The Secret to Success in Real Estate

Real Estate Agent with Keller Williams Realty

Like me you probably hear lots of advertisements and infomercials where some man or woman in fancy clothes claims to have the "Secret to Success" in real estate or real estate investing.  Most of them seem to be about as phony as a Picasso dated in the early 18th Century, but for those who are interested there is a secret formula to success in real estate.  It can be summed up in the following stories that were passed on to me from a friend:

Cleaning Lady


During my second month of college, our professor gave us a pop quiz.  I was a conscientious student and had breezed through the questions until I read the last one: "What is the first name of the woman who cleans the school?"  Surely this was some kind of joke.  I had seen the cleaning woman several times.  She was tall, dark-haired and in her 50s, but how would I know her name?

I handed in my paper, leaving the last question blank.  Just before class ended, one student asked if the last question would count toward our quiz grade.  "Absolutely," said the professor.  "In your careers, you will meet many people.  All are significant.  They deserve your attention and care, even if all you do is smile and say 'hello.'"

I've never forgotten that lesson.  I also learned her name was Dorothy.



In the days when an ice cream sundae cost much less, a 10-year old boy entered a hotel coffee shop and sat at a table.  A waitress put a glass of water in front of him.  "How much is an ice cream sundae?" he asked.  "Fifty cents," replied the waitress.

The little boy pulled his hand out of his pocket and studied the coins in it.  He had been saving up for this treat for some time.  After studying the coins carefully he then inquired, "Well how much is a plain dish of ice cream?"  By now more people were waiting for a table and the waitress was growing impatient.

"Thirty-five cents," she brusquely replied.  The little boy again counted his coins.  "I'll have the plain ice cream," he said.

The waitress brought the ice cream, put the bill on the table and walked away.  The boy finished the ice cream, paid the cashier and left.  When the waitress came back, she began to cry as she wiped down the table.  There, placed neatly beside the empty dish, were two nickels and five pennies.

You see, he couldn't have the sundae, because he had to have enough left to leave her a tip.

By now you likely can see the true secret to a successful career in real estate.  It does not involve knowledge or experience, nor do you need some gimmick or a great marketing plan.  Admittedly, these are not bad things to have, but they do not guarantee success.  The true secret is simply people, and knowing how to serve them appropriately.  If you make sure to treat people right and show a genuine interest in their lives, struggles and concerns then they will be much more willing to trust you with their dreams and fears.  And lets be honest, when a client gives us the keys to their home to sell (or even to buy their home) they are often trusting us with their biggest asset and a portion of their dreams.

Comments (22)

David Spencer
Keller Williams Northland - Kansas City, MO
Show Me real estate in Kansas City

This story will not register with many of the agents that I meet today. establishing yourself as a professional is being replaced by: "I need more clicks because this is just a numbers game."


Jan 23, 2007 03:33 AM
Jim Lee
RE/MAX Shoreline - Portsmouth, NH
Portsmouth NH Realtor, Portsmouth, NH

The kid and the ice cream story has been around awhile but it's still a great example.

We all probably have people who do essential tasks behind the scenes we hardly ever see or ignore because they're 'invisible'.

We had a guy like that at our board I met accidentally one night at a meeting that ran way over. I got to talking to him and he had worked there for 35 years but unless you were there when he was you would probably never think to ask who carried out the trash.

Jan 23, 2007 04:20 AM
Jim & Maria Hart
Brand Name Real Estate - Charleston, SC
Charleston, SC Real Estate
These are great stories, and even greater lessons.  Thanks for posting them.  Getting back to these basics is something every agent should do. 
Jan 23, 2007 04:38 AM
Loreena and Michael Yeo
3:16 team REALTY ~ Locally-owned Prosper TX Real Estate Co. - Prosper, TX
Real Estate Agents
I absolutely agree with you. We need more sales people like you.....
Jan 23, 2007 04:54 AM
Jarrett Hunter
Royal LePage - Toronto, ON
Sales Representative
Thank you for that.  Sometimes this is an easy lesson to forget with heavy competition, marketing strategies and just being plain busy. Without people - no business.
Jan 23, 2007 05:48 AM
Shawna Green
Keller Williams Realty-Fayetteville - Fayetteville, NC
The key to your real estate needs!
Thanks for the reminder that everyone is important and we should never discount anybody that we come across.  Great stories to help get the point across.
Jan 23, 2007 06:35 AM
Kaushik Sirkar
Call Realty, Inc. - Chandler, AZ
Agreed.  Its all about the people, as well as the service and information you can provide to them!
Jan 23, 2007 06:45 AM
Alexander Harb
Knights Investing - Mesquite, TX
Dallas, Texas Real Estate Investing

Amen, amen, amen, Steve...being a servant from the heart is where it's at, my friend.... great entry!!!!


