Setting Boundaries In Real Estate: How Busy Agents Find Work-Life Balance

One quiet Sunday evening around six o’clock, Andy Hargreaves, a 2019 HomeLight Achievement honoree based in Plymouth, Michigan, was cooking dinner. His phone rang and, despite having his hands full, he answered the call.

“I’m at my grill right now, can I call you back as soon as I’m done?,” he asked, following initial greetings. The caller said that was fine, and 20 minutes later, Hargreaves was back on the phone.

“I called the guy back and he’s like, ‘So, what are you cooking?’ and I said that I have a Big Green Egg and I’m smoking some chicken wings. The guy says, ‘Oh, I have one of those, too.’” Hargreaves says. “We just had this commonality there, kind of a nerdy barbecue thing, this common bond that we wound up having.”

It’s a relationship that Hargreaves enjoys today because he answered the phone in the middle of making dinner. “Since then, I’ve sold three houses for the guy—one for him and then two for his children.”

As a real estate agent, you already know how easy it is for this profession to take over your life. The phone calls, text messages, and emails can come at all hours of the day and night—even when you’re smoking chicken wings on the grill. Busy agents working in a hot market can quickly find themselves blurring the lines between their personal and professional lives.

We spoke to several agents to learn how and why they set professional boundaries with their clients in a quest for an often elusive work-life balance. We found that there are three camps of real estate agents when it comes to setting boundaries:

  • Those who are truly always available
  • Those who are highly responsive but schedule-conscious
  • Those who set and maintain firm working hours, with occasional exceptions

Let’s take a closer look at each.

A phone used to set boundaries in real estate.
Source: (Dries De Schepper / Unsplash)

Setting boundaries: “Call me anytime!”

“I am a strong believer in being available at all hours,” says Cheves Goble, an Atlanta-based agent with Keller Williams who has been licensed since 2004.

“When I first joined the business, I was on a team with a woman who, if I didn’t answer the phone when she called with a lead or for anything else, she would hang up and call back, hang up and call back, until I answered,” Goble says. “Well, 15 years of that and I am trained to jump at the sound of my phone and do my best to answer it as quickly as I can, no matter the day or time.”

That’s no exaggeration. Goble tells her clients that if she doesn’t answer their call, she’s either on the other line or she’s asleep. What’s more, she’s trained her real estate partner—who happens to be her own daughter—to do the same.

Goble finds that her unwavering availability sets her apart from other agents in Atlanta’s bustling real estate market.

“The houses that are priced correctly and are in decent shape are getting multiple offers within 24 hours, so if you don’t get out there, you’re not going to have a chance,” says Goble. “I stay very flexible and will move plans around to accommodate my clients. They appreciate my availability.”

Despite her no-holds-barred working hours, Goble isn’t worried about burnout. “It actually invigorates me to be jumping and running. I have more burnout in the downtimes! I love the rollercoaster ride [of this business].”

Goble isn’t alone with her ultra-attentive philosophy, as evidenced by similar feedback we received from two other agents.

“I will answer my phone at all times,” says Jeff Reiter, a 2019 HomeLight Achievement honoree serving Oakland County, Michigan. “Real estate is a very timely business and it can be vital to show a house, type up an offer, or respond to an offer immediately. Part of my job is to help alleviate anxieties so that my clients can make important decisions with a clear mind.”

Roni Henderson in Dallas, Texas, agrees, approaching her work with a hospitality-inspired mindset. “I’m in the service industry and, as such, I believe I should be available to serve,” she says. “I usually answer 90% of my incoming calls. Most require a very short conversation and put [the client] at ease. We’ve all experienced having an important need or want and not being able to connect with the person who could help. I do not want to be that person! My clients know I will always be here for them.”

Setting boundaries: “Thanks for calling. How’s Tuesday at 4:00?”

Remember Andy Hargreaves, with the Big Green Egg? If it isn’t clear from the opening story, he also believes in being available to his clients.

“I know that myself, as a consumer, I get annoyed when I call someone and they don’t answer or don’t call back for days, if at all,” he says. “I normally will not leave a message if whomever I’m calling doesn’t answer and I will call the next person on the list, so I assume that the person reaching out to me is doing the same thing.”

According to Hargreaves, it only takes a moment to make a difference.

“Compare that to someone who calls me and I answer, but instead say, ‘Hi, I’m currently showing homes with a client right now, can I call you back as soon as I’m done?’ I can’t think of a single person who didn’t say that was acceptable. All a consumer wants is attention. If their basic needs are met and they’re given attention, they’ll stop calling others.”

But Hargreaves doesn’t let his clients control his every move. He finds balance by time-blocking and staying on top of his schedule.

