To be successful in this whacky business, you have to build relationships. What’s the one thing that all relationships have in common? Trust. Here’s how to build trust regardless of how well you know the person.

Jay Thompson is a former brokerage owner who spent over six years working for Zillow Group. He retired in August 2018 but can’t seem to leave the real estate industry behind. His weekly Inman column publishes every Wednesday. 

Relationships matter in real estate and life.

Real estate is hard. Not rocket scientist hard; relationship hard. You’re working with stressed-out people who are entering into what is likely the most significant financial transaction of their lives. The real estate transaction is complicated, emotional, infrequent and expensive. 

In many cases, you know very little about your clients, and they know little about you. You’re holding transactions together with duct tape and baling wire, playing therapist and talking your client off the metaphorical ledge. 

Real estate is hard. It can be exhausting to deal with people and all their quirks and insecurities. Relationship-building is one of your primary functions, it’s how you secure clients, and people make relationship-building no easy task. Everyone is different. Although there are many similarities among those looking to buy or sell a home, all those human idiosyncrasies make each relationship different and sometimes difficult.  

There is one thing that every relationship has in common — every single one, whether it’s with your spouse, kids, family, friends, co-workers or clients.    


Relationships fundamentally boil down to trust. That trust has to go in every direction — you have to trust your clients, and they have to trust you. Frequently forgotten or ignored, you also have to trust yourself. 

How does one go about building trust with someone who is, in most instances, a complete stranger? 

You’re advertising probably doesn’t do it. Just because you can afford a billboard, a website, Facebook ads, phone lists and dialers, and shiny advertising copy doesn’t make you trustworthy. 

Sure, the words and images you portray through advertising can help build trust. Of course, those words and images can also work against trust-building. 

One principle stands tall in helping you determine how your advertising builds trust: Remember that it’s about your client, not you. Understandably, that’s a complicated concept for many to grasp. After all, you’ve got to reach potential clients, engage with them and get them to consider you before you can even begin to build a trusting relationship. 

See, real estate is complicated! It’d be so much simpler if people weren’t involved. Here are some critical tips on building trust. 

1. Communicate effectively

Poor communication is probably behind every broken relationship. Effective communication skills have to be worked on and practiced constantly. 

In real estate, effective written communication is as important (if not more so) as spoken communication. People generally have poor memory and retention of the spoken minutiae that is so prevalent in a real estate transaction. 

Remember, your client does this once every several years. You do this every day. What seems simple and obvious to you is often news to them. Watch the real estate speak, and use everyday language to which they can relate. 

2. Remember, your word is everything

Building trust amounts to having others believe what you say. “Underpromise and overdeliver” isn’t a bad philosophy to do business. A broken promise can swiftly destroy every trust-building effort. Many people will remember promises kept. Everyone will remember promises broken.

3. Know when to say ‘no’ and ‘I don’t know’

The vast majority of real estate practitioners I’ve worked with over the years are good, honest people. The vast majority of clients are good, honest people, no matter how clueless they might seem at times. I don’t think most agents ever set out to be dishonest, but our nature and desire to serve our clients can lead to untended dishonesty if we’re not careful. 

About eight months ago, I wrote a column about the two most challenging things to say to a client: “no” and “I don’t know.” It goes against our service nature to say “no” to a client, and it goes against the perceived need to be the keeper of all knowledge, the neighborhood expert, to say “I don’t know.”

But sometimes, a partner in a relationship needs to be told no, and you’re a human being, so you can’t possibly know the answer to everything, no matter how skilled and experienced you are. 

It’s OK to say you don’t know something, if you follow that up with “but I’ll find out.” And make sure you really do find out — because your words and communication matter.  

4. Admit mistakes 

In that vein of being the all-knowing provider of knowledge and realizing that humans make mistakes, you need to understand that sometimes you’re going to have to admit a mistake

It’s OK to be imperfect. It’s not OK to sweep a mistake under the rug, pretend it didn’t happen and hope no one notices. Want to build trust? Say, “You know what, I was mistaken about this, and here’s what we’re going to do to fix it.” 

