Jay Thompson is a former brokerage owner who spent six years working for Zillow Group. He retired in August 2018 but can’t seem to leave the real estate industry behind. His weekly Inman column publishes every Wednesday.
Two things happened last week that got me to thinking. The first was an interesting article from The New York Times: “Ask NYT Parenting: I Use My Phone for Everything. Is That Harming My Kids?”
Initiated by a couple of parents questioning whether or not excessive screen time was detrimental to their young child, it provided tips for dealing with screen time concerns for today’s parents.
Also in The Times article, a new-to-me word was introduced: technoference, which is the everyday intrusions and interruptions due to technology devices.
In the real estate world, opportunities abound for technoference.
Agents spend an extraordinary amount of time on their phones. And when not on a phone, they are often on a desktop, laptop or iPad.
Pursing the MLS, pulling reports, creating marketing collateral, communication with clients, lenders, inspectors, appraisers, attorneys, title companies. All that — and more — results in an overload, and overwhelming, amount of screen time.
Let’s be honest, if your face is buried in your phone, it’s distracting.
Just take a look around any time you are out in public. Observe what others are doing. I assure you that if you are in a place where people are gathering, a significant portion of those people will be completely occupied by their phone.
Digital addiction is real. It’s not much of a stretch to consider that by its very nature selling real estate enables at least digital overuse, if not actual addiction.
Earlier I mentioned that there were two things that made my mind wander down this path. A couple of days after The Times article was published, an image popped up in my Facebook feed. It was an image of a paper, obviously filled out by a young child — a school assignment to write a riddle.
The clues created were (edited for clarity):
“I’m always on my phone.”
“Don’t touch the car, I just cleaned it.”
“Why is it so hard to find an attorney who is not fu*king idiot?”
Who am I?
“My dad sells houses”
Okay, so maybe it is not all that appropriate, but you have to admit, it’s kind of hilarious.
Hilarity aside, these things got me wondering about how healthy the job of selling real estate is. How are our children influenced by our career choices? Let’s face it, selling real estate, making a living on commissions, being an independent contractor — none of this is easy.
I’ve said it before: Real estate agents wake up every day unemployed. That’s super-stressful, and isn’t that stress likely to spill over into other aspects of our lives?
Chasing work-life balance
“Work-life balance” is a term tossed about a lot. A two-second search of the National Association of Realtors website finds articles like:
- “Work-Life Balance: Family First”
- “Juggling Act: 8 Ways to Balance Your Work and Family Life”
- “Yes, You Can Achieve Work-Life Balance”
Pop over here to Inman News, and you find articles like:
- “Can you be a real estate agent and a stay-at-home parent?”
- “‘Work-life balance is attainable’ And other myths that make life miserable.”
So many links, so much questing for the elusive work-life balance.
Yet that’s where we are. The demands of society seem to be increasing. We’re bombarded with a relentless, never-ending, 24-hour news cycle. Politicians seem to get crankier by the day. Decades-old alliances appear to be crumbling.
The “hustle culture” is front and center, constantly reminding us that unless we hustle and grind 24 hours a day and become insanely rich, then we’re abject failures.
That’s a lot of self-imposed (along with society-imposed) pressure.
After all, there are surveys and articles strewn all over the internet that tell the story of why people choose real estate sales as a career. Guess what consistently comes up as one of the top reasons?
Yeah, that’s why so many agents complain about, “working 24 hours a day” and “never having a vacation.” Flexible hours, right. You’ve got to flex your hours to fit your client’s needs, that’s about all the flexibility there is.
Let’s not even go down the “part-time agent” road. That gets blasted on a regular basis. Sure, it’s possible to sell real estate on a part-time basis. Good luck selling enough of it to ever move into a full-time role.
When asked what they want to be when they grow up, who out there has a young child who says real estate agent?
Head back to all the surveys, and you’ll swiftly find that for the vast majority of agents, selling real estate is a second or third career. The simple fact is, very few people graduate from high school, then head off to college to fulfill their dream of selling real estate.