“I learned early on that if you let your clients own you, they will. If someone says, ‘Hey, let’s meet for a listing appointment,’ I’ll say, ‘Okay, well, my next available time is Thursday morning at 10 o’clock, is that good for you?’ It becomes a point of authority,” explains Hargreaves.

This approach helps his clients understand that he’s in demand and encourages them to respect his time, so Hargreaves still has the freedom to manage his lifestyle. He might answer a call while cooking dinner, but Hargreaves isn’t as likely to run out of his daughter’s dance competition to show a house.

“If I let people determine what time I would meet, I would never have a free night during the week. I still want to hit happy hour, or go out to dinner or whatever else, have some personal life. If I let people control that, I wouldn’t really have those options,” Hargreaves says.

A computer used to set boundaries real estate.
Source: (Bench Accounting / Unsplash)

Setting boundaries: “My business hours are as follows…”

Finally, we have agents like Kathleen Turner of Keller Williams South Park in Charlotte, North Carolina. Turner has 19 years of experience in the real estate business and she’s a firm believer in setting expectations about her personal time.

“My voicemail clearly states that my business hours are Monday through Friday from 9:00 to 7:00, and by appointment on weekends,” says Turner. “Further, [my voicemail says] that if they’ve reached my number after hours, I will return their call the next day. I have never had a client complain about this – ever! We are a business, and most businesses have business hours.”

Over her nearly two decades of working in real estate and selling hundreds of houses, Turner has proven that clients can and will respect agent boundaries when those boundaries are set and enforced.

“Somehow, many real estate agents are under the impression that if they don’t answer the phone at 2 AM, their clients will get very mad and maybe even ‘fire’ them. This is simply not true. Most buyers and sellers do not encourage business calls after working hours, so when you tell them to call during business hours, they don’t have a problem with it,” Turner says.

Of course, she’s happy to make exceptions when she’s in the midst of a deal, or if there’s an otherwise extenuating circumstance.

“There are times a client says, ‘Can we go out early [to look at homes]?’ I’m not going to say, ‘Well no, I have to sleep in.’ Like with anything, you’ve got to do it on an individual basis. You can’t be hard and fast. Nothing’s infallible.”

Rob Henderson of ERA Shields in Colorado Springs, Colorado, has almost 35 years of experience, and is also a big believer in setting boundaries.

“I have a set schedule that I work with, and my clients are told this up front. If they are going to work with me, they know going in that family and free time are as critical to me as it is to them.”

Henderson works from 8:00 AM until 6:00 PM on weekdays, from 9:00 AM until 1:00 PM on Saturdays, and he’s off on Sundays. He set these boundaries about ten years ago when he started working according to the Ninja Selling program. The Ninja philosophy is based on creating relationships and building value—both of which can be more effectively achieved through proper time management.

“I was getting sick of working 24/7,” says Henderson. “The whole idea that we have to be ‘on’ all the time is absurd, to be honest. If you do that, you’re going to burn out.”

Henderson sets his client expectations right up front. He has booklets that he provides to both buyer and seller clients, which outline his working hours and make it clear that he takes his work-life balance seriously.

“You have to be candid and you have to be truthful, and I think a lot of agents are afraid to do this. I know I was when I first implemented [my working hours]! But if you’re working with people that you really want to work with, they’re going to understand because they have lives, too. And when they don’t understand, well, I don’t want to work with them anyway,” Henderson explains.

Like Turner, Henderson realizes that his clients sometimes need him to make exceptions and do whatever’s needed to get a deal done.

“I tell people, if you’re calling me because you’re out of flyers at eight o’clock at night, I’m not taking your call,” he says. “[But if] we’re negotiating a contract, or we have deadlines on something, I’m all in. I’ll do whatever’s necessary to do that. There has to be exceptions.”

Henderson believes that firm boundaries have made him a better agent. His clients respect his time, and he feels liberated to manage his days in a way that works for him and his family.

“I’m not saying it’s a savior, but Ninja saved me in my career and it made a huge difference in every aspect of my life. That work balance is imperative to your positive mindset.”

It’s all about finding your balance

Top agents are succeeding no matter where they draw the line of professional and personal boundaries. Agents like Cheves Goble, Jeff Reiter, and Roni Henderson make themselves available almost whenever clients need them, while agents like Kathleen Turner and Rob Henderson prefer to work with a more fixed schedule. And agents like Andy Hargreaves succeed with a combination of both approaches.

There’s no right or wrong way to manage your personal and professional boundaries as a real estate agent. Whether you’re answering calls at midnight or switching your phone to silent at 5 o’clock, only you can determine which methods will work best for your business. Just be sure your clients know what to expect when you begin working with them.

Header Image Source: (Vincent Keiman / Unsplash)

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