Jan 23, 2007 06:47 AM
Robert Hammerstein -201-315-8618
Christie's International Real Estate - Hillsdale, NJ
Bergen County NJ Real Estate

Hi Steven,

Looks like you hit that nail square on the head - in my opinion!  How we treat others will always come back to us.  In the words of one of my heros - "Instant Carma's Gonna Get You"!  That's the answer to life not just Real Estate.  I believe it's better known as the Golden Rule.  Works every time for us.  We may not be that "NUMBER ONE" agent out there that is laying claim to being the best in all the world but we earn a respectable living helping others and loving it!  Thanks for a truly inspiring Post!



Jan 23, 2007 07:32 AM
Daniel Lowery
1st Choice Real Estate - Jefferson City, MO
e-PRO, Broker - Owner
What a great post thank you, Just reminds you this is a people buisness and you should treat every one fair
Jan 23, 2007 10:28 AM
Patricia Beck
RE/MAX Properties, Inc., ABR, GRI, SRES - Colorado Springs, CO
Colorado Springs Realty

Steven, I love this post.  The most important thing is definitely taking care of people!!!  I love the story about the little boy and the ice cream :)  Thanks a lot!!

Jan 23, 2007 11:08 AM
Doug Beaver
Century 21 Olde Tyme - Corona, CA
Corona Norco Eastvale Riverside Homes
Customer Service or put plainly treat others with respect and honesty will go a long way. Great Post Definately taking care of people is where it is at. Shhh don't tell our competitors.
Jan 23, 2007 12:46 PM
Christy Powers
Keller Williams Coastal Area Partners - Pooler, GA
Pooler, Savannah Real Estate Agent
My eyes watered. That was so sweet and such a good post. Every word is true. Real estate is not just business. It's about personal relationships and how we are with everyone around us. We are in the business of people.
Jan 23, 2007 02:13 PM
Ryan Hukill - Edmond
ShowMeOKC Real Estate Pros of KW Elite - Edmond, OK
Realtor, Team Lead
Steven, GREAT post and a much needed reminder for many I'm sure. It's always good for us to take a moment to reflect on why we're really here and whether our priorities are showing that! Thanks for the reminder!
Jan 23, 2007 02:29 PM
Kaye Thomas
Real Estate West - Manhattan Beach, CA
e-PRO, Manhattan Beach CA
Steven.. I've always loved the story about the little boy and the ice cream.. when I did training one of the things I put in my training manual was that people didn't care as much about what you know.. as they wanted to know that you cared..
Jan 23, 2007 03:28 PM
Steve Leung
Silicon Valley Real Estate - Cupertino, CA

That's a great quote, Kaye, about how people care more that you actually care.  You can know every technical detail but if you don't care enough to empathize (not sympathize) with your client, it's hard to truly be their representative.


Jan 23, 2007 04:24 PM
Randy L. Prothero
eXp Realty - Hollister, MO
Missouri REALTOR, (808) 384-5645
Those little things make a big differene.
Jan 23, 2007 05:06 PM
Steven Holcomb
Keller Williams Realty - Plano, TX
Esq. - BBA, JD, GRI

One of the reasons for this post is that many of my clients come to me with bad past experiences in real estate or with a previous agent, thinking that I might be able to help them because of my legal background.  For the most part I have learned that the thing they usually want the most is someone to listen to their concerns, be understanding of their concerns, and then actively seek to alleviate those concerns or past difficulties.

I may get the initial contact because of my background and knowledge, but I have learned that I won't get them as a client without empathy, understanding, good listening skills, and a genuine desire to help them in their current circumstances.  Thanks for all the nice comments everybody.

Jan 23, 2007 05:25 PM
Brett Tousley
Keller Williams Realty - Richland, WA
Tri Cities Real Estate | (509) 420-0013
Nicely done Steve.  A great reminder that for all of the technology we now leverage, it's still a "people" business.
Jan 23, 2007 07:39 PM
David Abernathy
Waterfront Properties & Club Communities - Jupiter, FL
Palm Beach County Real Estate

What an awesome lesson!   I really enjoy post like this!


Jan 24, 2007 03:58 AM