The Emergence of the Selfless Real Estate Agent

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174_used_car_salesman.jpgAs many of us know, real estate agents have a reputation similar to that of sleazy used car salesmen. They frequently rank amongst the least trusted of the professions – right down there with politicians. (I was an agent once, and yes, my family and friends couldn’t look me in the eye for a while)

The good news is that someone is finally doing something to change that impression (actually I know quite a few amazing real estate agents, but I’ve got a point to make here people!).

Meet Gerald Leonard, owner of Coastal Elite Real Estate. This guy has created a commission donation program that is not only innovative, but also quite generous. Mr. Leonard will reduce his commission by 50% under the condition that his clients will donate that commission-savings to a mutually-agreeable charity, paid out of escrow at closing.

Leonard points out that commission-donation programs help realtors in three ways:

1. Differentiates via Cash Back from the IRS and State government (when applicable): When commission rates are identical, clients save more money by working with an agent that will give them the credit at escrow for a donation to charity (which generates a tax deduction for the client)

2. “Closes” New Clients by Building Trust: During the “beauty contest” when real estate agents try to sell themselves to prospective clients as worthy of trust, they offer similar stories of civic-minded involvement in their communities. But a commission-donation program to a mutually-agreed charity shows who to trust, in actions, not words.

3. Turns Former Clients into Enthusiastic Referrals: Past clients will be happy to tell future prospects, “I sold my home through XYZ, supported a good cause, and got a terrific tax deduction.”

Gerald Leonard appreciates the considerable marketing benefits, but at this point in his career, his primary motivation is simply giving back to his community and encouraging other realtors to do the same.

Leonard has set the bar quite high for others to follow. Hopefully others will follow his lead in their selflessness, and maybe the real estate agent can once again be looked at as a respectable authority in our communities.

About Author

Joshua Dorkin

Joshua Dorkin is a serial entrepreneur, investor, podcaster, publisher, educator, and co-author of How to Invest in Real Estate. He started BiggerPockets to help democratize the real estate investing landscape for himself and others, aiming to make it accessible for everyone, regardless of income or education. Today, BiggerPockets is the premier real estate investing website online with over one million members and reaching over 70 million people with the message of financial freedom through real estate investing. Joshua, along with his wife and three daughters, make their home in Denver, Colorado, and spend any time they can traveling, exploring, and adventuring. Read more about Joshua’s story in 5280 and


  1. Good to hear someone else is doing there bit to help the poor name for agents out there…
    Readers may like to visit my blog and read the article on “agents are on your side, aren’t they…”

    Keep up the good work!

  2. Hey Norm – You’re giving away all of your secrets!

    Actually, I think you’re dead on. By advertising that you’re a top producer, all you’re telling your clients is that you’re getting paid. It doesn’t reflect your skills in any which way. I know a real estate agent who doesn’t know her head from her a**, but she is a top producer because whe is very attractive.

    Do you want her representing you?

  3. Thanks for the post.

    Here are my 11 Questions To Ask Before You Hire A Real Estate Agent

    “You Need To Know The Answers To These Questions Before You Agree To Work With Any Agent.”

    Not all real estate agents are the same! If you decide to seek the help of an agent when selling an apartment project or commercial-investment property, you need some good information before you make any move. Selecting the right agent is a most critical issue, one that can cost or save you thousands of dollars.

    There are very specific questions you should be asking to insure that you get the best representation for your needs. Many agents would prefer that you don’t even ask these questions because the knowledge you will gain from their honest answers will give you a very good idea of what outcome you can expect from using this agent and, let’s face it, in real estate as in life not all things are created equal.

    Hiring a real estate agent is just like any hiring process with you on the boss’s side of the desk. It is critical that you make the right decision about who will handle what is probably the single-largest financial investment you will ever make. Whether you decide to sell an apartment project or commercial-investment property on your own or hire a professional to handle it for you, there are certain key fact that can literally cost or save you thousands of dollars.

    1) “What is your company’s sales record?”

    It may seem like everywhere you look many commercial real estate agents are boasting about being Number One for this or that or quote you the number of properties that they have sold. If you are like many apartment/commercial property owners, you probably have become immune to much of this information. After all, what should you care how many properties one sold over another. The only thing you really care is whether they can sell your apartment project or commercial-investment property for the most amount of money.

