The Most Intimidating (and Innocuous) Question in Real Estate

For the vast majority of real estate customers, the first words they will hear a Realtor® utter are: "Are you currently working with an agent?"

As a Realtor, I fully understand why this question is asked. But in the not-too-distant past, as a real estate customer, I found this to be a strangely loaded question. When asked, it immediately spawned about a dozen question/answers in my mind:

"Why? Am I not supposed to be at your open house if I don't have an agent? Will you not take me seriously if I say, "no"? Will you give me the hard-sell if I say "yes"? Will you give me the hard-sell if I say "no"?  WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME???"

OK, maybe I got a little carried away at the end there, but you get the idea and I'm sure many can relate. Just this morning at my office sales meeting, my fellow agents were sharing stories about the dishonest answers to this question that customers have given them at open houses. And they were downright indignant about it! But instead of sharing in their exasperation, it brought to my attention what  a poor job we have done as an industry in educating customers as to why we ask this question. So allow me to briefly explain. 

As members of the National Association of Realtors, we adhere to a Code of Ethics, which explicitly forbids us (under penalty of lost commission, fines and other sanctions) from working with a client who is already working with a fellow Realtor®. 

Realtors shall not knowingly provide substantive services concerning a prospective transaction to prospects who are parties to exclusive representation agreements, except with the consent of the prospects exclusive representatives or at the direction of the prospects.
— National Assocation of Realtors, Code of Ethics, Standards of Practice 16-13

So while this question can come across as brusque and even verge on aggressively salesy, the impetus is actually quite well-intentioned. Realtors who ask this are simply attempting to establish the nature of the relationship with the customer and tailor their dialog accordingly. But if by doing so, we're making customers feel uncomfortable, it stands to reason that we can and must do better. 

Personally, I try to wait until introductions have been made and the customer has displayed at least  some interest in talking to me. And when I phrase the question, I try to give it some context, like, "Out of respect for my fellow Realtors, I must ask if you're currently working with an agent?", or "I would never want to give the impression that I'm trying to pilfer someone else's client, so I must ask: are you currently working with a Realtor?"

I'd love to hear from Realtors and customers alike. Realtors: What do you think the best approach is? Real estate customers: How do you react to this question when asked? How does it make you feel? 

Thanks in advance for your input!