5. Develop self-trust 

There’s an age-old saying that’s been around since the dawn of time — you can’t love someone unless you love yourself. The same goes for trust. 

As much as we’d like it to be true, the simple fact is you can never count on another person 100 percent of the time. However, there is one person you can always count on: yourself. 

You’ve got to trust your ability, be aware of your thoughts and feelings, be able to express them, and live according to your standards and ethics

Self-trust does not equal perfection. Again, no one is perfect. We can be our own worst critics, and constantly criticizing yourself undermines self-trust, and believe me, your clients will sense that self-doubt and have issues trusting you. I mean, if you can’t trust yourself, how can you expect someone else to?

6. Help others

Helping people, even if it provides no direct benefit to you, builds trust. Authentic kindness builds trust. I know, sometimes it seems like real estate pros do a lot of work for free, but helping someone doesn’t have to consume all your waking hours. 

Back in the day, I had a widely read real estate blog that resulted in many people asking me questions. I honestly can’t count how many times I would answer a question, completely understanding that time spent would never result in a “lead.” 

You know what else I can’t count? How many times that effort to help someone with no strings attached and no benefit expected actually did lead to a closed transaction.

7. Watch the self-promotion and humble bragging 

This industry loves to self-promote. Just take a scroll through Facebook and see how many posts are about a closing, about how an agent sold a home swiftly, over list price. There’s a whole lot of “me, me, me” in this industry. 

Be careful. Although you might think you’re showing potential clients what you can do for them, what you’re showing many is selfishness. And selfishness destroys trust. Remember, it’s about them, not you.

8. Open up those feelings 

In a complex, emotional transaction like real estate, people tend to gravitate toward and want to work with people they relate to and like. 

Real estate is a very humanizing business, and nothing shows your human side more than your feelings. Not that you should stomp, pout and cry when things don’t go your way, but being human and expressing your feelings can go a long way toward building trust. 

9. Do the right thing

Always do the right thing. That might very well mean you have to tell a client the dreaded “no” word. Stand by your values and beliefs, and people will respect your honesty and trust you. 

Sometimes this is super challenging. I had a whopping five or six sales in real estate under my belt when I was at the office doing “floor time.” A call came in, and someone wanted to see listings right now. Heading out the door, my broker said, “Go get ’em, close that sale!” 

A couple of hours later, I returned to the office. My broker asked how it went, and I told him that the caller and I had a long chat and that he wasn’t ready to buy a home. My broker almost lost his mind.

“That’s not your decision to make!” he said.

“I didn’t make it. We talked for a long time, he came to that conclusion,” I replied.

“And you didn’t try to change his mind?” he asked.


“Why the hell not?” he bellowed.

“Because he was right. They aren’t ready to buy yet,” I answered. 

The broker walked away, shaking his head and mumbling something about how I’d never succeed in this business. 

About a year later, that caller was ready to buy. And I sold him a home. Earlier that year, I sold two of his friends and family homes because he told them, “I trust this guy, and you can, too.”

There’s really nothing easy about this job. Sure, getting a license isn’t terribly difficult. But real estate licensing classes and the subsequent possession of a sales license don’t teach you squat about being successful in real estate. 

To be successful in this whacky business, you have to build relationships. The foundation of those relationships is trust. Take the time to demonstrate your trustworthiness, constantly work on your listening skills, do the right thing, and remember it’s about them (not you), and you’ll find your clients — and yourself — well-rewarded.

Jay Thompson is a real estate veteran and retiree living in the Texas Coastal Bend, as well as the one spinning the wheels at Now Pondering. Follow him on FacebookInstagram and Twitter. He holds an active Arizona broker’s license with eXp Realty. “Retired but not dead,” Jay speaks around the world on many things real estate.

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