Real estate is a hard business — harder than newbies understand, and certainly harder than most of our friends, family and clients understand. The image we portray on social media is one of success. We post ourselves at closings and posting signs in the ground. Sometimes, we post the harder stuff, but many times, that’s meant to be funny more than reality.
In this past year of COVID-19, it’s gotten harder, not easier. We made it through lockdowns only to be hit with frantic buyers chasing a huge shortage of inventory. Buyer’s agents are stressed. They are searching for the ideal house that’s not on the market and submitting offer after offer that lose out in bidding wars. They are counseling frustrated buyers and trying to find off-market properties.
Seller’s agents are stressed, too. How in the world do you (fairly) handle a new listing that generates 94 open house visitors, 41 private showings and 16 offers in a 48-hour period? (This is a true example — no exaggerations.)
You’re going to have 15 unhappy buyers and their agents. Someone may accuse you of wrongdoing or of favoring someone over their own very fine offer. How do you even keep track of 94 people walking through an open house during a pandemic?
In short, we are all stressed. While some may be concentrating on virus safety, health and sanitization issues, few are talking about mental health and stress in this business.
In our office, January through March were extremely stressful. It is strange, but it actually feels more stressful than a year ago when we first locked down. Back then, there was panic and uncertainty. We shut everything to be cautious and then learned how to deal with it. We learned how to do business in a pandemic.
Now, the stress feels different. The extreme lack of inventory has agents in total panic mode. Not “I’m going to catch the virus panic” but “I don’t understand how to find a house for these buyers” panic. This is different.
Lack of inventory is leading to stress due to the bidding wars we see. Buyers are giving up inspections (not recommended), bidding thousands of dollars over asking (will it appraise?) and pushing agents out of their comfort zone.
The past two to three months I’ve had to be a friend, counselor and confidant more times than normal as a broker. I see a trend in the calls, though, and here are a few tips on how to cut the stress down a bit.
1. Know your role
This seems simple. What is your role in the transaction? Are you the buyer’s agent or seller’s agent, or (in some states) serving an intermediary role? Know this. Live this. If you are the seller’s agent, your job is to get the seller to the finish line. But — big caveat — the sellers still are responsible for their end of the deal.
For example, the sellers list their house, and a relative is living there. You sell it and the closing date is set 45 days out. Come 45 days, the relative must be moved out. That’s in the contract. If the relative is not moving out, that’s on the sellers — not you as buyer’s agent or listing agent.
If the sellers couldn’t make him or her move, then they shouldn’t have listed the house for sale. You have a problem. But it’s not your responsibility to find the relative a new place to live. You did your job, and now it’s on the sellers to make it happen.
Yes, this is a real example of an agent who had sleepless nights and stress because she couldn’t find a place for the relative to move. She called housing units and tried to find the woman an apartment. She confided in me that she felt like she failed. They did two contract closing extensions before the buyer threw in the towel.
My response was that the house never should have been listed if the sellers couldn’t hold up their end of the bargain. The buyer bought in good faith and the seller failed to remove the occupant and close.
Everyone lost in this situation — the buyer, the seller and the agents. They are lucky the buyer didn’t sue for specific performance. But the listing agent’s role was not to find a new place for the relative. It was to sell the house.
2. Stay in your lane
This leads me to “stay in your lane.” Sounds simple, but agents fail to do this time after time. You sell houses — stick to that mission. You don’t inspect houses, confirm what someone can or cannot do with a property, or arrange financing for someone. When you step over that line, you risk problems.
You might think, “Oh, but I always go above and beyond the call of duty — I need to help my buyers every step of the way!” No. Sometimes, you have to point them to the source of the information, and let them do their own work. Otherwise, they’ll come back to blame you if there is a misinterpretation or misunderstanding. This will save you future stress.
For example, an agent was writing up an offer and asked the broker about financing on an agricultural piece. The correct advice was to “have the buyer call their lender.”
This was a complicated sale with farm and land involved, and the agent wanted interest rate and type of loan to plug into the contract. The broker advised the agent that the buyer needed to talk to the bank directly, as there was more involved than just interest rate and type of loan.
