For agents only! Recommended etiquette for broker’s tour.

Tips for agents (and the occasional gate-crashing civilian).

I know that as soon as I say agents only! every civilian will want to read this post, so I’ll tell you what “broker’s tour” is. Most of the general public doesn’t know, and probably doesn’t care, that real estate agents in this area get to check out the newest inventory by attending agent-only open houses, strung together in something called a “broker’s tour”.

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I first learned about broker’s tour, not as an agent but as a civilian, and I learned about it the hard way, as I suspect most civilians do. Actually, my wife learned about it the hard way, by finding an agent parking in our driveway just as she was backing out of the garage on her way to an important appointment. The agent, there to see our next-door neighbor’s house, refused to move, assuring her he’d “only be a minute”. And, bless his pointed little head, he was. That was seventeen years ago and to this day I fantasize about what I would’ve done if I’d been there. Later, when I became an agent, I found out that of all the agents who’d toured that house, he was the one least likely to have a buyer for it.

Broker’s open houses are held, not on the week-end, like civilian open houses, but on regularly-scheduled week-day mornings. That’s because they aren’t open houses in the usual sense, intended to let potential buyers see homes for sale, but instead are introductions of new listings to the agent community. Despite this, the occasional buyer or neighbor sometimes crashes the party.

Each area has its own “tour day”. Tuesday morning is broker’s tour for San Mateo County. In Santa Clara County, new Palo Alto, Mountain View and Los Altos listings are toured each Friday morning, while Thursday morning is tour day for Sunnyvale, Santa Clara, Cupertino and parts of West San Jose, and Wednesday is Campbell, Los Gatos and Saratoga’s day to shine.

But since this is real estate, even these simple statements have exceptions.

For example, even though Menlo Park and San Mateo are both in San Mateo County, and both cities tour their new listings each Tuesday, tour starts at 9:30 in Menlo Park and (as far as I can tell) 10:00 in San Mateo. Which must be why the handful of San Mateo agents who occasionally get Menlo Park listings show up at 9:55 to find a line of impatient agents. Which brings us to broker’s tour etiquette tip number 1:

Know when tour starts.

Another interesting example of regional differences is that tour also ends at different times in different areas. In Palo Alto, tour ends promptly at 1:00. I just lied. Tour is supposed to end promptly at 1:00, but you can always count on a few stragglers. In Santa Clara, on the other hand, tour ends promptly at 12:30, at least theoretically. I learned this the first time I toured Santa Clara and barged into a house at 12:55 while the listing agent was telling her client how tour had gone. Which brings us to broker’s tour etiquette tip number 2:

Know when tour ends.

Not all agents tour. Those who do regard touring as a sure-fire sign of A-1 professionalism, but I’ve found that some very professional (and quite successful) agents never tour. Especially when gas was selling for over four bucks a gallon.

And not all cities or neighborhoods take touring seriously. It’s not unusual, for example, for a new San Jose listing to not be on tour. But it’s extremely unusual for a Palo Alto listing to not be toured.  Sunnyvale homes get good attendance, but homes in Santa Clara, the next city to the south, can get a light turn-out.

Besides seeing new inventory, touring is a great way for agents to network with other agents, up close and personal. Touring has even, now and then, led to a sale that otherwise would never have happened. Touring is also a great way to remind your fellow agents that you’re neither retired or dead.  So touring is good.

Up to a point. Because some agents apparently do nothing but tour. They know local inventory backwards and forwards and never seem to have a client for it. New agents get a free pass on this, because even the newbie who’s spent her entire life in a particular city needs to go out and look at as many tour homes in that city as possible, in as many different neighborhoods and price ranges, to get up to speed. But this free pass is only good for a year or so. After that, any agent, new or veteran, should have a darn good reason for walking through the door. Like tour food. Or a coffee cart. Which brings us to broker’s tour etiquette tip number 3:

Know when to tour and when not. Just enough touring enhances your credibility, while too much demolishes it.

And you thought selling real estate was easy.

By the way, the mention of tour food reminds me of a friendly warning I once gave an agent unintentionally blocking my access to a table groaning with high-end goodies, which I’ll pass on as broker’s tour etiquette tip number 4:

Never stand between an agent and food.

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Agents who tour should remember two things. First, we are humble guests in someone else’s neighborhood. We are not Marlon Brando in Rebel Without A Cause, swooping down on a sleepy town with our hell-raising buddies. No matter how much of a hurry we may be in—and, yes, time is money—it’s never appropriate to enter a neighborhood on two wheels.

Once safely and discretely within the neighborhood, show some tact in how you park. An agent once told me, “Agents don’t park their cars, they abandon them”. Parked three feet from the curb, at an odd angle and partially blocking traffic seems to be a enduring favorite. This could be laughed off as a lovable quirk of the real estate industry, were it not for the handful of agents who seem to go out of their way to indulge in what I call “statement parking”. Like agents who park half-way into the driveway of the house on tour so that no one can use the sidewalk. Like agents who park all the way up on the sidewalk. Like agents who park blocking the driveways of nearby homes. Like agents who park in the driveways of nearby homes.

I once saw an agent slowly, carefully and precisely park so that she blocked a neighbor’s driveway, even though mine was the only other car parked on the street, and even though it meant she’d have to walk an extra fifty feet to get to the house on tour. When the listing agent asked her to move, she did so grudgingly, protesting that she was “only going to be a minute”. Which must be a phrase these knuckleheads learn in the license factories.

I’ve seen other agents, apparently in another world millions of galaxies away, block a neighbor’s driveway and nonchalantly amble away like what they’d just done, to the neighbor and to the reputation of their industry, was just swell. It’s like they think a real estate license gives them police powers. I’m waiting for the day one of them blocks an intersection and starts directing traffic. Which brings me to broker’s tour etiquette tip number 5:

Don’t park like you sit on your brains.

Once out of your car, try not to act too much like a real estate agent. Yes, I know, it’s hard, but when I see the kinds of people typically found in a quiet residential neighborhood at 10 AM on a week-day—babes in arms, young mothers, old duffers and other innocents—and compare them to us as we leap out of our premium sports sedans and swagger down the street, the contrast is, well, piquant. It’s like the circus just hit Mudville. Which brings me to broker’s tour etiquette tip number 6:

Remember, we are ambassadors, for good or ill. People are watching us, peering at us, spying on us, gaping at us and judging us.

Once inside the home, a few more hints. Even if the person hosting the tour isn’t the listing agent, chances are pretty good that he or she has feelings and might appreciate being treated like something more than the furniture. This nobelesse oblige includes such niceties as “hi” and “goodbye” or “thank you” and refraining from thrusting the flyer back in the hostess’s face or otherwise acting like you’re having a bad year. And if you are having a bad year, please don’t share, at least not at the top of your lungs. Tipping the hostess is suggested but not required.

Please also be careful about what you say about the house, because the walls have ears. And not just the walls. The owner may still be there—although why she’d be there, that morning of all mornings, sorting through forty-six years of memories, only her agent would know—and overhear you snickering about the shag carpeting.

This caution also applies to you civilians who’ve managed to wander into a home on broker’s tour, either because you were invited in or, more likely, because the hostess was looking the other way. Some listing agents embrace civilians like they were old friends, while others shoo them away. If you’re a neighbor out for her morning constitutional who’s gotten past security, please realize that the people who belong in the house, agents, aren’t there to get bottled up behind you while you gawk at the seller’s family photographs.  We’re there to work.  Mostly.

And please, no catty comments about the seller’s decor. Remember, you are a guest. And, besides, you should hear what we’ll say about your house.

copyright © John Fyten 2009

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