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Setting boundaries is hard, especially when you’re new to your field and trying to get clients. But if you don’t protect your time, you’ll find that you’re overworked, underpaid and burned out. And burnout is so real among even the most seasoned agents today.
To help empower you to protect your personal life and be a better human (you know, that whole self-care makes you a better you thing), we’ve compiled advice from contributors on setting boundaries.
Start by setting boundaries for yourself
To set effective boundaries, you first have to figure out where to draw the line with yourself and others. In “Draw the line: 5 tips for setting healthy boundaries,” author and coach Darryl Davis suggests the following tips:
1. Know the difference between a client and a customer
“A client is someone with whom you have a binding agreement, whether as their listing agent or buyer’s agent. A client is someone you have taken the time and energy to sit down and have an initial conversation with (hopefully in your office or at their home),” Davis writes.
A customer shouldn’t get the same level of service as a client because they haven’t given you the same level of commitment.
Business or personal, regardless of how your profiles are set up, keep it professional on your personal profiles. There are far too many online sleuths who will connect the dots, even if you think you’re commenting privately.
3. Don’t squabble online
There’s a reason that you don’t talk about politics, religion and money in certain settings, and perhaps online should be one of them. It’s a personal choice for every agent.
It can be really tempting to weigh in on other people’s bouts online, especially as mid-term elections are coming up, but avoid that temptation and keep it profesh online.
4. Put yourself first
At the end of the day, you have to safeguard your mindset, well-being, peace and professional persona first.
5. Remember that it’s OK to say ‘No’
“If we say yes to everything and everyone, we inevitably do not have the time or energy to healthily do everything we both want to do and need to do,” Davis writes. (We’ll go deeper into how and when to say no below.)
Then, set boundaries with clients
Now that you’ve figured out where to draw the line, you have to lay down the law with clients. Inman contributor Stephanie Arnett asked agents all over the country via Facebook how they set boundaries and client expectations. Here are their top 10 tips and hacks for not letting clients take over your life.
Stop responding 24/7
Don’t respond to emails at all hours. You’re essentially training clients to expect a response, and you can’t keep that up long-term. If you have to work during off hours, use a tool like Boomerang to schedule emails for a later time.
Set the tone at the first meeting
When you first meet with clients, set the expectation. Explain how you work. Let them know what your office hours are and how you respond.
Enforce your boundary policy with scripts
Don’t respond to calls, emails or texts during times when you’ve expressed that you’ll be unavailable unless they are truly urgent.
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
Say ‘no’ much more often
(Hmmm … see a theme here?) By saying no, you’re freeing yourself up to do the truly important work at hand, helping clients buy and sell real estate.
In “When to say ‘no’: 15 scenarios a real estate agent should refuse,” Bernice Ross recommends saying no in 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
When you say no appropriately, you’re setting boundaries in your work life and personal life.
Time-blocking is a simple time management tool that many agents use to prioritize critical tasks on their to-do lists. For example, you might block an hour in the morning, from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m., to make follow-up calls.
By time-blocking, you’re not only guaranteeing that you get the must-do tasks done, you’re also blocking out the time-sucking things that pull you away from more important things like your family. Check out Santiago Arana’s “Time-blocking 101: A simple guide for new agents” for more on how to make this strategy work on your calendar.
Become the expert
How do you become an expert as a newbie?
- Move your apps to a folder on the last page of your homescreen.
- Use the “Do not disturb” setting on your tech.
- Forget multitasking. Focus on one thing at a time to give it your full attention.
- Implement, assess, tweak. Try these strategies, and if they don’t work, tweak them and try again.
For more on these tips, read Arnett’s “Clients taking over your life? 10 tips for gently setting boundaries.”
“A primary way that real estate professionals create stress, chaos and confusion in their lives is due to their inability to say ‘no,’” Bernice Ross writes. “We worry about not appearing to be knowledgeable, or perhaps we simply react with the first thing that crosses our minds. The difficulty occurs due to our need to justify or explain our position.”
Saying no takes practice, but it can help you avoid trouble, burnout and looking untrustworthy. Here are six situations in which you should absolutely say no, from Ross’ “‘That’s a hard pass’: 6 times agents should say no.”
1. Say ‘no’ to reducing your commission
When sellers ask you if you’ll reduce your commission, simply say:
“No. Do you have any other questions?”
2. Say ‘no’ to stepping out of your lane
When a client asks your opinion on a question that would be a better fit for an attorney, inspector, mortgage broker, surveyor or title officer, simply say:
“I don’t know. Would you like the name of a specialist who can give you a definite answer?”
3. Say ‘no’ to justifying your buyers’ offers
When sellers or their agents ask about your buyers’ low offers, you might be tempted to justify it, but instead, try saying:
“When the buyers write a low initial offer, about half the time, we do actually close the transaction. The only way we’ll know for sure whether this buyer is part of the 50 percent who will ultimately close on your property is to issue a counteroffer and continue the negotiation.”
4. Say ‘no’ to wrong-priced listings
When sellers ask you to take an overpriced listing, this generally stops most sellers in their tracks:
“Thank you for taking the time to discuss the marketing of your property. Given the current market conditions, I simply don’t believe you can achieve the price you are seeking. I wish you the best in selling your home quickly and at the price you want.”
5. Say ‘no’ to psychic vampires
What’s a psychic vampire? Those people who drain you of your time and energy. “Psychic vampires want to take your time without having to give back. If you beat them to the punch every time they call or approach you, they will soon stop bothering you,” Ross writes.
She suggests inviting the time-sucking colleague to do a task they’d hate — cold calling, selling raffle tickets, helping with an upcoming garage sale. For the lonely client who loves to gab, set the expectation upfront. Tell them you only have five-10 mins to talk, and then leave for another appointment. Don’t talk to them about anything that isn’t business-related.
Set expectations upfront with yourself and then your clients. Then, learn to say no, and do it often, and you’ll find the boundaries between your work life and your personal life are much more pleasant.