As agents, we want to be sure we know all the details of the deal. We want to be involved — but it’s not always in our best interest to make the calls for the client. Sometimes, the clients should be the ones initiating the calls, getting all the information and making sure they understand what’s involved. In this particular case, their lender of choice had a special program, but it was best explained by the lender to the buyer, not the agent.
“Stay in your lane” is easy to say and hard to do sometimes. Take a step back. Point the buyer or the seller to the expert they need to talk to — and let the expert give the client the information.
Giving advice that’s outside your realm of expertise causes problems later. It also can be freeing to say: “That is not something I can answer. Here’s the phone number of someone who can answer that question.”
3. Set limits
Along with staying in your lane, setting limits is crucial. COVID-19 has blurred boundaries. What day is it? What time? We tend to work longer hours, and clients don’t always recognize it’s a weekend or holiday or after hours. I advise my agents to set limits early with their clients. We cannot — and should not — be available 24/7.
If you answer a client’s call at 9 or 10 p.m., they will expect it moving forward. If someone texts you at 11 p.m. and you reply, they will think it is acceptable to do this in the future. Set limits early.
Even if you receive a late-night email or text message, you do not need to reply immediately. Hold off until morning, unless you want to set a precedent for future communication.
I had an angry seller call me one Sunday because his agent didn’t reply quickly. He said he knew she was busy, but he wanted guidance right now. The agent had told him she was unavailable that Sunday because it was her child’s birthday and instead of understanding, he called me (her broker) to complain about her unavailability.
Stop telling clients where you are or what you are doing. If you don’t want to work Sunday, you don’t have to tell them why. “I’m sorry I’m fully booked” should suffice. Period, end of sentence. Otherwise, they may call your broker to complain or call another agent. You don’t owe them an explanation. You are simply booked.
To avoid stress, tell your clients when you are available to talk — and you don’t have to explain why you are not available. You are booked. Period.
Return calls and emails promptly, but set boundaries when you are offline. Don’t reply to a midnight text as if it’s life or death. It usually can wait until morning. Texting under the covers while your partner sleeps causes more stress than it’s worth.
4. Do not take this personal
This is hard. Really hard. Even the most clinical of agents fall into this trap sometimes. We work for months (or years) finding the perfect place for someone. We get the property under contract. We are moving to closing — and it all falls apart. People point fingers and blame you for the fiasco. You told them. You promised. You should have known.
This is a business deal, and it fell apart. Stop taking it personally. No matter what words are thrown around or what the client accuses you of, step back for a moment. This is not personal.
Try to analyze the situation clinically. Step away. You may indeed have screwed up. Perhaps you did fail somehow, but you need to try to take a more analytical approach. Chalk it up to a learning experience, step away and move on. Next.
The buyer may be angry and stop using you to find a house. The seller may fire you. But no matter what happens, learn from the experience, shut down the “what ifs” and move on. There is no positive outcome that will happen from rolling the experience over and over in your brain and laying there at night flogging yourself for missteps. Let it go. Move on. Yes this is easier said than done but if that doesn’t work …
5. Exercise and meditation
Yes, you read that right. Meditation and exercise can help improve your mood and outlook on life in general. If you have sleepless nights and keep ruminating over what you did or should have done or worrying about things in general, try meditating. There are apps you can download or tapes you can buy.
I used to work out with a personal trainer, but COVID-19 killed that little luxury so I caved and bought a Peloton. Now I ride five days a week on the Peloton even if it’s just a short ride. I use the app to fall asleep at night to a sleep meditation.
I honestly never believed in meditation, but I think listening to the sound of the app shuts out all the noise in my head — the what ifs and “I forgot to dos” — and it helps me focus on my breathing and leads to sleep.
I’m not a huge fan or follower of the British Royals, but the Megan Markle’s interview opened up a new discussion on mental health and support. Realtors are not immune to this problem.
If you are a broker, what are you doing to support your agents in this time of crisis? Do you even recognize it as a problem? And agents — know you are not alone. Many are in the same place you are in right now.
What are you doing to get off the hamster wheel and put yourself in a better place? You are not powerless. You are in control of how you take charge of your clients and your life. Choose to be in control.