Williams NY Realty - 120 Bloomingdale Road #101, White Plains NY 10605 - White Plains, NY

The problem here is that I don't know how good they will be for the consumer - at least at entry level.  The commissions have gone so low that at entry we are practically working for FREE - even when we close, and that's not often.  To get $20-$25 an hour for my work would mean I would have to make MORE than what I'm getting in commissions when the sale is under $300k.   Since my niche is entry - that's a problem.  The other problem is that the one to two fat commissions that I generally manage to get during the year are vitally needed becuase the commissions at entry are so terrible.  Reduce them and I am out of business.  These people WOULD benefit, trouble is that I would be out of business.  That's the bottom line.  Commission rates here are a great deal lower than in other parts of the country.   

The system as it stands is progressive.  In some ways it works because the high end of our market has fared well  (with price INCREASES) while the low end has gotten badly beaten up.  Bottom line - too many agents crawling all over the public. THAT'S the problem that has to be addressed.  To get to a baseline of pay in which we are paid upfront - you have to get rid of the massive glut of agents. 

Jan 17, 2012 02:06 AM #7
Mollie Wasserman
Your Move Made Simple - Framingham, MA

Great points Jennifer and something that seems so obvious that we don't think about it. As someone who was regularly paid non-contingently, it really came down to offering the choices with contingent commission being much more expensive when all is said and done then non-contingent fee options where the services were paid for as performed. Why were people willing to pay me non-contingently? Because they were sold on me.

Jan 17, 2012 02:06 AM #8
William Watkins

Not to long ago I came across a small article in Crain's Chicago Business. It was titled "Worried Owners Call on Agent for What-if Visit." The title itself excited me because for last 7 years I have tried to build a market based on that What-if concept. The idea is to shift the homeowner's belief of when they have a need for a  professional.  

If we look at homeowners without the need to sell as our market base--catching them years in advance of that need and consulting with them throughout their ownership all the dynamics of the process are changed.

The market becomes less crowded and we end up with not having enough professionals in the market to handle demand. The confusion of value and how we charge our clients are virtually eliminated. Ultimately we solve an important issue for our clients coming out of the economic malaise--taking more money with them to their next transaction. We can charge less because the market was expanded exponentially. Clients pay commissions in advance with guarantees of never losing it, plus nominal fees for administration and/or a hourly rate(Broker's choice).

Don't say it can't be done! It is being done in the mortgage industry. Take a look at these two companies: and Then tell me it is not possible.


Jan 17, 2012 02:08 AM #9
Glenn Freezman
Family Abstract, Inc. - Horsham, PA

Jennifer, You speak of equality, ethics, morals and values.  R U CRAZY?????  Are you asking someone that is in business, working a model that is not fair to the actual parties to the transaction to understand that? There was a great book by (i think) Steven Covey entitled, You Win IF the Customer Wins EVERY TIME!  Agents like #5 and #7 above seem to lake the idea that business is not about the Realtor it's about the buyer and seller. 

Jan 17, 2012 02:24 AM #10
Rich Cederberg
eXp Realty - Albuquerque, NM
eXp Realty Agent Albuquerque

I imagine that in any business, getting out of our own way is probably a common problem.  This is a great post Jennifer.

Jan 18, 2012 09:11 AM #12
Jennifer Allan-Hagedorn
Sell with Soul - Pensacola Beach, FL
Author of Sell with Soul

Isn't that funny, Corinne!

Thank you, Rich. I agree... instead of thinking of all the reason "it won't work" start thinking of ways it can!

Jan 18, 2012 09:26 AM #13
Robert Rauf
HomeBridge Financial Services (NJ) - Toms River, NJ

That upfront charge could work providing you had that twist that makes it stand out as a better deal.

Heck it could even be a better way to avoid that over priced listing.... "at that price I would require $500 up front since we will be chasing the market"

You can spin anything as good or bad, it just depends on how full your glass is!

Jan 19, 2012 02:51 AM #14
Glenn S. Phillips
Lake Homes Realty - Birmingham, AL
CEO, Lake Homes Realty /

I think that the biggest resistance to charging differently comes from the same agents that whine about the commission structure too (or at least the work they do on deals that don't close). G

Jan 19, 2012 10:08 PM #16
Barbara-Jo Roberts Berberi, MA, PSA, TRC - Greater Clearwater Florida Residential Real Estate Professional
Charles Rutenberg Realty - Clearwater, FL
Palm Harbor, Dunedin, Clearwater, Safety Harbor

These are true words........if you believe in something, it is easy to sell it!

Feb 02, 2012 12:42 AM #17
Phil Leng
Retired - Kirkland, WA
Phil Leng - Retired

Hi Jennifer,

Thanks for the post!

There is a huge possibility for a buyer or seller to have a bad experience.

Better to have a known product (you) and a predictably good experience (working with you)

So let them pay a bit more for a Mercedes than for a Nissan!


Feb 03, 2012 04:56 PM #18
Emily Medvec
eXp Realty LLC - Santa Fe, NM
Realtor | Serving Santa Fe & Northern NM

Jennifer, this is a very provocative post on an ongoing watercooler discussion every Monday morning after agents have been ditched by a buyer on the weekend. What we do is qualify our clients with an interview. If the chemistry is right and they are 90 days out, we are available. Getting paid an upfront fee could potentially add more unqualified consumers and take more time. However, imagine what would happen if the large franchise brokerage models chose to implement the concept and making agents employees?

Feb 04, 2012 12:51 PM #19
Karen Salmon
Royal LePage Benchmark - Okotoks, AB
Okotoks Real Estate Agent

Love what Robert said about paying up front if chasing the market! As one's business grows I wonder if a retainer  could be used to weed out those that aren't serious about buying or selling. Interesting concept.


Feb 12, 2012 01:55 AM #20
Michelle Francis
Tim Francis Realty LLC - Atlanta, GA
Realtor, Buckhead Atlanta Homes for Sale & Lease


We do value our work and our time.  Folks realize that we are in this for their best interest.  We don't charge up front for sales, but do for leases. It's not an issue, they want us to help them.  I hear that time and time again.  I believe I could charge an up front fee, will have to figure out how to get that implemented.

All the best, Michelle


Mar 04, 2012 06:09 AM #21
Keller Williams Realty - Rochester, NY
Save The Most Money When Buying, Selling & Owning!

Jennifer, please tell us where to obtain your $500 script for those sellers, and hopefully, it can be adapted for buyers as well! 

Apr 07, 2012 07:47 AM #22
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