When I started selling in Manhattan (which is a year and a half ago now, but trust me, I’m still a rookie) I had no idea where customers came from.

The nice thing about being part of the Inman family is that it gave me the ability to quiz senior agents from different parts of the country, and they all said pretty much the same thing: It’s hard to start, and then you get referrals.

Well, I had pretty much no idea what they were talking about because, since real estate was a second career for me, my good friends were demographically ill-suited to be clients. The ones who were going to buy had already bought. Just as bad, we were all a little too old to be part of that just-out-of-college, gossipy, lightning-fast referral network we used to have.

But now, it’s starting to happen, and I finally get it. People you know tell people they know to call you, and dealing with those people is a heck of a lot easier than pimping for others through postcards or advertising (though I’m still convinced that you have to do everything) .

But here’s the thing, there’s a referral cycle, just like there’s a buyer cycle or a selling cycle.

And as part of that cycle, you have to thank your referrer IMMEDIATELY.

I have slowly picked this up through hard knocks; I wish someone had told me when I started. I try to keep it in mind as a rule, and every time I violate it, it’s like leaving the dirty dishes in the sink – there’s a time when I come to face facts, and I’m really, really sorry.

If you thank your referrer immediately, there’s goodwill all around. Your referrer thinks of you, gets thanked, and that reinforces the behavior, so they’ll refer again.

Also, they figure if you call them quickly, you’re organized and on top of your game.

If you wait, you get tied up with the client. The chances of you finding them what they want immediately are pretty slim – I had one relo, a renter, who moved in two weeks after I met her, but that’s pretty rare. Usually, you get caught up in the search, and then you forget to call the referrer, or you figure it’s been long enough that you might as well wait until you have a successful outcome and then you can announce something.

Sometimes it works that way, and you do a deal, and buy everybody thank-you presents at the end. You still end up looking gracious and encouraging the referral behavior.

But sometimes, your search for a new home for the new client turns bad. Maybe you were referred as some kind of miracle worker, who is expected to take a few dollars and stretch them into a McMansion. Maybe this client got fed up with previous real estate agents who showed her what she could afford in the area she wanted, and there’s nothing you can do that they didn’t do.

So then, you have to have an awkward conversation with the original referrer, where you go, “Oh, thank you for your previous business, and thanks for referring your friend Mariah, but I’m afraid I can’t really help her, because she has no idea what things cost, so I am sending her over to an agent in another state, because that’s where she’ll have to live on her crazy budget, but I do appreciate you thinking of me, could you send someone rich next time? Luv ya, bye!”

I am joking, but not that much, and it is always an unfortunate conversation to have. How much better to say “thank you” when everyone is still on the honeymoon.

If you are at a loss for words, google “thank you for the referral” and you can even get templates.

The other plus to being a fast thanker is that sometimes the person referred won’t have contacted you yet, and your referrer will have a quick conversation with them and kick ’em in the pants. This happened to me just this week, when my friend Peter sent over two names. Neither one of them had called me within 48 hours, but I called him to say, “Boy, oh boy, thanks for thinking of me, neither of them has called but I’m sure they will.” The result of that call was, he lit a fire under one of them.

Now that’s something to be grateful for.

Alison Rogers is a licensed salesperson and author of “Diary of a Real Estate Rookie.”

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