A Good Reason to Laugh

Lighten up! Research suggests that leveraging your funny bone in real estate can improve your customer relationships and even your sales success.

November 14, 2014

Neighboring graveyards aren’t always viewed as a selling point by most buyers. But Mary Shelsby, a real estate professional with RE/MAX Realty Group in Pittsford, N.Y., promoted it on a rider to her For Sale sign. The sign read: “Quiet neighbors across the street!”

She also had a second sign made that said, “Great bones,” but she never had a chance to use it. The home sold too fast.

“The buyers bought the house specifically because of the cemetery — it’s their favorite place to walk their dog,” Shelsby says.

The use of humor can get you far in business. Indeed, research has shown that one of the best ways to improve your customer relationships is to get ’em to laugh.

Customers are more likely to want to work with a real estate professional with a good sense of humor, according to a 2008 study by Baylor University’s Keller Center, “What Do Consumers Expect From Agents?” The study also found that a good sense of humor can be a boon for your reputation.

Showing off a sense of humor is helpful when done well, according to author Karyn Buxman.

“Humor can be really helpful in real estate in making sales and developing relationships,” says Buxman, who speaks to businesspeople in many industries, including real estate, about the benefits of humor in the workplace. “But you can’t just let humor happen by chance. Be strategic. Start thinking of humor as a resource in your toolbox, not one that accidentally falls out every once in awhile.”

Buxman says humor has been shown to deflate stress, ease tension, create more memorable marketing messages, and improve rapport. It can also help diffuse a difficult client by getting them off balance for a moment while you regroup to address their needs or concerns, Buxman says.

But Is Real Estate Actually Funny?

Relationships can get tense in the homebuying and homeselling processes. Clients are often stressed and frustrated. But is laughter really the best medicine?

Real estate broker Herman Chan with Sotheby’s International Realty’s LuxSFHomes.com in the San Francisco Bay Area promotes his business as “real estate with a punch line.” He created a video blog about real estate and home design called “Habitat for Hermanity,” which pokes fun at the real estate business while also empowering buyers and sellers with real estate tips. The humor-laced messages helped Chan become a real estate personality who writes columns for media outlets like the San Francisco Chronicle and has been featured on HGTV’s “House Hunters” and “My House Is Worth What?”

“Fortunately or not, consumers are nowadays socialized to receive information with humor,” Chan says. “People tune into Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert for that very reason on TV and online. When was the last time a ‘60 Minutes’ piece went viral?”  

Chan says having a sense of humor is especially important for blogging and social media strategy. He has more than 35,000 Facebook and Twitter followers.

“[My sense of humor] gives people a reason to follow me online, and eventually reach out to me,” Chan says. “It is your chance to stand out from a sea of boring agents who just rattle off stats—snooze! I built my business from the two E's: educate and entertain. It's real estate infotainment.”



Humor takes many forms in real estate. Some real estate pros take a “Goofus and Gallant” approach to differentiate themselves in a packed field. For example, a video ad from the Harris Group in Vancouver, B.C., featured a fictitious agent named Gary Schlitz, ostensibly the worst real estate agent ever. In the video, Schlitz shares one of his best ways to promote his real estate business: “Ever hear about whisper marketing? I go around to high-market areas and whisper my name, Gary Schlitz, to passersby on the street. That generates a lot of hits every once in a while. And once I get a phone that will work out a lot [better].”

The take-home message at the end of the video: Don’t get stuck with that guy. The Harris Group will connect you to a real professional.

Other real estate professionals have experimented with adding humor into their marketing of individual listings. For example, in 2008, Bill McSpadden with Bill McSpadden Real Estate in Knoxville, Tenn., posted a rider on a For Sale sign for a new-home that said “Reduced, But Not Stupid or Desperate.” It was at the beginning of the housing downturn and he says the area was getting a lot of lowball offers.

Photo credit: Bill McSpadden, Bill McSpadden Real Estate, Knoxville, Tenn. (2008)

Shelsby—the agent who promoted her listing’s “quiet neighbors” in the next-door cemetery—says humor is an important trait to have in interactions with customers, too.

“Everyone knows how stressful buying or selling a property can be. So I will crack a joke, be a little silly, or do whatever it takes to get a smile and a deep breath out of my clients,” Shelsby says. “People make better decisions when they are relaxed, and what is more relaxing than a good giggle?”

Can I Be Funny?

You might think you don’t have anything funny to say, or that by cracking a joke, you’ll run the risk of looking unprofessional. Or maybe you just don’t see the humor in your local market. But you don’t have to be David Letterman to be successful at adding humor in professional interactions, Buxman says.

“The strategic use of humor means more than cracking a few jokes,” Buxman says. “It’s a systematic way to approach every single aspect of your career. Learning how to identify the lighter side, and using humor to bolster your emotional reserves, will make you happier too.”

Buxman says the first step is to change the way you filter your experiences, and start seeing the humor you might be missing all around you. “Part of discovering humor is playing with your mind-set,” she says.

One of the most overlooked places for humor is pain or stress. Next time you’re having a tough day, ask yourself, “How could this be worse?” In order to answer the question, you may find you need to exaggerate the situation to the point of absurdity. That can both bring you humor and help put things in proper perspective, Buxman says.

“Laughter doesn’t solve our problems, but it does make it easier for us to handle those problems,” Buxman says.

Even if you don’t consider yourself funny, Buxman notes that “some of the most successful in the comedy industry are not humor initiators but appreciators.” She suggests responding positively to others’ humor, and surrounding yourself with humor, whether it’s funny cartoons on your bulletin board, humorous e-cards on your social networking, or amusing YouTube videos bookmarked on your browser.

Overcoming Fear of Humor

Whether you’re a comedic genius or a joke-cracking novice, the worry that no one will laugh at your punch line is universal. Thankfully, there are a few ways to lower the pressure.

First, keep your jokes short. Buxman says one-line jokes get a chuckle more easily and people are more quickly satisfied. If you tell a five-minute story, there’s more expectation for an epically funny pay-off.

Always avoid race-, religion-, or gender-based jokes and any humor that makes light of serious violence. Also, you should always carefully consider your relationship with the recipient of your humor to decide whether it’s appropriate. If someone you’ve been working with for years ends up not finding your attempt at humor funny, they’ll probably get over it. But, “if you’re meeting a customer for the first time, use humor inappropriately and you’ll likely damage or ruin that relationship,” Buxman says. “The stronger the relationship, the riskier the humor can be.”

Self-effacing humor — poking fun at yourself — can be a good place to start.  

“When you poke fun at yourself, you show yourself as more human, and the listener often feels safer to share and develop a rapport that strengthens your relationship,” Buxman says. “The humor diminishes any perceived hierarchy, and the client feels more open to participate in the fun.”

Just don’t overdo it since you’re poking fun at one of your weaknesses, and you want to avoid any jokes tied to your credibility.