3 Words You Shouldn’t Be Afraid to Say

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I’m a real estate writer. If you asked me what’s the one thing you should write to generate leads, I would tell you: I don’t know.

There might be a loud gulp in between that, a little embarrassment, and maybe some internal sweating, but if you looked at the alternative -- if I lied -- which one would be worse?

We’ve all had these experiences. A friend mentions a name, or quotes a book, or slides in a movie joke. They expect you to know, but you don’t. You simply nod your head, mmhmm yup. Everyone else gets it, but you’re left thinking “Did I miss something? Why do I not know this?” And in that moment, you have two choices: Lie or tell the truth. I don’t know.

Not all of us are keen on letting other people, especially our clients, know we’re lacking in some answers. Homebuyers and sellers depend on you to know everything about real estate, right? So, today we’re going to discuss why you shouldn’t be afraid to mutter these three words: I don’t know.


It Provides Credibility

If you’re asked a question, and you respond with “I don’t know,” it lends credibility to everything you have said thus far (and are going to say). When you’re honest about not knowing the answer, it shows truthfulness. It builds trust … as long as you treat the question like a homework assignment. As long as you follow up with an answer later, they never mind. And it’s 1000x better than bullshitting a half answer.

Pro Tip: If you don’t already have it, set up a channel where you can ask for help (inside your real estate team or brokerage). Many teams use Facebook groups to provide support for each other. The goal is to leverage the knowledge and experience of others. By asking for their help, you’re bound to get better and more whole advice than you would find on your own.

Other Channels to Foster Collaboration: Slack, HipChat, LinkedIn Groups.


Acknowledge What You Don’t Know. See How BoomTown Trains You for Success.


Even Innocent Lies are Dangerous

Everyone commits a little fakery once in awhile. It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad either. Several times a week, we feign recognition or pretend to be delighted when we see an acquaintance. These acts are a form of kindness, in most cases.




However, there are instances where you might attempt to avoid embarrassment -- for fear of being ridiculed or thought of as “un-knowledgeable.” You’ll make a small lie or make a fluffy answer without any substance, all to protect your integrity. These actions lead to greater falsehood and could promulgate more fear. In real estate, this could lead homebuyers and sellers into a wrong decision -- one that could cost them their financial savings.

Telling the truth, wholeheartedly, should be your guiding policy, even when you think the lie is a small one.

Pro Tip: Table what you don’t know with what you do. By leading with what’s certain, you’ll establish trust with your listener and provide more context around areas you can confidently answer.


Saying “I Don’t Know” Shows Willingness to Learn

Admitting to not having the answer (or being able to respond right away) allows you to say you’re willing to learn and experiment until you find out. Here’s what Stephen Dubner, author of Freakonomics, had to say:


“Let’s be clear: Simply saying ‘I don’t know’ isn’t a solution. It’s just the first step. You have to figure out what you don’t know -- and then work like a dog to learn.”


By acknowledging something you don’t know, you also want to show that you’re invested in solving the problem. If a client asks a question you don’t have an answer to, simply respond: “I’ll find out.”

Or you could say: “That’s a good question, and I don’t want to give you a half-answer. Let me get back to you today and we can move forward from there.”


Be Afraid No Longer

Next time you find yourself in the situation, avoid nodding your head when you don’t know the answer to a real estate question. Give yourself permission to not know it at all. Simply acknowledge it and let the person know you will find out. This will reinforce your reliability and trustworthiness as a real estate agent.

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Nina Hollander
Coldwell Banker Realty - Charlotte, NC
Your Charlotte/Ballantyne/Waxhaw/Fort Mill Realtor

"I don't know" are three words that are important to know how to say, not just in real estate, but in any profession.

Jun 11, 2016 09:33 PM #1
Sam Shueh
(408) 425-1601 - San Jose, CA
mba, cdpe, reopro, pe

Mine is:" I will find out for you" and take notes of it asking for eMail. I weeded out those who do not want to know something they should know by refusing to provide their contact info.

 It is a quick way to sever my link with those skeptism whom I do not want to do business and save those contact for future.

Jun 11, 2016 11:24 PM #2
Sam Shueh
(408) 425-1601 - San Jose, CA
mba, cdpe, reopro, pe

That is more true with new agents who do not know the business. By BS given a made-up ans one is not likely get far affecting someone's credibility.

Jun 11, 2016 11:29 PM #3
Brian Schulman
Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage, Lancaster PA - Lancaster, PA
Lancaster County PA RealEstate Expert 717-951-5552

Don't be afraid to say "I don't know" - then follow it up with "I'LL FIND OUT!"

Jun 11, 2016 11:57 PM #4
Shirley Coomer
Keller Williams Realty Sonoran Living - Phoenix, AZ
Realtor, Keller Williams Realty, Phoenix Az

Not knowing the answer isn't the problem, but bluffing your way or not stating you will  get an answer is a problem.  In real estate giving wrong information when a buyer may be making the largest purchase of their lifetime could have devastating results!

Jun 12, 2016 12:28 AM #5
Patricia Kennedy
RLAH Real Estate - Washington, DC
Home in the Capital

Jaycie, I think that the one thing that adds tons of stress to real estate transactions is the little white lie, and people trying to keep track of what they said to which player.  Cool post.

Jun 12, 2016 04:55 AM #6
Andrew Mooers | 207.532.6573
Northern Maine Real Estate-Aroostook County Broker

If the agent, broker, REALTOR says "I don't know" too often, then the buyer or seller will repeat after them the same mantra. The trio of words that make them have doubts on the largest purchase or sale most ever make. Getting everything at listing, and not humming the words and fumbling along works best in today's fast paced real estate list, twist, sell (repeat). Don't lie, be informed so you don't have to sacrifice your ethics.

Jun 12, 2016 05:57 AM #7
Olga Simoncelli
Veritas Prime, LLC dba Veritas Prime Real Estate - New Fairfield, CT
CONSULTANT, Real Estate Services & Risk Management

I think too many of us are afraid to use those three words, but as you point out, there is nothing wrong with it. A good follow up would be "...but I will find out.", which also speaks to your comment regarding a willingness to learn.

Jun 12, 2016 06:19 AM #8
Makeda Phillander
guerilla/realty - Baltimore, MD
For an exceptional real estate experience

Excellent blog post!. I have always appreciated people who are humble enough to admit when they don't know something.

Jun 12, 2016 06:29 AM #9
Robert May
Robert W May - Lethbridge Real Estate - Lethbridge, AB
Real estate consulting

admitting you dont know is a sure sign of the best people.  I dont always know, but i will surround myself with people who do.

Jun 12, 2016 08:01 AM #10
James (Jim) Lawson, DBA
DomainRealty.com LLC - Bonita Springs, FL
Broker Associate, RSPS, BPOR, HI & PE

Sometimes when I get confronted with a question that I can't answer immediately I attempt to discuss the question with the questioner. At times the discussion elicits a thoughtful response that is helpful. If not, I simply say that I'll have to do some research to get a good answer for you.

Jun 12, 2016 08:02 AM #11
Praful Thakkar
LAER Realty Partners - Andover, MA
Andover, MA: Andover Luxury Homes For Sale

Great point Jaycie at BoomTown - yep, nothing wrong with 'I don't know'!

Jun 12, 2016 04:30 PM #12
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