Personal Advice Needed? Take a Number (Kindness of Strangers Edition)

Real Estate Agent with Chuck Willman 9334967-SA00

Thank Goodness For The Impartial Third Party.

Sometimes people don't want to ask personal questions of friends and family. There's too much invested... and so much history. Sure, family and close friends should be good at keeping a secret. But they can also be the worst.

Let's look at the potential downside: Family and friends can have their own agenda. Their advice can be self-serving and can sound like a lecture. And we may have to deal with them flipping our questions back on themselves- turning our question into their unrelated diversion. So, what does one do?

Sometimes we ask a stranger.

What does a stranger care? A stranger has no past experience with us. Yes, they may find us odd, but who better to reveal our "oddness" to, than a stranger who can chalk up our encounter as an interesting experience with some rando.

Let me illustrate.

Many years ago I was at the department of motor vehicles. I had taken my number and, preparing for the long wait, I found a spot away from the endless rows of chairs. There was a slight bend in the wall where they had placed two chairs. From here I could wait in peace.

Then a teenaged girl sat next to me. We both stared straight ahead until she made an unusual opening statement.

"I'm thinking of getting a Michael Jackson tattoo."

"One like this", she then stood up and did a moonwalk type pose with her arms outstretched as if she were holding up an imaginary cape.

Sitting down she turned to me and asked, "what do you think?"

Let me give a time reference. Unquestionably a world respected performer, that week Michael Jackson was in court defending himself against serious allegations involving children.

My first inclination was to act as an agent in alliance with my fellow parents of the world. Should my child ask a stranger about tattoos I would hope that stranger would carry out the duty to exercise sound parental advice, "this is not a great idea."

I also felt that I should treat her as a fellow human being. I should listen, question, share my thoughts, etc. As a fellow human, here was my careful advice:

"Well. When one gets a tattoo it's pretty close to permanent. You'll carry that ink forever. Also, if you get a tattoo of a person, you have to hope that person always lives in a way that you would be proud to advertise through your tattoo."

Silence. Pause.

Disappointed, she said, "OK. I guess I won't get it."


Then they called my number and I never saw her again. I assume she got the tattoo. I also assume that having one or not was really her decision. It wasn't up to me to force her to choose one or the other. But I did offer my advice as asked.


So. What does this have to do with real estate?

I have found that people often want to ask personal questions from someone who is not emotionally invested in our decisions. They want (or maybe need) a third party.

They may want a sounding board. They also may not want their family and friends to know their level of preparedness, their income and debt ratios, their reasons for wanting to live in certain places and in certain kinds of structures.

They value a third party... A person who will answer not as family, not as a friend but as a person who can dispense advice free from confusing drama.


As a real estate agent, this is my goal: To act in the best interest of the person who is about to make the largest financial decision of their life. I owe that to my fellow human beings.


Chuck Willman is a buyer and seller agent based in Utah. Lucy Willman is an agent for a new home builder. Together they provide guidance to those seeking advice from experienced real estate agents.

Media Credit: Photo by Vincent Botta on Unsplash

Comments (14)

Kathy Streib
Cypress, TX
Home Stager/Redesign

Chuck- what a wonderful and well thought out post. You are so right, often we discuss/disclose things to a stranger because we want that third person, unbiased "I don't know you" opinion. You gave that to her without judgment!  As professionals in whatever we do, that's the very least we can give our clients. 

May 02, 2018 05:09 PM
Chuck Willman

Kathy Streib There's a great deal of debate on other platforms like LinkedIn with regard to the topic of sales. Some would say that we are in a relationship sell business and others would say it's all about value selling. I don't know how to answer which is more important when it comes to real estate. 

I think that the trouble area is when it comes to personal opinion questions. The illustration I gave was a troublesome one to me. It wasn't sales related at all... just a stranger asking an opinion. I still don't know if I was helpful or not. But I've thought of that instance often when I'm with a client and they start to ask personal questions. I'd hope I could always be a combination of unbiased and helpful.

May 03, 2018 12:58 PM
Kat Palmiotti
406-270-3667,, Broker/REALTOR® - Kalispell, MT
Helping your Montana dreams take root

Oh my, I have had two sets of clients recently tell me the woman wanted more children, the man didn't, and what did I think. I laughed at both, put my hands out with fingers spread and said, "Oh no way, I'm not getting in the middle of THAT discussion!" and they laughed and we moved on. Helping with the house, sure. Helping with major family decisions, no way.

May 03, 2018 03:35 AM
Chuck Willman

Kat Palmiotti When we were building our house the architect asked how strong our marriage was. He said that he had two divorces among recent clients and was adding this question his upfront advice that emotions can become heightened when someone is making such a huge decision as building a home.

I think you got back on task quite nicely there.

