When Laura and Jason Berns first began working as The Berns Team in Pasadena, California, they didn’t initially have a system worked out to decide who would take the lead with which clients. “It was a tense situation,” said Laura. “It was confusing — we did not have that communication and a system.” Now, they do: If a client contacts one of them, that person takes the lead with that client. It’s alleviated the tension and helped Laura and Jason Berns function as a business and as a married couple.

  • Couples in real estate (especially those who work together) are under similar pressures as couples in the medical world, the police force or fire services.
  • Real estate couples should make sure they agree on how much to share about their families on social media.
  • Real estate couples on the KW course agreed to carve out and protect family and couple time in the evenings, with the help of their teams.

When Laura and Jason Berns first began working as The Berns Team in Pasadena, California, they didn’t initially have a system worked out to decide who would take the lead with which clients.

“It was a tense situation,” said Laura. “It was confusing — we did not have that communication and a system.”

Now, they do: If a client contacts one of them, that person takes the lead with that client. It’s alleviated the tension and helped Laura and Jason Berns function as a business and as a married couple.

As real estate couples ride the wave of a healthy housing market, there are more demands on their personal time than ever before. Keeping up the levels of communication necessary for a happy marriage can be challenging — especially when there are two real estate agents in the marriage, and especially when those agents work together.

If one partner goes too far down one path without bringing their significant other along, that husband and wife real estate team can implode. It can be very messy for them, their team and the real estate brokerage as everyone tries to pick up the pieces. Clients can fall by the wayside; team members follow their favorite team leader — there can be lot of collateral damage.

Matt Townsend

Matt Townsend

Real estate couples face similar pressures to other high-stress professions — medical, police and firefighters, for example — said relationship expert Matt Townsend, a coach for the inaugural Keller Williams’ Couples Retreat, launched in March, and author of “Starved Stuff: The 7 Basic Needs of Healthy Relationships.”

“With certain industries, it’s harder, and in the case of real estate, it’s very common to see break-ups,” said Townsend.

“We find being able to get these couples on the same page with scheduling, giving them purpose, helps them eliminate potential problems,” he added.

Keller Williams’ first Couples Retreat

Keller Williams held its first Couples Retreat on March 5 in Austin, Texas. It was the brainchild of Dianna Kokoszka, CEO of KW MAPS (Mega Achievement Productivity Systems) Coaching, the business coaching division of Keller Williams.

Dianna Kokoszka

Dianna Kokoszka

Kokoszka said she was at dinner with two top KW agents, and the idea occurred to her as they were discussing the demands of a growing business and family.

She thought of creating a retreat both for couples who work together in the real estate business as well as couples where the high-performing agent partner wanted to explain more about work to the other partner, who was probably beginning to resent the time they spent away from home.

Within two months, Kokoszka had 88 people signed up for the course, including couples with both real-estate-involved and un-involved spouses.

In the day-long course, the couples sat through sessions about how habits and negative emotions are formed and how the brain works, as well as creating awareness surrounding habits and emotions.

Each person in the couple was invited to pick a habit to change, and each person in the couple wrote an action plan for change.

Real estate couples can resort to scorekeeping

One potentially marriage-ending situation that’s somewhat unique to real estate is when one partner does not trust the other partner to do the best possible job, so the first partner compensates for the second, said Townsend.

The result is a “lopsided” business, and when one partner is doing more than their share for the business, it will lead to resentment over time.

“What happens then is they keep score — scorekeeping is pretty common,” said Townsend.

“They need to break through that with a conversation — reset their roles, what their goals are, and not hold each other down because the game is changing a little bit.”

On the couples retreat course, Townsend said that the goal was to help couples talk about their interaction patterns and then see whether the coaches could help those couples identify “a healthier way of approaching things,” he added.

When things are going wrong in a marriage, it pervades everything.

“Family things — we have such a profound guilt when we are not doing it well, ” said the father of six.

The negative feelings of failing at close relationships “can’t be hidden,” added Townsend.

“Sometimes the fastest way to improve the business is not working in the business, it’s working on the other things that take time, energy and focus away from it,” he said.

Divorce can be gradual, then sudden

While the divorce rate is going down, it is still happening at a rate of 3.6 divorces per 1,000 couples per year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And it’s a relatively common occurrence in the real estate industry.

But why should a franchisor like Keller Williams get involved with the marital relationships of its agents?

“When you get relationships right, whether in the business or in the home, it makes everything so much stronger,” said Kokoszka.

