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10 secrets to pulling off a working vacation

Realtor Notebook

I have a hard time taking vacations during the real estate sales season in the spring and summer.

There are just a few short months where I have the opportunity to make two thirds of my income for the year. Every year I am either forced to take a vacation during the busy season or relatives come in town with little advance warning and expect me to make time for them.

Vacations or time off during the busy season can be a huge stressor and usually results in lost business. My family isn’t going to take no for an answer, so I have learned how to vacation and minimize the income loss by working at the same time. The trick is to be responsive to clients while at the same time acting like it is a vacation.

Technology makes it easier to vacation, but we can’t always count on having Internet access while in the wilderness. There are vacation spots where there are no cell phone towers, which is an adventure. Personally I think those places are a little like heaven — except in June, when they are more like hell.

Maybe we are too connected these days. But there are some advantages in being able to work from the beach, after all. It’s better to go to the beach and work than not to go to the beach at all.

Offers come in on my listings when I am vacationing. A decade ago that meant spending time on the phone in a hotel room. Today I can work with an offer, and even get it signed by my sellers, from almost anywhere.

Here are 10 ways I have found to take some of the stress out of vacations that happen at the wrong time and make them feel more like a vacation:

1. Ask another agent to help out with the real estate emergencies that occur as soon as I leave town.

2. Do as much work as possible before leaving and schedule the first day back as lightly as possible. Sometimes a half a day is enough to recover from a vacation but usually it takes longer.

3. Let my sellers know that I will be gone but will check for messages once a day and I give them the number of another agent who will be helping out while I am goofing working.

4. Do everything possible to book a hotel with decent Internet access even if there is an extra fee for the access.

5. Bring a cable for the laptop. Wireless Internet in hotels can be nightmarishly slow and seems to be getting worse as hotels struggle to keep up with the number of electronic devices guests want to access the Internet with. One cable can make the difference between getting something done quickly or spending hours in a hotel room.

6. There is no such thing as too many batteries. I bring extra batteries for everything. Dead batteries and no place to charge them can ruin a vacation faster than the most demanding client.  I hate it when I have to stay behind just to charge something.

7. Know where the closest coffee shop or restaurant with wireless Internet access and electricity is at all times and have a way to get there quickly and quietly.

8. Stay in a hotel with a business center. It is amazing how many things can be done from a hotel business center.

9. Schedule an hour a day for business and plan for it every day, sometimes that is all it takes to insure that the rest of the day is more like a day off.

10. Resist the temptation to answer the phone without checking to see who is calling. No point in answering a call when the caller is looking for information that needs to be looked up or a caller who wants to make an appointment when I can’t see my calendar. The call can go into voice mail and be returned later.

One of the best things about taking a vacation during the busy time is that I can count on having business no matter where I am.

None of these "summer vacations" or long weekends spent with visiting relatives are real vacations. A real vacation is about being away from business for a few days before or after the busy season.

Last year I went on a camping trip and did just fine in the wild and off the grid after the real estate season. I could get cell phone access if I hiked a mile from the campsite and climbed a hill, which I did before dinner each evening to check for messages.

This year we are planning a trip into an area that is mostly wilderness shortly after tourist season.

I won’t return phone calls for a few days and I won’t bring my laptop. I will bring my iPad and plenty of storage cards for my camera. A real vacation means no time in front of a computer screen or working with clients.

Teresa Boardman is a broker in St. Paul, Minn., and founder of the St. Paul Real Estate blog.

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