May 03, 2018 01:09 PM
Anna "Banana" Kruchten
HomeSmart Real Estate - Phoenix, AZ

Chuck interesting that the girl asked you such a question. And your reponse was great!  I bet she didn't get one!!  And you're spot on with clients asking personal questions - of which I typically respond, well you've hired me to sell your home so it's best to keep it at that don't you think. Most do think so! A few press on and we go where it needs to go but it's always their personal choice! It doesn't matter what I think. It's their life.

May 03, 2018 11:34 AM
Chuck Willman

Anna Banana Kruchten CRB, CRS, Broker that's a good go-to response. It's interesting- some clients are easy in that real estate transactions can almost be like going through a checklist. With others, I wonder if they are seeing our interaction in a more personal light... in that, they want to feel they have a good working relationship with us.

I think this is one of those areas where we need to be extra careful. If we have a problem mixing up professional advice and personal opinion it can get problematic. 

May 03, 2018 01:18 PM
Kathy Streib
Cypress, TX
Home Stager/Redesign


    Thank you, Chuck & Lucy. 

May 05, 2018 06:04 PM
Chuck Willman

Kathy Streib I hope this post lives up to the level of your other mentions- you do such a great job of curating the weekly posts.

May 05, 2018 06:30 PM
Gabe Sanders
Real Estate of Florida specializing in Martin County Residential Homes, Condos and Land Sales - Stuart, FL
Stuart Florida Real Estate

Good morning Chuck and Lucy.  I couldn't have answered that young lady's question any better.  I try and answer all of my customers' question as best as I can.

May 06, 2018 05:25 AM
Sheila Anderson
Referral Group Incorporated - East Brunswick, NJ
The Real Estate Whisperer Who Listens 732-715-1133

Good morning Chuck. I understand this. It is however difficult when a friend lists with someone else.

May 06, 2018 05:44 AM
Sally K. & David L. Hanson
EXP Realty 414-525-0563 - Brookfield, WI
WI Real Estate Agents - Luxury - Divorce

Some people find it easier to confide personal things to strangers than reveal

parts of themselves to people they know.

May 06, 2018 05:59 AM
Brenda J. Andrew
Professional Realtor in Conroe/Willis, TX

I have to say that I am so impressed with your answer.  You were a mentor to someone you didn't even know by answering her question.  If more of us would speak into the lives of others the way you did, the world would be a better place.  Have a great day!

May 06, 2018 06:59 AM
Sheri Sperry - MCNE®
Coldwell Banker Realty - Sedona, AZ
(928) 274-7355 ~ YOUR Solutions REALTOR®

Hi Chuck & Lucy Willman - Ithought you provided that young girl with a great answer. It is so true, a unbiased person can help an individual much better than someone who is invested in that individual and slants the POV.

May 06, 2018 08:28 AM
Hella M. Rothwell, Broker/Realtor®
Carmel by the Sea, CA
Rothwell Realty Inc. CA#01968433 Carmel-by-the-Sea

Interesting. That reminds of a time I sat waiting for something and a gal said she was going to get  her LIPS tatooed. My comment was that she was young, and she would always be judged by, for example, an interviewer for a job. I felt it limited her choices in the marketplace. Someone else joined in the discussion and said he had a friend/relative who always wore long sleeves because of the tatoos. And, yes, a new client this weekend said he would NEVER hire a relative or friend because of what you describe.

May 06, 2018 01:46 PM
Grant Schneider
Performance Development Strategies - Armonk, NY
Your Coach Helping You Create Successful Outcomes

Chuck and Lucy - we can really be very good coaches and consultants.  It doesn't seem to work when we are dealing with family.

May 06, 2018 05:31 PM
Nick Vandekar, 610-203-4543
Long & Foster Real Estate Inc 610-225-7400 - Devon, PA
Selling the Main Line & Chester County

Always interesting as agents what clients ask us. This was an interesting post and I think your answer was good, so I think she thought about your repsonse and probably made an intelligent decision.

May 07, 2018 12:18 PM
Endre Barath, Jr.
Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices California Properties - Beverly Hills, CA
Realtor - Los Angeles Home Sales 310.486.1002

How did I miss this great post, I am so glad I stumbled on it... yes we try to give free advice to strangers... sadly not all agents have the skills to give good advice, hence one can only hope that the particular buyer and seller happen on a knowledgeable agent, Endre

May 17, 2018 11:11 PM
Mott Marvin Kornicki
Waterway Realtors® • Notary Public & Apostille - Sunny Isles, FL
Miami Notary & Apostille 786-229-7999

Sometimes it is best to heed our own good advice that we give to others!

Jun 03, 2018 06:53 AM
Chuck Willman

Mott Kornicki that is a critical aspect of advice giving, isn't it?

It's not my place to tell her whether to have a tattoo or not. And, since I'm not versed in this, it was a curious thing that she asked me. So... was my advice any good? I'm not sure. I did want to be helpful, non-judgemental, and also- not overbearing.

In real estate, we sometimes want to overplay the expert card. Our clients probably want less advice than we think. They probably want assurances that they are on track in their decision making. 

Jun 03, 2018 11:28 AM