    Because you want your project sold fast and for top dollar, you should be asking the agents you interview how many properties they have sold. I’m sure you will agree that success in real estate is selling apartment projects or commercial-investment property. If one agent is selling a lot of projects where another is selling only a hand full, ask yourself why this might be. What things are these two agents doing differently?

    The number of apartment projects or commercial-investment properties an agent sells will give you an indication of how serious they are about their real estate career. Is this a hobby for them or a serious business into which they put all their time and expertise into. You may be surprised to know that most agents sell fewer than 5 apartment projects or commercial-investment properties a year. This volume makes it difficult for them to do a full impact marketing on your apartment project or commercial-investment property because they can’t raise the money it takes to afford the advertising and special programs to give your project a high profile. Also, at this low level they probably can’t afford to hire an assistant, meaning they are running around trying to do all the parts of their job themselves, undoubtedly short-changing a lot of their clients.

    2) “Where do you rank within your company?”

    Within a company every agent will have the same resources and opportunities. How well they thrive on this level playing field will give you further indication of how successfully they will sell your apartment property.

    3) “How many full-time assistants do you have?”

    “Do you have a listing coordinator?, a customer service manager?, a marketing coordinator?” Most agents work all by themselves or pair up with another single agent, making it very difficult for them to provide you with a consistent, superior level of service. The job of real estate has many, many varied parts to it. Just as you wouldn’t expect a doctor or a lawyer to answer phones or type letters, your real estate agent shouldn’t be spending his or her time on simple but time-consuming tasks that could be delegated.

    If this agent does not have assistance to cover the areas mentioned, you should ask yourself how much time does he or she really have to spend to get your apartment project or commercial-investment property sold?

    4) “What are your marketing plans for my apartment project or commercial-investment property?”

    How much money does this agent spend in advertising the apartment project or commercial-investment properties he or she lists versus the other agents you are interviewing? In what media, newspaper, newsletters, magazines, etc. does this agent advertise? What does he or she know about the effectiveness of one medium over the other?

    5) “What apartment project or commercial-investment property(s) have you sold in my area recently?”

    Agents should bring you a complete listing of both their own and other comparable apartment project or commercial-investment property sales in your area.

    6) “Does your broker control the advertising you do?”

    If your agent is not in control of their own advertising, then your apartment/commercial-investment project will be competing with advertising space, not only with this agent’s other listings, but also with the listings of every other agent in the brokerage.

    7) “On average, when your listings sell, how close to the asking price is the selling price?”

    The information is available from the local real estate board. Is this agent’s performance higher or lower than the board average? The performance on this measurement will help you predict how high a selling price you will get for your apartment project or commercial-investment property.

    8) “How many buyers are you currently working with?”

    Obviously, the more buyers your agent is working with, the better the chances of selling your apartment project or commercial-investment property quickly. It will also impact the price, because an agent with many qualified buyers can set up an “auction-like” atmosphere where many buyers bid on your apartment project or commercial-investment property or commercial-investment property at the same time.
    Ask to see a list and ask them to describe the system they have for working with these buyers.

    9) “Why should I list my apartment project or commercial-investment property with you?”

    It is a much tougher real estate market than it use to be. What unique marketing plans and programs does this agent have in place to make sure your apartment project or commercial-investment property stands out favorably versus other competing projects? What things does this agent offer you that others don’t to help you sell your apartment project or commercial-investment property with the least amount of hassle and for the most amount of money.

    10) “Do you have a reference list of clients I could contact?”

    Ask to see this list and proceed to spot-check some of the names.

    11) “Do you specialize in apartment projects or commercial-investment properties?”

    Make sure you ask to see if the agent does specialize in the marketing of your kind of property. It does you no good to have an agent that is having Open Houses on Sunday and trying to sell a condo on Tuesday, showing houses on Wednesday, etc., all the while trying to market your apartment project or commercial-investment property. This lack of knowledge and commitment to your apartment project or commercial-investment property will cost you time and money in the sale of your property.

    You need to consider spending BUSINESS TIME on only those who are going to contribute to your bottom line and goal achievement. All else needs to get put into the “we’ll get back to you” pile. It is easy to get locked up with people that do nothing but take up your time. Don’t do it. I constantly have people wanting to meet with me, talk with me, etc. that don’t contribute to the achievement of my goals they get put on the bottom of the pile and sometimes I never get back to them.

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