Transparency yes or noPeople sometimes forget that amid the open houses, prospecting for new business, getting offers signed and accepted, real estate agents have a personal life too.  Often, since many Realtors work at least some evenings and weekends, that “having a life” goes into normal business days at times. We can’t work Monday through Friday, 8 to 6, plus evenings, plus weekends and never take any personal time.

And yet, that’s how some consumers – buyers and sellers – sometimes see us.

Inspectors, appraisers, title companies, lenders and many others expect us to be available during regular business hours.  Buyers and sellers often expect us to be available on weekends, holidays and evenings.

One client and friend of mine joked recently, “Mary, I want you to take time off – but not when I need you!”

That’s the tricky part.

To be perfectly honest with you, in order for most real estate professionals to have any semblance of a life, we sometimes take our time off in snippets rather than in whole days.  Got a kid?  Maybe the Realtor needs to go watch a basket ball or volley ball game late some Tuesday afternoon. Got an older parent or grandparent?  Perhaps it’s important to visit for a couple of hours a week. These things can’t always wait until Saturday or Sunday (and even if they did, buyers and sellers would need us then!).

In my case, I’m often responding to emails by 7am each day.  It is not super common for me to get an entire day off, though sometimes it happens, let alone a whole weekend.  Things need to get done, many of them small, and they may need to happen during the work day. That’s true for sanity breaks too.  Instead of a “coffee break”, I may take an hour here or there to run a personal errand.  Or 20 minutes to walk my dog.

So now the question: if you phone your Realtor during one of these snippets of personal time during a business day, would you rather have your real estate agent tell you the truth, that he is she is running errands, at a store or walking the dog – but will get back to you in an hour or two – or would you rather get voice mail and just wait to hear back, and never know what is really happening? Or be given the impression that it’s a work appointment (i.e., smoke and mirrors).  Many agents need to believe that they need to “look busy” to be taken seriously.

I think that most agents would either let the call go to voice mail or take the call but state that they are unavailable (which begs the question of why you picked up if you aren’t free to talk?).  My inclination has been to tell the truth, to be perhaps overly transparent and tell people where I am, what I’m doing and when I will be back at my computer.   Recently, though, that level of transparency gave someone the impression that I wasn’t professional since I was not working during the work day. And I lost the listing, even though the owner told me that my analysis was the most thorough and most professional of the 4 or 5 they reviewed.

This dilemma reminds me of a complaint I heard from a consumer once about his past real estate sales person, whose name I never heard, luckily.  The gentlemen was selling his house but was really upset that his Realtor could not do something because the agent was in a tennis tournament.  To the client, the agent had no right to not be working on his home sale and participating in a tennis tournament instead.  As I heard the story told, the agent wanted to work whatever it was (probably receiving an offer) around the tennis tournament schedule.  The tennis gig was important to the sales person – and of course he was looking forward to the competition.   Should he have cancelled his involvement?    Or tried to work around it?  Apparently the Realtor was truthful with the client about his time constraints, but in this case, the seller was livid to learn that he was working around a tennis schedule.  (How dare his agent have a life!)

Similarly, then, this agent was honest and transparent.  Was that a mistake?

The trouble with honesty and transparency is that it gives the other person a chance to make a values judgement – very possibly without having all of the information needed.  Or perhaps without the basic understanding that even though Realtors work a lot more than 40 hours a week, sometimes they do need personal time.

This happened to me a number of years ago, too.  My grandfather lived to be 104 years old.  For a number of years in his older age, he lived at the Saratoga Retirement Community.  I would go have lunch with him on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  He had become legally blind and unable to read due to macular degeneration.  In addition to having lunch with him, I would read him his mail and he would dictate letters to me to write to my siblings, cousins, other relatives or old friends. It was a noticeable chunk of time both days, about 2.5 hours each time.  I remember one client couple getting really mad at me if they could not reach me or get a call back within an hour during those days.  I did explain why I was unavailable, but it did not seem to calm their anger at all. (And I always got back to them as soon as possible, usually as soon as I said goodbye to my grandfather.)   Their expectation was that I should always be accessible.  Unfortunately my telling them where I was, and why I couldn’t chat right then, did not seem to help at all.   Transparency did not fix the problem as I had thought it should.

Where most problems happen is in the realm of expectations.  What do you expect from your Realtor?  Would you prefer to understand the schedule for personal time, or be left in the dark?  Is it better to have your call answered even if your sales person can’t really talk, but to have the timing explained, or would you prefer to just get voice mail?

How honest do you want your agent to be with you?

Most of my clients are also my friends – a friendship forged while working together.  In general, I have found that these “nice people” that I work with understand that sometimes the work day goes into the evening, so the personal time also goes into the work day.  They get it.  I actually love being able to be transparent with them, and I think that overall, everyone is happier that way.

It nags at me that I lost a listing by being too transparent, though.  Perhaps the key is to work into the transparency gradually?  I think that goes against my nature. I don’t think I want to or even can do the smoke and mirrors bit.  What do you think?


Please also read:

What do real estate agents do?