That’s not to say that selling real estate is a bad thing or a poor career choice. Quite the contrary actually. I’ve found it to be a noble profession, filled (for the most part) with consummate professionals.
I worry though, for my friends in the industry. As stated earlier, this is not an easy job. You’re dealing with humans, and all the emotions and baggage that comes with them. You’re working with people who are stressed out, in a complicated transaction that can go south seemingly on a whim. And those transactions can spin out of control through zero fault of your own (though you’re sure to shoulder the blame).
Passing stress on
If it’s rough on you, how does that impact your kids?
It’s been awhile since I sold a home, but I haven’t forgotten what it’s like. Those times where you get up from the dinner table to take a call from a panicked client.
You miss an event because you’ve got to get to a listing to find out why there’s water pouring out the front door. That commission check you desperately need to pay the mortgage just got the ax because the idiot buyer opened a credit card account and whacked their debt-to-income ratio? Nice.
Your kids sense that stress. They feel it. How could they not? I’m no psychiatrist or child development specialist, but you don’t need to be either of those to see and understand that your kids are affected by your stress levels. That burying your face in your phone takes time away from interacting with loved ones. Of course it does.
If you don’t believe me when I say your job, your actions and your stress impact your kids, maybe you’ll believe the Yale University of Public Health when they explore the “Effects of Parenting Stress on Infant Social-Emotional Development.” The Urban Child Institute has found “Stress Has Lasting Effect on Child’s Development.”
So what can you do?
Quit your job! Just drop everything, grab a towel, and hit the beach for a stress-free, easy child rearing life.
If only life was that simple.
Assuming you can’t just walk away and spend the rest of your days frolicking in the sand, surf and sun, what are some things you can do to mitigate your stress and the corresponding stress that’s pushed onto your kids? How can you lower your screen time, which will in turn lower your (and your kids’) stress levels?
First, recognize that it’s not easy, and know you’ll never eliminate stress. (Actually, if you read some of the linked articles, you’ll see that some stress is necessary, and learning to deal with stress is necessary, even for the young and, for the moment, innocent youth.)
Meditation helps, tremendously. As does just being happy.
That’s not to say that you can meditate and smile yourself to an area of stress-free bliss. It’s not that simple. Sometimes, just being cognizant of your stress levels — and how that impacts others around you — goes a long way toward reducing your stress.
Reducing, not eliminating. It’s important to understand the difference.
As for excessive screen time, believe me, that is hard to deal with. I know, I have a screen time problem. I’ve attempted, countless times, to reduce my screen time. Some attempts have helped, most have failed miserably.
There’s one thing, though, that has helped me cut my screen time by over 60 percent. That’s the book, How to Break Up With Your Phone, by Catherine Price.
In the book, Price presents “a practical, hands-on plan to break up — and then makeup — with your phone. The goal? A long-term relationship that actually feels good.”
It works. It’s a quick read that will, if you follow along, reduce your screen time. In this day and age, a reduction in the time we spend absorbed in our phones is good for the heart and soul, not just your heart and soul, but that of your kids, family and friends as well.
Listen, my kids are now grown adults, but I get it. Smart phones and iPads weren’t around in their early days, but parental stress was. Yes, there were times when I earned parent of the year status because I would pop a Disney or Barney tape in the VCR and let it babysit my kids for half an hour. Today’s parents do the same with an iPad and a kid-friendly app.
And that’s okay. So is being stressed about your job. It’s life, and life isn’t all a bed of roses.
Also okay, however, is reducing the stressors in your life. Reducing my screen time has literally lowered my blood pressure, which makes both my cardiologist and my wife happy.
So get out there and actively try to reduce your stress levels and your family’s stress levels. Meditate, relax, take a day off, stay away from the phone. You can do this. You need to do this. Life’s too short to spend it stressed and freaked out. Take baby steps. It will be OK.
Jay Thompson is a real estate veteran and retiree in Seattle, as well as the one spinning the wheels at Now Pondering. Follow him on Facebook or Instagram. He holds an active Arizona broker’s license with eXp Realty.