Old School Etiquette for a New World: General Best Practices

Old School Etiquette for a New World: General Best Practices

One topic keeps coming up in brokers circles: professionalism. The world is changing and so is the field, but good etiquette leads straight to professionalism. Share these tips with your agents.

We’re by no means in a post-COVID world, but things have changed since the beginning of the pandemic and it’s important to address how these changes have affected the real estate industry. Lockdown and quarantine ushered in the Zoom world, remote work and learning and a hybrid environment. Communication changed drastically, as did proper attire and social norms. In short, lockdown messed with everyone’s manners! And as we ebb and flow through this transitional period, it can be hard to figure out what’s appropriate.

It seems that platforms from Instagram to TikTok and publications like Business Insider are talking about “old school manners.” Learning and using some key manners and etiquette can set you apart and give you confidence.

One of the main broker complaints is that professionalism is on the decline. There could be a few reasons for this. The National Association of REALTORS® reports a few key findings that speak to the differences among today’s industry professionals:

  • A whopping 93% of REALTORS® use—and prefer—texting when it comes to client communication.
  • The median experience level of all REALTORS® in the business is only eight years.
  • Three-quarters of REALTORS® use social media for their business

The technological world has influenced the industry for a long time, and as the profession gains younger counterparts, that influence will only increase. Add in a global pandemic and changing market, and it makes sense that the lines have blurred on what’s considered professional and proper etiquette. This short series will look at tried-and-true best practices in professionalism and etiquette. We’ll also look at some new tips that reflect the new world we’re living in.

These tips are great for agents and a learning tool that brokers can share with their agents. We’ll start with general guidelines, following up with communication and then give some tips on how to conduct oneself in person.


General Etiquette Guidelines for Real Estate Professionals

Yes, things have changed, and it's important to honor those changes. These rules of etiquette have changed some to cater to today's world. Take note.

The Handshake

A widely held belief is that the handshake originated to prove to someone that you were offering peace and not actually hiding a weapon in your hand. Now that weapon could be hidden germs. Even if you’re not worried about COVID anymore, many other people still are, and it’s important to respect people’s boundaries and cues.

Diane Gottsman, a national etiquette expert and author of “Modern Etiquette or a Better Life,” doesn’t think the handshake will be a casualty of the pandemic, but she advises us all to take it slowly.

“Don’t be the first to extend your hand, even if you’re comfortable. Watch the other person and allow them to extend their greeting of choice.”

When in doubt, use the fist bump. It’s a half handshake but not a hug. You can always ask the other person what they’re comfortable with! That’s better etiquette than just assuming you know.

Traditional Signs of Gratitude

Always appropriate? Saying “please,” “thank you” and “you’re welcome” (or “it’s my pleasure”). These old-school manners never go out of style. In a world where communication can be curt and quick, taking the time to say please or show gratitude goes a long way. As Leigh Brown puts it, the clients could have chosen anyone, but they chose you, so make sure they know you appreciate it.

Take the extra step to send personalized thank you notes rather than emails or text messages (though there are times that those work as well). Hand address your envelopes and use commemorative stamps. Use high-quality stationery.

Post thank yous or testimonials on social media when appropriate. Don’t just post thank yous and testimonials from your clients though—share your own in reciprocation. Make sure to ask for permission first, and once that permission is secured, outwardly congratulate your clients on buying their dream homes. Talk about how honored you were to be chosen to help them sell their home. You’re helping your clients with one of the largest financial transactions of their lives. Much of the time, there’s an emotional component for them as well. Make sure they know—and the broader public knows—that you appreciate being chosen for the responsibility.

Conducting Yourself Outside of Work

You are the face of your business even when you’re not “on the clock.” You’re a community ambassador and many of the people who could be potential clients are part of that community. This means you have to represent your brand at all times. Conduct yourself accordingly when you’re at personal appointments, on the roads, grocery shopping or going out.


  • Stop with the road rage. The roads are more packed than ever, and everyone is in a hurry. Take a deep breath and conduct yourself with dignity while driving.
  • Don’t drive distracted.
  • If you have 90 things in your grocery cart and the little old lady behind you is buying a gallon of milk, let her go in front of you.
  • Know that cursing and foul language might be more accepted than they were in the past, but it sounds unprofessional and makes some people uncomfortable. Watch how you speak to people.
  • If you know someone grieving, reach out to them even if it makes you uncomfortable. A card, flowers or a call goes a long way.
  • Refrain from letting your current mood dictate your manners. Excuse yourself from a situation if you’re not in a headspace to conduct yourself well.

A Few More General Notes

Whether in business or in daily life, the following guidelines are good no matter what. Remember that you represent your business 24-7, whether working or not. You never know who is watching or where your next client might come from!

Learn and remember people’s names. Keep a notes app open on your phone or carry a small journal to remember whom you just met and how you know them. Make a note in your phone contacts such as “Joan Smith, bank manager, Wells Fargo” or “Stan Jones, Bobby’s Dad, 2nd grade class with Jenny.” Ask permission to use someone’s first name and be sure you’re pronouncing it properly.

Accept and appreciate compliments when they come your way.Simply say, “You’re so kind!” Or “What a lovely thing to say!”

Always ask permission.Ask before posting on social media, especially when photos include children, photos are taken at events that you didn’t run or other potentially personal situations. Ask permission to use a person’s first name. Ask permission to answer your phone in front of someone.

Use manners, even when no one else is.You have the power to set the example, and even if no one follows suit, you can take pride in acting with dignity and self-control.

Tip your service providers well. Leave your business card with a ‘thank you’ handwritten on the card. You’d be surprised how much they appreciate a simple act of gratitude.

Move from a place of judgment to one of curiosity. We’re in times where division and divisiveness seem to overtake everyone’s social media platforms, holiday conversations and even outings with friends. Now more than ever, it’s important to come from a place of curiosity. Opinions do not need to be given freely, especially when no one asked. Get curious about the people in front of you. Ask questions from a place of authenticity. Seek to understand rather than to judge.


Source: Old School Etiquette for a New World: General Best Practices National Association of REALTORS® (November 28, 2022)