When people are young, everything is social. Even while our kids are learning in school, they’re also expected to navigate friendships and learn self-control, when to be in play mode and when to get down to business. Of course most people never master it – whispers, note-passing and clandestine texting are the norm in any classroom – but by the time we’re in college and then professionals, we’re expected to know where the line between work and the rest of our lives lies.
When it comes to the real estate business, that line is a bit blurrier than in many other professions. Not to compare an open house to a Kindergarten classroom (but it’s totally like a Kindergarten classroom, complete with snack time), the work we do is inherently social. Paperwork aside, finding, keeping and executing business as a real estate agent requires master of relationships, near constant communication, and a comfort level with many different kinds of people. It’s often exhausting and always unpredictable.
That said, we all know that agent who perhaps takes it too far – who doesn’t know where the line is between his business dealings with clients and his or her personal life lies. We’re not saying you shouldn’t be close to your clients – most of us have indeed wound up with clients as personal friends – but that’s not the goal. The goal is to sell or purchase property and give them the service they require, end of story.
Of course, friendships or even intimate relationships are only the most obvious “boundary” a client/agent relationship might have to watch for. More common are the boundaries on what sort of behaviors are appropriate – what we are willing accept.
This is addressed in an episode of the Onion Juice podcast (a must-download podcast that we highlighted a couple of weeks ago, which recommends explicitly clear communication with our clients. Perhaps that means a printout with a range of times when you will or won’t accept calls or text messages, or when you know you can check e-mail. This has as much to do with your overall happiness and success as it does with managing clients – if you’re at the service of dozens of people, you’re going to find it difficult to be there for yourself or your family. Managing your time is an important part of being successful in any profession, and that means making time for yourself.
We recommend listening to this whole episode, but the best bit focuses on so-called “Pop-Tart” agents; and honestly, the Pop-Tart phenomenon can apply to any profession. (Also, it’s fun to think of our favorite agent friends slathered with white icing and sprinkles and stuffed with strawberry jam.)
For too many years I was what I call a “Pop Tart” real estate agent. What I mean by that is this: I would “pop” up and do anything my clients asked, anytime they asked me. It didn’t matter if I was tucking in my kids. It didn’t matter if I was in the middle of dinner. It didn’t matter if I was on vacation. My clients came first. And that was wrong. If that’s what you are doing, it’s wrong for you as well. I’m not afraid to say the hard truth. You’re going to burn out and you are going to wind up doing a disservice to your clients and your family in the end.
“Boundaries” can also apply the behaviors we should expect our clients to tolerate from us. In a helpful (if semi-dated) article at Inman.com, Bernice Ross outlines this phenomenon well
How often do you tell your clients, “You should list your house at this price” or “You should offer at least this amount if you ever hope to have the sellers accept your offer”? The conflict occurs when we expect our clients to apply the same standards that we hold. In other words: “I’m the expert. You should do what I say.” This imposition of our standards often generates anger and resentment in our clients.
Obviously this works both ways. If you have an unreasonable client who likes to yell and scream, you don’t have to put up with that. Don’t escalate the conflict, but you are well within your rights to end the conversation or even the relationship if his or her behavior crosses a line.
The good news is, as professionals – and adult human beings – most of us have a very good idea of where our boundaries lie, and how to navigate them with clients. With deliberate thought, some self-care and most importantly crystal-clear communication, we can improve our businesses and our lives by mastering those work/play relationships we first learned in elementary school.