You are taught a lot in real estate school – how to close a transaction, industry practices and how to value a property, among other things. But sometimes the most valuable real estate lessons are learned outside of school.

“One very important lesson I’ve learned outside of school is unlike selling widgets, no two transactions are alike,” says Mark Dalton, broker of Bow Valley Realty in Banff, Alta. “Stay focused on the clients’ best interest by always performing duties and responsibilities professionally in order to help them achieve their goals and expectations.”

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In most cases, schools know nothing about real estate, says Larry Matthews, president and broker of Hants Realty in Stewiacke, N.S. “At the core of every real estate transaction is the customers/clients buying and selling real estate. To me that is the most important part of the equation. I care about what is best for them and always have,” he says. “Real estate is owned by people. Quite often people who need to sell their property or buy another property are not in the best of circumstances. There can be personal problems, financial problems, a death or any one of those knuckleballs life continually throws at us all. Real estate is about people in all kinds of different circumstances. No two circumstances are ever the same, just as the personalities are never the same. We are swamped with rules and regulations, forms and disclosures, courses and training.”

Matthews adds, “In 42 years, I do not once remember a course on caring and helping people solve their problems. So that’s my most important lesson. Real estate is about helping people solve their problems. All the rest is bullshit.”

Peter Fourlas
Peter Fourlas

Peter Fourlas, an agent with Royal LePage Realty in Regina, is a believer in constantly learning. “Continual education is paramount in an industry that is so dynamic. I am not talking about the stuff that our regulators make us take to keep our licences active and current. I am talking about keeping your finger on the pulse of the market in North America through periodicals such as REM and Inman. There is a lot of opportunity here for (everyone from) top producers to new agents to pick up tips on how to improve and adapt their systems.”

Fourlas continues, “That aside, there are thousands of sales books out there aimed at building and sustaining business. Over the years, I have picked up on little nuggets here and there that have helped me improve my business. Lastly, always listen to your trusted peers. I know I don’t know everything and when I have an opportunity, I love asking questions about how other top- producing agents continue to build and maintain their businesses.”

Kathy Amess, the broker of record and owner of Peak Professionals Realty in London, Ont. says you need to be in this business for the long haul, not just to win an award. “Some Realtors think that being No. 1 for a month or winning some award defines your career as successful and that couldn’t be further from the truth. A real estate career takes time and effort to build and even more work to sustain. Consistency in everything you do is the key.”

Scott Hanton, a broker with the Weir Team at Keller Williams Advantage Realty in Toronto says, “For long-term success, truly understanding your clients’ needs and putting them first is paramount. Clients should never have to ask questions because you’ve already prepared them for what to expect.”

Lynne Faucon, broker/manager at Coldwell Banker First Ottawa Realty in Ottawa, has had her license for almost 40 years. “The most important lessons I have learned outside of real estate school are to be creative, have a sense of humour and the importance of integrity. They may not naturally go hand-in-hand but in real estate, they are the perfect fit for a long and rewarding career.”

Cowboyd de La Boursodiere
Cowboyd de La Boursodiere

Cowboyd de La Boursodiere, owner of Les Immeubles Cowboyd Realties in Montreal and a member of The National Association of Realtors in the U.S., suggests avoiding school completely. “And stay away from meetings where agents tell you all about the market or start belly-aching and complaining. There will never be anybody there who you can sell anything to. Go out a lot, always carry business cards with you, talk to everybody and make yourself known. Whatever you do, set an example for other agents to follow, not one where you have to follow them. Make it your business to represent your vendors – they are the ones paying the commission, not the buyers. Like my late mother taught me, never forget who’s paying your commission. Buyers are like buses, there’s one every 20 minutes.”

Gord Leeson, an agent with Royal LePage Wildrose Real Estate in Olds, Alta. has found success by remembering to do two things: “Number one is to ask and the second is follow up. Neither works by itself, but if you do the two together, you’ll have a very successful career in real estate.”

Josée Legault
Josée Legault

Josée Legault, a broker at Via Capitale Innovation Real Estate Agency in Mont-Tremblant, Que., finds that she is still learning even after 22 years in real estate. She lists the following lessons that she has learned:

“Every transaction is different and dealing with different individuals can make things turn different ways.

“The non-verbal understanding and psychological importance in a transaction is something that is a constant learning process.

“The Wow factor: do the extra mile, do more than what is expected, think outside the box and you create fidelity from a client.”

