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Language: How Do You Use It?

How You Say It

Is just one of the ways we’re being judged. The animal in us is constantly assessing and evaluating situations and the people in them.

Client vs Customer

I’m a customer when I buy socks. I’m a client when I buy a house. One-time purchase > customer. Realtors, attorneys, doctors – professionals have clients. There’s a fiduciary relationship; a high level of trust. Responsibility that goes along with that trust. Significant risk. Professional advice. Mutual respect. All of those determine the difference between a client and a customer.

Talking, Talking, Talking

When I’m talking to a buyer, they’re purchasing a home. A seller is selling property, a commodity. Talking to the title company: Docs, close, prelim. Talking to the client: Paperwork, when you get the keys, title to the house. With an agent: Contract, deal, transaction. Client: Paperwork, the agreement, the process.

Talking to an agent, I’m creating a relationship that’s firm, protective of my client but cooperative. Talking to the client, I’m advising, teaching, suggesting, nudging.

When establishing boundaries, I may be curt. When requesting, I’m kind. When demanding, I’m something else altogether.

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The situation determines the language. Every word, tone and syntax is being judged. How do you use language to benefit you?

Written By

As a lifelong resident and local Realtor, Vicki has established herself as a respected member of the San Mateo County real estate community. She’s known for her wit, sarcasm, and her personality that shows through in her posts. You can find her spouting off at Twitter, here at ag, and her personal blog, San Mateo Real Estate



  1. George O'Neill

    September 29, 2008 at 7:13 pm

    “Deja vu all over again!” This sounds like a conversation I had a few years ago at the last professional services firm I had worked at. Some of the local consultants did not understand the subtle difference between the terms client and customer. I have always been an advocate of using the right terms, and I agree with Vicki that for professional services (like real estate) the people we serve are clients. I know we offer more value than just taking an order.


  2. Matt Stigliano

    September 29, 2008 at 7:30 pm

    Vicki – Great article. I have been very aware of language used in real estate as I transitioned from consumer to agent. As I started my licensing classes, suddenly lingo I had heard as a consumer made sense. I’ve had to ask questions more than once as I think real estate has become a mess of three letter intials. Are we really that busy that we have to abbreviate everything? And as you point out, its one thing to do amongst ourselves, but when in speaking to a client you start blurting them out, you’re only going to wind up with a client who’s confused and often too afraid to seem “stupid” enough to ask what in the world you’re talking about. I’ve done it myself and I know people do it all the time. Rather than feel inadequate, they sometimes just nod their heads and then wonder what it means later. Hopefully, agents reading this will pause and reflect on how they can better explain things to their clients and the public in general. I truly believe that the more we help the public understand what it is we do, the more they will value our services.

  3. Vicki Moore

    September 29, 2008 at 7:47 pm

    George – This all started when I did a buyer class with a mortgage broker last weekend. He kept saying “deal.” “When we do your deal…” It was like nails on a chalkboard. I couldn’t believe he was talking like that. It drove me absolutely crazy.

    Then the nail in his coffin was when he said: You probably don’t need a realtor when you buy your second or third house but you do on this first one. EXCUSE ME!!!!!!

    Matt – Thanks. Good points. It’s not just what you say, but the way you say it. I always tell my clients to ask as many stupid questions as they want because, firstly, if they want to know it’s not stupid and secondly, I probably didn’t explain it adequately enough the first time. But I’m sure they’re still reluctant to ask.

  4. Rob Aubrey

    September 29, 2008 at 8:23 pm

    on customer vs client, they are a customer if you represent the seller and the buyer is unrep,

    I could be wrong and I have been before, just ask my better half.

  5. Daniel Rothamel, The Real Estate Zebra

    September 29, 2008 at 9:44 pm

    Rush Limbaugh gave some of the best advice I have ever heard about language– “words mean things.” We don’t choose words willy-nilly, and listeners pay very close attention the words we use.

  6. Mark Eibner

    September 30, 2008 at 1:17 am

    we’re at it again Language: How Do You Use It?: When you comment on this article, you *..

  7. Paula Henry

    September 29, 2008 at 11:18 pm

    Vicki – The power of words and an understanding of their meaning can never be under estimated. I loved this post. We go through everyday talking to people who have no idea of the power of their words, for better or worse.

  8. Missy Caulk

    September 30, 2008 at 7:20 pm

    Vicki, I changed to Keller Williams in January. Talk about acronyms, I’ve been there for 9 months and I still can’t talk the language. I’m always having to ask please tell me what you are saying, and I’ve been a Realtor for 14 years.
    Is there any wonder the folks buying homes don’t understand their mortgage terms?

  9. Steve Simon

    September 30, 2008 at 7:44 pm

    In Florida if you want to do it according to the statutes and the rule 61J2:
    Client is a term reserved for parties you work for
    Customer is a term used for parties you may be working with.
    They are not the same.
    Those that have taken Florida license exams know they test on this in a number of ways (agency); those two terms are one of their favorite aresa to test on.
    Single agency you work for a client and the object is to find the other party (they would be your customer, with only a few exceptions).
    Of course once receiving the license a large number of licensees say whatever they please…
    Of course when you are in trouble, and it this business it can happen whether you are a bad guy or not, it helps if you have been using the correct verbage throughout your contact with all parties.
    Just my thoughts:)

  10. Gary McNinch

    September 30, 2008 at 9:10 pm

    Hi Vicki, Professional business language. Not Perfesshnul bizness talkin. Absolutely correct, our words are so important to designate us as professional business persons, not just “deal” makers. We use the right words that our clients will understand. Most issues and problems can be solved with good communication. And yes, we have lots of acronyms, but our clients don’t get to hear them, we use normal words for normal people. Take care, Gary

  11. Vicki Moore

    September 30, 2008 at 9:46 pm

    Rob – I guess I’m looking at it in a less formal way – or more formal?? I’m not sure. I think “client” denotes a degree of respect. I want my clients to know they’re important to me – I want them to know that I respect them and appreciate them. Customer sounds temporary to me.

    Daniel – Oftentimes when working with clients they’re regressed; they’re viewing us as authority figures; they’re relying on us to lead them through an ocean of shark-infested water. Their listening is heightened. The words we use can scare the crap out of them or ease their mind into comfort. Bottom line: I agree completely.

    Paula – I think about how much a smile can change someone’s day, let alone a few words.

    Missy – That scares me. If you don’t know wth they’re talking about, they’ve got major problems. I see you as a great communicator – someone who has no problem making herself understood. I think that’s the way we should all communicate: clearly and compassionately – oh, and of course a lot of humor.

    Steve – Language is another part of my business that I’ve systematized. I speak to my clients like I speak to my friends – minus the cussing.

    Gary – I actually had clients tell me that I dressed too nicely and it made them feel uncomfortable. Now I taylor my words and my clothes to my clients, but I’m always aware of my grammar and presentation. I want to make them feel comfortable but not to the point where I feel uncomfortable.

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