Setting Boundaries in Your Real Estate Life: An Expert’s Guide to Working with Clients Without Being Treated Like a Doormat
After working more hours than you can count over an extended period of time, you’re enjoying some family time one Tuesday evening: you’re watching one of your kids play in a baseball game.
At a critical point in the game, you feel your phone vibrate. Looking down, you see that you’ve received a text message from a client. Call me. Right away.
Looking again at the field, you debate what to do. You wonder if you can slip away for a minute – just long enough to find out what your client needs – and return to your child’s game without missing anything important or being missed.
Just then, your phone vibrates again. It’s the same client, a call this time. You sigh in resignation, then answer your phone as you step away from where you’ve been sitting with your spouse.
You stick one finger in your ear so you can hear your client, turning your back to what is happening on the field. This will only take a minute.
While your back is turned, the crowd suddenly erupts in raucous applause. You strain to hear your client, who raises his voice, “Are you listening to me???” You assure him that you are indeed listening. After dealing with your client’s “emergency”, you hang up your phone and return to your seat, just in time to realize the game is over.
Your child is talking to your spouse, excitedly explaining what they did while you were on the phone. And. You. Missed. It.
Your spouse shoots you a dirty look, one that tells you that you’ll be discussing your absence in greater depth later on.
How many times has something similar happened to you?
Most real estate agents have missed special moments like the one above – or have been unable to manage even an appearance at their kids’ special functions – all because they’re working when memories are happening.
One of real estate’s promises is that you’ll be able to earn a great living while having the flexibility enjoy life. However, demanding clients often suck the joy out of life by making unrealistic demands on your time or by putting you in the position of having to pick between family or a client. With money on the line, you sacrifice family time at the altar of client satisfaction.
It doesn’t have to be this way. There are ways to meet client expectations and still be able to carve out blocks of time for family. You don’t need to risk your business or be a doormat for clients who make unrealistic demands of your time when you should be enjoying life. Here’s how.
Understand That People Are Self-Centered and Selfish
The first thing to understand is that people are self-centered, selfish, and often, demanding. This is human nature, partly because society promotes the idea that the customer is always right. Your job isn’t to reinforce this perception. It is to reclaim transactional control of your time so your life isn’t hijacked by unrealistic demands.
Paint a Clear Picture So Clients Know What to Expect
Most clients have limited experience working with a real estate agent. The best time to establish your client rules of engagement is at the very beginning of your relationship. Paint a picture of what working with you will look like. Use clear, concise language explaining how your relationship will work – from what they can expect at every stage of the buying/selling process, to how and when you’ll communicate with them, etc. I have found that clients will follow your lead as long as you show them the way and you’re crystal clear about how your relationship will work.
Determine When You’re Willing to Communicate with Clients
Client communication is a big deal. The best time to determine when you’re willing to talk with clients via email, text or phone is beforeclients reach out to you. Discuss this with your significant other. Some real estate agents prefer to set a schedule while others are more flexible (for instance, agreeing that no client communications will occur during mealtimes, sporting events, family time, etc.). The main thing is that you work out a protocol, so everyone knows what to expect and you can still enjoy a good quality of life.
Set Expectations Early
Your first interactions with a new client will set the stage for how they will approach subsequent meetings. For instance, if a client calls or texts you at an odd hour (late at night, during mealtime, or during other times you don’t want to engage) and you immediately answer them, you are establishing a pattern that will be repeatedfor as long as it takes to complete their transaction.
I have long advocated responding quickly to client inquiries. However, there is no rule that says you have to be available for client service at all hours of the day and night. If a prospective client calls or messages you after hours, on your day off, or at other times you’d rather not deal with clients, ignore their message or send a quick reply saying, “You’ve reached me outside my normal working hours. I’ll get back to you (fill in the appropriate time based on your availability).”
Most people are pretty understanding of your need to have boundaries in place that reserves some time for you to enjoy your life.
I’ll give you advice for dealing with ones who aren’t a little later in this article.
Don’t Make Exceptions
Every real estate agent eventually runs into a client who asks for special consideration or simply demands you kowtow to their schedule, regardless of what might be happening in your life. Take it from someone who knows: if you make an exception once, you are giving up control over your time and you will never get it back.
Don’t make exceptions. Enforce your rules of engagement by politely responding to their inquiry and reiterating when you will get back to them. If the client continues sending you messages, ignore their message until the next day when you are able/willing to help them with their issue.
Banish the Doormat to Where it Belongs
When a client makes unrealistic demands, they’re trying to exert undue influence over you, your life and their real estate transaction. In a sense, this is a form of bullying that needs to be addressed by proactive real estate agents as soon as it rears its ugly head.
Most clients don’t realize they are treating you like a doormat (or are trying to). They simply think they are solving a problem as quickly as they can. The biggest favor you can do for a client when this happens is to push back and let them know how things need to work.
This can usually be accomplished without confrontation, anger or hurt feelings. I submit that a little pushback from you, gently, politely, and professionally, can resolve most of these issues.
Sometimes, despite your best efforts at being professional while maintaining your version of life balance, a client will decide to force the issue. For clients who insist on treating you like a doormat and disrespecting the boundaries you have established, only one response will prove effective.
Be OK With Firing a Client
There aren’t many real estate clients unwilling to listen to reason but a few of them do exist. If you’re serious about maintaining some semblance of balance in your life, you have to be OK with the idea of firing clients who won’t follow your rules.
These are scary words to some real estate pros, although they shouldn’t be. Every client isn’t a good fit for you. Clients who suck the joy out of real estate don’t deserve you and should be fired.
I’ve seen the discomfort this concept can cause. If you don’t put up with extreme client antics, another real estate agent will. This is correct. They will. There is always someone out there willing to do anything or go to any length, to be able to say they got the deal, the listing, or the closing.
The purpose of this article is to counsel you on how to avoid being a doormat to clients who would take advantage of you. To reach this goal, you have to be OK with firing a client and not worrying about who they might or might not choose to work with instead.
Fulfill Your Best Purpose: Be a Rock Star Real Estate Agent When it Really Matters
You serve a vital role in your market: being a rock star real estate agent who exceeds the expectations of your clients. The only way you can fulfill your greatest purpose is by eliminating the stresses that threaten your ability to do your job.
Begin placing a premium on your time today by insisting that your clients not treat you like a doormat.
Only then will you be free to unleash all of your creative energy in meeting – and exceeding – client expectations while working with people who will bring joy to your life.
Ken Speegle is Realty ToolKit’s resident real estate industry expert. Every week he writes insightful, in-depth articles about topics related to real estate marketing, each designed to help make you a better, more profitable real estate professional. Ken is the founder of therealestatewriter.com and has been a real estate copywriter since 1994.