Friendly Competition

It's not always easy, but these two neighbors who work for competing brokerages have found a way to keep it civil.

May 1, 2010

Be honest. When you hear that the husband and wife who just moved in across the street are both real estate practitioners, you’re probably less than thrilled. Nor could the news that your neighbor just got her real estate license make your day.

At a time when business has never been more competitive, the arrival of new competitors—er, colleagues—can sometimes feel like a cause for serious jaw clenching. But it’s not always as bad as it seems, and we’re the proof.

As longtime real estate professionals who’ve lived next door to each other for seven years—across the street from each other for 12 years before that—and who’ve always worked for competing brokerages, we know the importance of taking the high road and staying sociable while we prospect and network our way through largely the same territory.

We’re not best friends, but we’ve nearly always enjoyed a comfortable coexistence. We are both full-time, hard-working practitioners. With our combined 49 years in the business, we’ve come up with some suggestions for navigating common social and business terrain in communities like ours along the north shore of Chicago where it sometimes seems like every other person is one of us. In fact, on our block alone, four of about 20 home owners are real estate practitioners.

Don’t be a gossip. This may seem obvious, but not everyone abides. Badmouthing, gossiping, or otherwise undermining other real estate practitioners in the hopes of advancing your career will generally come back to bite you.

Be happy for others’ success. Professional jealousy is pointless. Allowing another practitioner’s big sale to fill you with envy is only self-defeating.

Generously share information. The more friends you have in this business, the more you’ll be in the know about activity in your community.

Don’t be all business all the time. When socializing with other practitioners, it’s best to put business on the back burner. In Karen’s office, for example, a group of colleagues regularly celebrate each other’s birthdays and other special occasions. BlackBerrys stay out of sight during the festivities, as hard as that may be!

Common Misunderstandings

Sharing a property line for the past seven years hasn’t been completely angst-free. Indeed, we can offer up a cautionary tale about the potential for misunderstandings, even among respectful colleagues:

Karen: The trouble began when I decided to buy the house next door to Sonia in 2003. At the time, I lived across the street from her. But when I heard that the owners were preparing to sell the French stone home I had adored for years, I made an offer before the listing even hit the MLS.

Sonia: I suspected something was going on with the property when I spotted a home inspection truck in the driveway. I went over immediately to tell my neighbor that I wanted a chance to bring buyers in to see the house.

Karen: When the neighbor said she was working with me, Sonia initially was confused and thought that I’d muscled my own buyer there first. But when she realized that I was actually the buyer, she backed off, no longer insisting that she bring in her own buyers.

But it was an awkward moment—and one we didn’t talk about until a recent meeting at Starbucks, when Sonia apologized for inadvertently causing an uncomfortable situation. With that incident behind us, harmony has been restored on our street—for the most part. There’s still the matter of my barking dog, which drives Sonia’s husband up the wall.

Sonia: Well, some neighbor squabbles are hard to avoid. But it certainly can get more complicated when you live next door to your competitor. I realize that it probably wouldn’t pay for me to put nails in Karen’s driveway so I can get to a listing appointment before she does (laughs).

Karen: Even if she did, that wouldn’t stop me! I’ve got two other cars, so I’d just have to drive one of them on her lawn to get to the meeting if I had to!