And finally, “When a client is in awe with a property, let them dream. Wait for when they come back both feet on the earth and ask you your opinion. Emotions can make the buyer act surprisingly and sometimes it’s better to wait and respect his dream period.”


  1. one important item not mentioned in any of the above articles is that new salespeople need to be made aware that this is first amd foremost a “sales” industry. As a result newbies need to be trained in sales.
    As well, in order to be successful in sales you absolutely need to be competitive. If you are not competitive you can still make a living but you will never rise to the top.
    Sorry to burst your bubble but that is the truth. I have been licensed since 1995 and was never a top producer simply because I am not competitive or very ambitious. I am very good at what I do I am just not that driven to succeed .

  2. I love how self-congratulatory most agents are (including the above). I hate to contradict such obvious wisdom, but they DO teach all that “put the customer needs first”, “and listen to the customer” stuff in school.
    What they don’t teach is reality and how to find business, and none of the comments above offer any either. In school you are told that people sell their home every 5 years, and your personal sphere of influence (love that hokey term) will make you rich beyond belief. Just ask any of the Buffini’s or Robbins’ out there (for $2,400 a month). And finally if only it were true that 90% of “wannabes” fail out. The real problem is that most make enough money to just barely keep paying the various fees and dues one level of bureaucracy or another have their hands in your pocket for. THERE ARE TOO MANY AGENTS. Brokerages make money hiring agents – not selling houses. Plain and simple. Everybody and his brother-in-law is an agent. Life was different 40 years ago. Today it takes a lot more luck and hard work than it ever did back when a fancy name and a cowboy hat were all you needed.

  3. So much of real estate is tied to psychology. We’re in the people business. There are some agents who seemingly would kill for a deal and then there’s those who think it’s a winner take all procedure. I can’t tell you how many times in 38 years I was told that every time I put a transaction together it meant I was taking food out of someone else’s family’s mouth. I could never see the co-relation.

    Just one of many true life stories.

    An add-on to the initiation rights I was subjected to in 1980 as I was enveloped into my new career that would span the next 35 years, and certainly never taught in real estate classes:

    The gal who was so upset that I had not shared with her that I had enrolled my upcoming licence with the same trust company she had, made life difficult. Why? Because she could. And seem to know there was no comeuppance. It was as though her behaviour compensated for her lack of business success.

    Of course I didn’t know she had enrolled at the same real estate branch, so I couldn’t have shared with her even if that had been my intention. I had not mentioned my decision to anyone, for no particular reason other than I am and was a very private person. I saw no reason to flaunt my choice of real estate company.

    But she had “personality-power.” And she immediately put it to work, against me. And her hatred lasted years until she finally left the industry, a non-producer who hung in till her marriage broke up, and guess what? She bought a smaller home through one of her office buddies; oddly enough, one of my listings.

    I had made an instant enemy in real estate school when the instructor asked one day: who in the class would you list your house with. Much to my surprise the group all but one, chose me.

    Quite a surprise to me because I had never worked in a group environment as a professional. For no understandable reason that I could figure, the war on my success had started. Little did I know.

    I read every book I could get my hands on, attended seminars at my own expense, and watched and learned everything I could, with, I thought, both eyes open. But I never saw this issue addressed. They don’t teach or even broach such related topics as “competition” in the marketplace and what some agents will resort to achieve the winner’s plaque.

    Doors at the office were slammed in my face, often. Literally. Physically. Really. And the “F” word just popped out of colleagues’ mouths seemingly spontaneously. Even from agents at the large franchise office next door where I didn’t know a single person. Our offices shared a main floor lobby.

    Others in my office would literally sit and stare. Huh? The power of such staring is physical. But what was the childlike purpose?

    Then I learned we could work from home. So I did. In the office back-room bullpen so-called, there was a production white board that carried a monthly change of names of the top ten producers out of twenty-six sales reps. changed by the manager at month-end each month.

    The first month, February, I was number seven on the white board. Where’d all that business come from, colleagues wanted to know. Just doin’ a what came naturally!

    The next month perhaps number four or number three. And when I left the firm in month seven, I was at the top of the board. Accused constantly that the manager was feeding me business. He wasn’t, and never did. Not at any office I worked at. But I tired of the accusations. Little did i know I went from the frying pan into the fire.

    A couple of top agents there for years, had actually quit and joined the new franchise next door, giving as their reason: the new agent is doing far too much business. It’s impossible she is generating such high production on her own. The boss must be feeding her. They reported to head office president as their reason for leaving.

