[Note to Readers: The views expressed here are solely those of Ross Kaplan, and do not represent Edina Realty, Berkshire Hathaway, or any other entity referenced.]

As a Realtor, I know better than to challenge an acquaintance who, almost sheepishly, explains that they would’ve liked to hire me, but instead were obliged to use their [insert relationship here**].

Far be it from me to poison ” perhaps for years ” an extended family’s Thanksgiving or Christmas, or strain decades-old relationships (sadly, there don’t appear to be any large family gatherings on tap in the near future, strained or otherwise).

So, I’ll express empathy for the social tug they feel, and applaud their loyalty to family, long-time friends, or some such.

But, privately at least, I invariably think to myself, “Isn’t loyalty a two-way street??”

What kind of Realtor would put their financial self-interest ahead of their BFF or close relation ” especially if the agent is brand new to the business, (well) past their prime, or (heaven forbid) simply less than a top performer?

Even if the acquaintance is truly a stellar Realtor, if they sell mostly south of the (Minnesota) River, and their friend/relative is looking for a condo in Downtown Minneapolis, they may not be the best choice.

Put it this way: you seldom hear someone who needs back surgery say, “everyone says Dr. Smith is the most experienced surgeon for my procedure. But, my sister’s best friend is a newly-certified surgeon . . . we really have to use her instead.”

High Stakes

Thankfully, residential real estate transactions aren’t life-and-death affairs (usually).

However, given the price tag of even modest homes these days, even a single mistake can easily cost a home buyer or seller thousands ” or tens of thousands ” of dollars.

Or worse, cause a Buyer to lose out on their dream home.

Crucially, that risk exists even when the agent is experienced ” just not with the type of property (for example, multi-family) or location in question (see above).

Splitting the Baby

Fortunately, there are at least two alternatives for people who feel duty-bound to use a Realtor who may not otherwise be the best-qualified to represent them:

One. Co-list.

Nothing prevents a newbie agent from co-listing a property with a veteran agent at the same broker (note: co-listing between different brokers is more problematic).

The newer agent gets much-needed coaching and on-the-job training.

Meanwhile, the seasoned agent gets . . . a slice of the commission.

Two. Paid mentor.

At least when I was starting out (way back when), Edina Realty offered a paid mentor program for newer agents.

While the mentor didn’t formally get billing on MLS as a co-listing or Buyer’s agent, behind the scenes, they played much the same role, and were compensated for same (the range was 25% to 33% of the relevant commission, either listing or payout).

In fact, I opted for just this type of relationship for my first few deals (Thanks, Pam Gerberding!!).


So, why don’t you see these types of arrangements more often?

My four guesses (not mutually exclusive): 1) the friend/relative doesn’t appreciate the skill involved buying/selling real estate; 2) the agent doesn’t (yet) appreciate the skill required to buy/sell real estate; 3) the agent fears losing face if they bring in a more experienced colleague to assist; and —yup — 4) the Realtor-acquaintance’s financial self-interest.

All of which leads back to Realtors’ obligation to put their clients’ interests ahead of their own — the very definition of “fiduciary duty” (which Realtors are subject to).

**Other common relationships: sister-in-law; high school buddy; spouse’s first cousin’s brother, etc.

See also, “Realtor Job Description 2019“; and “How to Choose a Real Estate Broker in 2019.”

About the author

Ross Kaplan has 19+ years experience selling real estate all over the Twin Cities. He is also a 12-time consecutive "Super Real Estate Agent," as determined by Mpls. - St. Paul Magazine and Twin Cities Business Magazine. Prior to becoming a Realtor, Ross was an attorney (corporate law), CPA, and entrepreneur. He holds an economics degree from Stanford.

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