The Best Medicine

Lighten up! Finding humor in your work can help build stronger business relationships.

January 1, 2011

Some people in the real estate business take themselves way too seriously. You know the type: their demeanor stiff, hair perfectly coiffed, veneer impenetrable. Selling homes can indeed be serious business, but let’s not forget it can also be a heck of a lot of fun. Maintaining a sense of humor (or finding one, in some cases!) would behoove many of us, especially in this sad economic climate.

Laughter is particularly beneficial in our everyday interactions with colleagues. Recently, I was happily hosting a brokers’ tour for a hot new listing when a veteran agent with pursed lips stormed in, hissing, "How did you get this listing?" I replied lightheartedly: "Oh, it just fell in my lap. I guess the real estate gods smiled on me." She rolled her eyes, snatched a flyer from my hand and took off on her broom. (OK, it was her S-Class Mercedes, but it might as well have been a broom!).

To my surprise, Miss Congeniality submitted an offer  a week later on behalf of her  client. It was a multiple- offer situation, and we ended up going with a different buyer. But my client and I couldn’t help but think what a nightmare she would have been in escrow. No one is saying she has to be Kathy  Griffin, but would it have killed her to exchange  some light banter? No one wants to work with a sourpuss. (I suspect she’s watched one too many catty episodes of "Million Dollar Listing" on Bravo!)

A little humor is just as valuable when you’re working with clients. Case in point: Two buyers, Lulu and Carl, contacted me about viewing a house they saw online. The listing had no photos—I know, usually a bad sign—and it was tenant-occupied, so I couldn’t preview it.

When we all arrived, I flung open the door and our jaws dropped to the floor—we were visually assaulted by a sea of mustard yellow shag carpeting, psychedelic polyester drapes, and orange macramé plant holders hanging from the wall. I couldn’t tell if Lulu and Carl were shocked or upset, but I had to diffuse the situation fast. I blurted out, "Mrs. Roper lives here." They cracked up, and the laughter put some levity into the air.

Lulu and Carl later confessed that was the very moment they decided they just had to work with me. Instead of spinning it like some agents might ("The décor just needs a slight facelift" or "This house has a mid-late century feel"), they said, I just called it like I saw it. They took my frank and funny disposition as a sign of candidness, a quality that will endear most any client to you. When people are comfortable, their walls come down, paving the way for a trusting relationship to blossom.

But be forewarned. Humor can be a double-edged sword. If witty banter isn’t your forte, your efforts to crack a joke could easily backfire. The last thing  you want to do, for example, is show up late to a probate listing appointment for your client whose aunt just passed away, and say, "Sorry I’m late . . . but then again, so is your aunt!" Keep it professional.

Now, I realize that we can’t all be Oscar Wilde. Even if being funny isn’t your thing, don’t be shy about flashing those pearly whites. Never under estimate the power of a warm smile. Dwight Eisenhower said it best: "A sense of humor is part of the art of leadership, of getting along with people, of  getting things done." If that isn’t what being a real estate professional is about, I don’t know what is.

Bottom line, the purpose of humor for us in the real estate business is to make us more accessible. It humanizes us. So loosen up. It will do a world of good for you, your clients, and your transactions.

Note: Opinions expressed in  "Commentary" do not necessarily  reflect the position of the  NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®  or  REALTOR® Magazine.

Herman Chan is an  associate broker with Better Homes & Gardens Real Estate Mason-McDuffie in Walnut Creek, Calif.  Chan has appeared on  HGTV’s "House Hunters" and  "My House Is Worth What?"  He also produces an  online video series called "Habitat for Hermanity"  that takes a humorous look  at the real estate business.  He can be reached at