• The definition of sexy varies for real estate agents.
  • Agents should be professional and safe first and foremost, and then consider how to play up their allure, if at all.
  • More attractive agents make more money.

Scoping a Costa Rican time share a few years ago, Virginia real estate agent Claudine Ellis saw more of the listing agent than she wanted to.

“This girl had on a short see-through frock,” Ellis noted. “When she walked up the stairs in front of (my husband and me) … thongs and all … and she kept crossing her legs constantly when she sat across from us. You can imagine from there,” she added.

That crossed the line for Ellis, from sexy to inappropriate. The woman didn’t get the sale.

But that line can be blurry, especially for real estate agents whose work lives revolve around wooing clients.

What’s the distinction between alluring and professional, and should agents shun a sultry look or embrace one?

A group of agents pondered these questions in a recent post in the Raise The Bar in Real Estate Facebook group. As you would expect, the takes varied.

“I see no reason why we can’t be professional and sexy,” Tiffany Kjellander, owner of New Jersey brokerage Better Homes and Gardens PorchLight Properties, wrote. “Be you. Nothing sells better than you being you.”

“There’s room for beautiful, tasteful, professional women who take a nice picture,” she added. “Sales is marketing.”

Anyone with a pulse knows that sex sells. Science knows this, too.

More attractive agents earn more money, according to a 2012 social science study. Researchers determined agents’ attractiveness levels by showing survey respondents headshots of agents and asking them to rate each one on “physical attractiveness or beauty” on a scale of 1 to 10.

While more attractive agents do fewer deals than their less-attractive counterparts on average, each transaction they do is worth much more, the study showed.

Thinking about sexy all the time

Arlington, Virginia, agent Marcia Burgos-Stone thinks about how sexy she comes across “all the time.” Exasperated by this element of her job, she started the Facebook thread referenced above with a quasi-sarcastic query:

“How many sexy pictures is the right amount? More cleavage? More short-skirt photos? I often see sultry photos of agents on their business pages and I’m feeling unworthy of this career choice. Signed – What Am I Really Selling?”

Burgos-Stone often dresses in jeans and Chuck Taylors to downplay her sexuality, but she acknowledged that’s also a function of her business. Thirteen years into her real estate career, most of her clients come through referrals.

If she had to close clients out on in the wild, she’d dress up, particularly for listing presentations, she acknowledged. That doesn’t necessarily mean “sexy,” though, she said.

Burgos-Stone said the “sex kitten” look, featuring lots of legs and cleavage, harms real estate’s image. The public already has a hard time taking agents seriously, and there’s no need for agents to project a bimbo image to reinforce that, she said.

It’s possible for agents to be fashionable without flaunting their sexuality, she added. “We’re selling houses, not our bodies.”

Burgos-Stone wasn’t the only one to bring sarcasm to the conversation.

“Personally, meeting your clients dressed in nothing but saran wrap is an attention-grabber,” agent Heidi Golff wrote.

Some had a simple, straightforward take.

“Be professional, not sexy,” agent Joanne Lalli wrote.

What is sexy?

The line between sexy and professional is undeniably blurry. Does sexy mean suggestive and alluring, words whose meanings are also imprecise? Is any woman in a skirt or guy in an open-collared shirt sexy?

Or maybe sexy has nothing to do with attire.

“Some people look sexy in their grubbies, and some never look sexy even if they wear what they think are sexy clothes,” agent Lisa Kraft wrote.

“You can look sexy being covered from head to toe,” she added. “My aim is to make myself look good and appealing and not worry whether I look sexy or not, as long as I look appealing.”

Dress for geography

Commenters in the thread pointed out that agents should dress to fit their local environment.

For example, agent Jennifer Egbert pointed out that the “smokin’ hot” Facebook photo of her friend, agent Elaine Harper, jibed with her market.

“She lives in Dallas and there it’s ‘OK’ to be hot,” Egbert wrote. “I live in Boulder and my photo is totally wholesome. It can totally depend. If you’re in Iowa, I’d rein it in.”

Elaine Harper

Elaine Harper

Some agents questioned Harper’s look in the thread, and her response exemplifies the challenge of defining “sexy.”

I didn’t set out to have my pic be sexy or seductive,” Harper wrote. “And in my mind it isn’t. However, my marketing is, because I want to attract a certain type of client.”

“But that has nothing to do with my professional headshots,” she added. “I market to grab the attention of my niche, which is movers and shakers, entrepreneurs, quick, savvy clients.”

Meet client expectations

When in doubt about appearance, dress to meet client expectations, several agents noted.

If you live in a beach community, consider country-club casual, wrote agent Lisa Kraft.

Ellis, the agent who was turned off by the risque Costa Rican agent, noted that she adapts her attire for the type of client she’s meeting.

If she’s meeting a banker, she’ll wear a power suit. If a younger techie, she’ll dress more casual.

When dealing with a couple, female agents should be wary of grating the other woman if she comes off too attractive, Kraft added.

“Who wants to be sexier looking than the wife of the buyer?” she said

Be safe

Most important, be safe, several agents said.

“Not sexy is how sexy agents need to be,” wrote agent Tara Novak. “Unless you want to attract a killer and/or stalker.”

Editor’s note: Quotes from Facebook have been edited for style and clarity.

Email Paul Hagey.

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