“If you are not getting along, it affects your productivity. It affects a lot of people and a lot of kids.

“When you get it right, communicate well with your significant other, then our kids are treated differently, and you feel a different energy,” she added.

The people in your business sphere will feel the difference, too, she said. “It’s like throwing a rock into a pond; there is a ripple effect.”

Scheduling important for couples heading teams

Three real estate couples taking the KW course wanted to focus on how they could better interact with each other in the office, said Kokoszka.

“People can be aggressive about getting to the goal,” she said, “and by learning how to communicate, you can do it in a way so no one gets upset.

“With husband-and-wife teams, if they don’t have specific roles, duties can overlap, and sometimes they start looking like husband and wives instead of business partners,” she added. (Kokoszka led the course, but also participated in the sessions with her husband, KW MAPS coach Tony DiCello.)

Growing together as a couple

Laura and Jason Berns attended the first KW Couples Retreat. When the two met, they were both agents, but in different companies. They decided to go into business together more than four years ago at Keller Williams, where Laura was already working.

Since then, they have had a baby daughter, now 18 months old.


Laura and Jason Berns

When they began working together, they had a few fraught moments, said Laura.

“We are blessed that we are in a relationship where we hold each other accountable,” she added. “If either person says ‘We are out of whack,’ we stop and talk about it. At first that was hard for me — I did not come from that background.”

Jason explained the “friction” that can occur when you are both in the real estate business.

“There are unique demands in real estate, where clients need to be served at 9 p.m. or 7 a.m.,” he noted.

And it’s important for agents to understand where their boundaries are with clients if they hope to succeed in their relationships, he added.

Momentum only takes you so far

Added Laura: “In this industry, the momentum can carry you for so long — but unless you are purposefully scheduling personal and family time, sometimes it can be completely overlooked — that’s when the relationship can go awry.”

The couple enjoyed learning about the different ways women and men communicate at the retreat. “The typical male wants to pass on data, whereas the female wants to communicate and connect,” said Jason. Or, on occasion, vice versa.

Jason is forecasting that his real estate team of five — soon to be seven — is going to do business with 120 families, a total of around $100 million in sales this year.

He said the challenges of real estate are protecting family time, to maintain a work-life balance while running a big business.

“We still want to go on vacation, to still be able to be coaches for our kids as they grow up,” he said.

Where real estate couples go wrong

The Berns have seen seen real estate couples go wrong, and they’ve also seen teams suffer because of it.

“I am thinking of a couple whom I highly respect, but the marriage is now in question,” said Laura. “One partner has pulled out of the business more and is not seen as much, while the other partner is throwing themselves into it.

“One is growing in one direction, one is growing in the other,” she said.

From watching this, she has learned to keep communicating about what she and her husband are striving for together, and to outline shared goals.

“It’s about choosing to grow together, versus, ‘I’m going to do this for me,'”she said.

Aligning two people on social media

Jason has learned to tread carefully when sharing his life with Laura on social media.

“Social media is such an influence in the industry — if you don’t embrace it, you are left behind, but it’s about being aware of how social media affects your spouse,” he said.

“When we are with clients, entertaining at a game, and we have our daughter there — that footprint, that online presence, is not necessarily what Laura wants,” he said.

“Jason loves social media — I am more hesitant about what’s being shared,” added Laura.

Austin-based husband-and-wife team leaders Ricky and KodiKay Cain of The Cain Team have already implemented a new weekly schedule following the couples’ retreat in a bid to set boundaries around their personal and family time. They have enlisted their team to ensure appointments are blocked at key periods when family time is planned.

“The big thing with real estate is it’s so consuming,” said KodiKay. “It’s hard to shut it off, finding the balance. When does work start, and when can you just be a husband and wife at home?”

There need to be safety rules, said Ricky.

“Making your business the primary conversation topic — both of us do it, “said KodiKay. “Having a conversation about work at 9:30 at night just as we are getting ready for bed — we now say, ‘Let’s push pause on that and spend some time on ourselves.'”

How a couple’s retreat can help your team

Some husbands and wives can be a closed book to the rest of the team. “We would be the opposite of that — one of our biggest challenges is looking after ourselves as well as the team members,” said KodiKay.

The Cains are making sure to ask team members about their own home “safety rules” while they work to implement their own new schedule.

“We will be taking these tools and figuring out how to use them in relation with the team,” KodiKay said.

Keller Williams is planning to schedule more couples retreats; the company said it is analyzing the feedback from the initial retreat before scheduling future events.

Email Gill South

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