Need some great leads? Maybe you should get a real estate agent. They know people who know people; people who are looking to sell a house and need to have things done to it before the house can be sold. Or people who just bought a house, are new to the area, and need a good contractor to make alterations.

The common misconception among contractors is that when a homeowner involved in a sale calls for, say, a roof estimate, it’s only because he wants a number he can use to get the price of the house down at settlement.

That happens all the time. Here’s how you avoid it. Say someone calls and says he’d like an estimate on a roof. We ask: Have you moved in yet?

If he indicates that he hasn’t, we ask: Have you closed on the house yet?

If he doesn’t actually own the house, we let him know that we charge non-homeowners $250 for an estimate, but that if they go ahead and do the work, we take that off the price. Usually the customer says: Let me call you back.

Then he hangs up and goes and finds the next dummy.

Top Shakers

Those scenarios aside, property transactions can be a great source of work. I’m doing two jobs right now because of a real estate agent I know. She only deals in sales of high-end properties. I’ve worked with her for 10 years, and she is a continuing source of work. A lead from a real estate agent is like a referral lead.

Every really good real estate agent has a plumber, an electrician, and a general contractor that they recommend to clients. Any relationship you form with the estate agent is going to be based on the fact that they know when they refer you that you’re going to do good work. Our agent loves us because we do things that other people won’t do.

And when you get a lead from a real estate agent, you leave your salesperson hat at home. Go in there as a consultant. Give that homeowner an honest assessment of what should be done or not be done. And be aware that, like any other lead, you’re not going to get them all. On the other hand, if you do the work and you do it well, chances are good that you’re going to form a relationship with that new homeowner moving forward.

Sellers and Buyers

We work for both sellers and buyers. Here’s the difference. When you’re selling a house, you’re only interested in two things: selling it quickly and getting your price. A lot of the work is repairs. You want to eliminate any problem that stands in the way of the sale.

For instance, not long ago a homeowner with a mold problem called us in. We don’t do mold remediation but we do know what causes mold: air and water in a closed space. So we replaced the drywall and ventilated the area with soffit vents. We eliminated the mold and its cause by properly ventilating the house. A $2,800 job saves that owner from having to deduct $5,000 or $6,000 off the selling price. Repair jobs are usually very profitable.

Buyers go for the big stuff. A new roof is the No. 1 purchase. After that it’s a new kitchen or bath. The agent you have a relationship with is happy to steer that new homeowner to you as long as you’re the real deal.

So how do you find a real estate agent? First make a list of the high-end agents in your town. Go to a real estate office—a high-end office such as Sotheby’s—and ask them who is their best agent. You want the top shakers, and you want a pro, somebody for whom selling houses is not a hobby or a part-time job. Then call up that agent and introduce yourself. Offer to buy her a cup of coffee. If you’re good, she’s looking for guys like you.

—Sales veteran and trainer Mike Damora has been the sales manager at several large home improvement companies. Reach him