Let’s face it, setting boundaries with clients is one of the hardest parts of being an agent. If you’re not available when a client “needs” you, he or she might move on and find another agent, and you’ll lose business.
If you are always available for every client concern at any time of day (or night), your personal life is likely suffering, whether you realize it or not. And when you’re “on” all the time, it’s exhausting emotionally, mentally and physically.
See the dilemma? You’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t. But there is an answer to curbing the never-ending demands some agents just can’t get a grip on: set boundaries from the start.
When you set expectations from the start with your clients, you’re creating the tone for the collaborative process that is buying and selling real estate. Experienced real estate agents know how to walk the fine line between overwhelming client demands and doing too little.
We asked agents all over the country via Facebook how they set boundaries and client expectation. Here are their top 10 tips and hacks.
The first step in any client relationship should be setting expectations. Walk your clients through what you will do for them and what they should expect from you. Remember that actions speak louder than words, so you have to back up what you say with how you behave.
Stop responding 24/7
“When we respond to text messages and emails at all hours of the day, we’re training our clients to assume they will get a response whenever they want. It’s our job to not only manage the transaction but also their expectations,” said Lee Arnold, president and broker at Benchmark Property Management.
If you need to work late to get things off your plate, get in the habit of not sending emails late at night.
Just leave emails in your drafts folder, and send them in the morning, or like Arnold, you can even use a Chrome extension like Boomerang to schedule emails to go out at a later time.
By making sure your clients get your responses in the morning rather than all hours of the night, you’re training them not to expect a reply on the spot any time of night.
To put your clients at ease, you can even tell them how you work. Emmy Simpson, a Realtor with Realty One Group Integrity, says that at the first meeting with clients, she discusses the “rules.”
“We tell them, ‘If you suddenly wake up in the middle of the night with a question, go ahead and text me. I won’t answer until the morning, however,'” she said. Clients feel she’s approachable and on their side, even if she doesn’t answer until the a.m.
She said she’s never really had to give clients her exact hours. “We tell our clients that we wind down the day around 9 p.m. and … they usually don’t expect anything from us until the morning.”
“There is a distinction between always being accessible, and always being available,” said Nikki Beauchamp, a New York real estate agent.
Set the tone at the first meeting
Broker-owner of RAMUS Realty Group, Erica Ramus, has a simple strategy for showing clients that they matter, even if they don’t get a response right away.
She takes her phone into listing appointments with her and sets it on the table. Inevitably, it will ring, and usually the sellers will say, “You can get that.” She tells them, “No, I’m with you now. When I’m with a client, I cannot pick up the phone. I’ll return the call when I get back in the car. If you ever call and I’m not available, I’ll call you as soon as I’m free.”
That tiny act shows that the client she’s with is her priority and that they shouldn’t freak out when she’s unable to pick up the phone.
You can also try it Deric Rangell’s way. The Sentinel Realty Partners broker-owner recommends telling clients when you’re available and whom to contact when you’re not. That way, they can always get a hold of someone.
Enforce your boundary policy with scripts
Never reply to evening calls, emails or texts that are not truly urgent until the next day. Remember, you set the tone and expectation by your actions. How do you respond to a client who repeatedly contacts you in your off hours?
Here are a few tactful examples of boundary-setting scripts for you to try (and adjust to your style):
- Good morning! I saw a text (or email) this morning from you that must have come in after hours last night …
- Good morning! I picked up your voicemail this morning that was left after hours last night …
- Good morning! My cell phone is set to take calls and texts from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. then it goes to “do not disturb” mode so I have time with my family at night. I wanted to respond first thing this morning to the call (or text) from you last night …
- Good morning! As we discussed when we started working together, I set aside evenings for family time, so I wanted to respond first thing this morning to the email (text or call) from you last night …
Protect your time
The whole point of setting boundaries is to have your time truly belong to you. Salvaging work-life balance is very difficult for many agents, but here are a few things you can do to help.
Say ‘no’ much more often
If I can add two more things agents should start doing today, they would be: Say “no” much more often, and apply the regret minimization framework frequently, Ira Serkes, Realtor at Pacific Union International Real Estate, said.
Remember to ask yourself: If I say yes, will I wish I’d have said no? If I say no, will I wish I’d have said yes? Do this, and you’ll know the answer.
“Your inability to say “no” can cost you tens of thousands of dollars every year. The reason many real estate agents struggle with this simple word is that they have a strong need to please others, even if it comes at their own personal expense,” President and CEO of BrokerageUP and RealEstateCoach.com Bernice Ross wrote in “When to say ‘no’: 15 scenarios a real estate agent should refuse.”
Ross recommends saying no to the following situations:
- Taking overpriced listings
- Answering questions you shouldn’t
- Badmouthing clients
- Working with buyers who won’t work with you exclusively
- Volunteering for activities you don’t have time for
- Putting business before the personal well-being of your family
- Doing two activities at once such as driving and conducting business on the phone
By saying no appropriately, you’re setting boundaries in your professional life and your personal life.