    An agent who was the wife of a later new franchise broker owner that I had never encountered, slammed the lobby door in my face one day when I had a client with me, cursing out loud using the “F” word multiple times. Get the “F” out of my way as she nearly broke down the main glass door in such hurry to access. True! The person with me and I were both non-plussed and just stepped aside.

    Yet, she, too, years later sold my listings. When you have the product their buyer wants, it’s surprising what people will do. I was always polite but never warm and cuddly with such people. Strictly business, I became known as the “no-nonsense” agent! Better do it right the first time or she’ll send you back to do it again.

    Another curiosity while arriving to show my buyer lawyer a listing, as another agent was leaving the MLS listed property, he too, literally spewed volatile expressions (amazing language from a so-called top producer) as he was leaving the doorway, I had no idea there was anyone in the house, no car in the drive, and a closed lockbox on the closed door, telling me to get off the property and never come near a property he was at ever again. Appointments were logged back to back, so many. My buyer was gobsmacked. And still remembers that event all those years ago, in 1985.

    I had initially signed on in February but my actual physical registered paper licence didn’t arrive till April. I shouldn’t have been working officially those first couple of months, but I didn’t know that. No one had taught that in real estate school, either.

    Do you know that you can be requested to produce your real estate licence by anyone at any time and place and you had best have it on your person, much like your driver’s licence?

    The regional manager and the office manager had decided “let her loose,” and put my transactions in the manager’s name. What did I know? I was quite simply “driven” to succeed. The defined representation concept, unbeknownst to me was in my blood. And as was my case in my prior career I dotted every “i” and crossed every “t” and never rushed anyone.

    What did I know about such things! I had seven live listings on the listing board the day I left and they had to be kept by the corporation.

    I didn’t announce my leaving but I presented the manager with a heavy weight metal ruler as a thank you gift for having hired me. Having no experience. The listings were put in a hat and drawn for by agents at the next day’s meeting and they all sold within a matter of days. The leaving move was a spontaneous act on my behalf, but I never looked back. That’s when I learned listings belong to the company not to the agent. I didn’t let that stand in my way, and wrote an apology letter to my sellers.

    But here’s the non-bridge-burning story. There weren’t many listings in the geographical location I had elected to work, soon after. But I had one in the most desirable location. So, one of the agents who stared but never spoke to me in the several months I worked there, showed it to her buyers.

    And lo and behold she brought a COF offer. There was very little talking but her offer was accepted by my seller. However the transaction was going to fall apart. Her people couldn’t get the needed financing. She notified me early in the condition timeframe that the transaction would not come together.

    A lightbulb went off in my head. I had a mortgage broker contact I had personally done business with since 1972. I invited her to submit her buyer needs to him knowing if it was doable he would help her. I notified him that she might contact him. He put that transaction together.

    And of course that would in turn help me. My sellers wanted to buy the bigger MLS vacant relocation house for sale across the street and that would mean their children could stay in their same school.

    I still remember her words: “You’d do that to help ME? after how badly I treated you?” Well, not exactly just to help her.

    It became an odd business relationship of sorts. She came to my home with a small gift when I recovered from major surgery, and she was on the invitation list at my daughter’s pre-bridal engagement dinner. But we never lunched or visited other than that. She was not well and retired soon.

    But it’s an odd story of reciprocal action. You just never know where life leads you. She did other business with that mortgage broker. We never know who knows whom, where. Others benefited from the introduction. Do they teach such things in real estate courses?

    Carolyne L ?

  4. Love this article and the folks who participated therein. Especially love the “bullshit” line and the “In most cases schools know nothing about real estate.” line. Pink Floyd’s “We don’t need no education” line from “The Wall” album immediately came to mind. Learning from experience trumps sittin’-on-your-ass book- larnin’ every time. I would posit that if ten wannabes were thrust into the field on an apprenticeship appointment working with a seasoned professional for one year, sans any real estate university indoctrination, more than one would make it going forward. Of course, the real estate training puppy mill would lose its income. It’s all about the money people; always has been.

    Seriously: of course, wannabes need industry-specific education, but, upon graduation what they need most is hands-on experience in the field, with real people involved in real situations, instead of practice sessions with dummies. Why do up to ninety percent of grads fail within two years? Woeful hands-on unpreparedness comes to mind. It’s a crap shoot after all. That’s some kind of professional development program, is it not.

    “If you don’t eat your meat you can’t have any pudding! How can you have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat!”

    There is no meat in professional real estate development programs, so far. Those few who become professionals were professionally-minded from the start. The rest fail.


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