Time-blocking is a simple and effective scheduling hack that many real estate agents use to make sure everything gets done. When you time-block, you set aside a specific time to hyper-focus on your tasks.
If you schedule each day and set aside an hour for lead generation, an hour for follow-up, an hour for weekly appointments, etc., and rigidly stick to the allotted time, you’ll be able to knock out your to-do list with gusto. But don’t forget to block off time to give your clients updates and respond to requests and concerns.
Bob McCranie, broker-owner at Texas Pride Realty, themes his days so that he can handle different tasks on different days.
For example, he says Mondays and Wednesdays are coaching days; Tuesdays are for brokerage management and training; Thursday is his personal day; and Friday, Saturday, Sunday and most evenings are set aside for clients.
Sunday evenings are for family. By putting limits on my time, I am actually more successful (it helps prevent me from going into overwhelm), McCranie said.
Become the expert
“We set ‘boundaries’ by what we do, not what we say,” said Kendyl Young, founder and CEO of DIGGS Real Estate.
Her team works very hard to be the experts their clients need and proactively handle their concerns before they become problems.
“We address or handle everything we possibly can before the client even thinks of it themselves. Our goal is to anticipate every client need. That way, the very few times the client does call, it truly is an emergency or something highly unusual.”
How do you become an expert as a newbie?
- Get a great mentor.
- Join a kick-ass team.
- Find an office manager with a servant’s heart who’ll actively take you under his or her wing.
- Hire the best coach you can’t even afford — right now.
Until you’ve sold a few dozen homes, you have no way to anticipate what a client will need. You can’t truly anticipate the firestorm of emotions that happen in an average transaction, Young said. You can’t think eight steps ahead of every other person in the transaction. Doing one (or more) of the above can really help to fill the gap.
If you go it alone, you should set a higher priority in becoming the expert, than in setting boundaries. Once you achieve mastery, you can call shots like the agents above described.
“The agents who burn out never understood the goal. They didn’t become an expert, they sold their first house over and over again. Don’t be that agent,” Young said.
A big part of setting boundaries is figuring out your needs, and what you get done in a day dictates your future needs. Here are a few tips to help you be the most productive in the shortest amount of time. Combine them with time-blocking for best results.
1. Move your apps
If you easily get distracted, put your email, text and social media apps in a folder on the last page of your home screen (this is what I had to do). This will help prevent you from seeing the emotion-inducing “red dot” that accompanies the many notifications you’ll get in a day.
2. Do not disturb
Using this setting will stop notifications, alerts and calls from making any noise, lighting up or vibrating — pulling your attention from the task at hand. I have my do not disturb hours scheduled for 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. daily, and I turn this setting on and off as needed during the work day.
3. Forget multi-tasking
Split your day into manageable “chunks,” AKA time-block, and tackle each task individually; multi-tasking is proven to not be as productive. Studies have shown that it can reduce productivity by 40 percent.
Set three to four time blocks during the day to return client calls, emails and text messages — and nothing else.
4. Implement, assess, tweak
These ideas may not work perfectly for you (or your market), but don’t give up. Implement them, asses your results, then tweak them for optimal return.
In parting, I leave you with one of the most impactful productivity stories I have come across:
In the lecture, the time-management professor brought out a large jar and put it on the table. He pulled out a number of large rocks and proceeded to fill the glass jar.
When the rocks reach the rim of the jar he asked the students: “Is the jar full yet?” And all the students shouted back, “Yes!”
“Really?” he asked. He reached into his pocket, pulled out smaller pebbles and put them into the jar. The professor shook the jar, causing the pebbles to fall to the bottom and fill the gaps between the larger rocks.
Then he asked the students again: “Is the jar full now?” The students replied, “Probably not.”
“Good,” he exclaimed as he reached into his other pocket and pulled out a handful of sand and poured it into the jar, filling the places between the rocks and pebbles.
“Is the jar full now?” he asked the students. “No!” came the resounding reply of the students.
“Good” he said. This time, he reached for the glass of water on the bench and poured it into the jar, until the jar was full to the brim, finally filling the jar.
“No matter how crowded your schedule is, you can always fit more into,” one student said when the professor asked the students what the point was.
“No!” the professor replied. “If you don’t put the big rocks in first, you won’t get them all in.”
(Story adapted from Marc Mancini’s Time Management.)
Start with your largest tasks first, delegate what you can, and then focus on the smaller, less income-producing tasks last. Set expectations and take care of your clients — and your work-life balance will fall into place.
Stephanie Arnett is the broker associate at Arnett|Rackley Mississippi Magnolia w/RE/MAX Partners in Mississippi. Follow her on Instagram or Snapchat.