If you want to curb the number of nonurgent calls you get from clients at odd hours, have an upfront conversation with them about your availability.
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You likely got into real estate knowing you’d have to hustle to attain clients and make your business profitable. But when you’re answering client texts and emails at midnight on a Tuesday, you may ask yourself, “Why did I want to be in this profession?”

For real estate professionals of all experience levels, the daily grind can be grueling. “Depending on what’s happening in a transaction, late-night calls are definitely part of the job,” says Lara Cox, a sales associate with Heidel Realty in Las Vegas. “When I first got in the business, I worked seven days a week and was known to leave a movie or a dinner to take a call.”

But at some point, Cox says, you must learn to set boundaries on your time to avoid burnout. That can be hard to accomplish: There are no standard work hours in the real estate business, though potential clients expect you to be available on weekends and evenings to show homes. While it may be fulfilling to know your clients need you—and to have listings that are selling quickly—it’s necessary to create healthy boundaries your customers can understand from the start.

Be Explicit About Your Boundaries

Dean Aguilar, MRP, team leader of the Dean Aguilar Group at Xavier Dean Realty in San Diego, says he explicitly lays out expectations of how and when he will work in the initial consultation with a new client. “You can set the expectations in a buyer consult, for example, on how showings are done so they don’t call you on the spot to go see something,” Aguilar says. Typically, he tells new clients: “Most escrow companies and showings are not available after 7 p.m., so I would never bother you after that time because I know family time is important. I, myself, spend the last two hours of the day with my family as well.”

Even if you don’t set specific hours of availability with your clients, you need to establish some sense of boundaries, says Nanette Labastida, GRI, a sales associate with Compass in Austin, Texas. Otherwise, clients won’t know when their demands overstep—which may lead to tense communication that could be avoided.

Labastida recalls one client with whom she did not set boundaries, and the client texted and called her multiple times throughout the day, from the early morning until the late evening. “I ended up being curt and snippy to this client, and I lost that feeling of care and compassion [for this person that] I have for my clients, who are indeed going through one of the most stressful things ever,” Labastida says.

Now she sticks to a strict daily time period when she’ll take client calls, and her customers have learned when she’s available. For example, even if she is awake by 6 a.m., she doesn’t answer texts until 9 a.m. She also turns off her ringer when she’s sleeping. However, “I do sometimes answer emails from new leads before 9 a.m. and after 10 p.m. because I want them to know that I hustle,” she admits. Sometimes, this means returning calls during the intermission at a show, or texting from a concert or dinner, Labastida says. And, Labastida says, she will answer urgent texts or calls at any time.

Allow for Flexibility

You may have specific boundaries in mind when beginning a professional relationship with a new client, but be open to negotiating your terms. Lee Williams, leader of The Williams Team at Level Group in New York, puts it in writing as part of a new-client agreement that his business hours are 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. He also includes the times of day he returns emails and what days he provides updates. But while drafting such an agreement, Williams gives his clients an opportunity to suggest alternative time parameters that work for them while also respecting his boundaries.

For example, Williams has a client in India with whom he schedules calls during “off” hours, as long as Williams has 24 hours’ notice. They agreed to limit calls to once weekly for updates. “Having these arrangements in place allows for greater focus in marketing a client’s property, efficiency when scheduling property tours, following up with prospects, and completing paperwork in a timely fashion,” Williams says. He adds that setting these kinds of expectations upfront keeps him from burning out—which, in turn, produces better results for his clients.

Automatic responses may also be an important tool in maintaining your boundaries with clients, says Laurie Rose, a sales associate with John R. Wood Properties in Naples, Fla. Rose lets her clients know that after 5 p.m., she uses an autoresponder so they know she is receiving their inquiries. She offers them a realistic time they can expect a return call, text, or email. “I know that not every interaction with clients will be within normal business hours, but by setting the boundaries early, there are fewer off-hour calls for unimportant items,” Rose says. “Of course, all bets are off when it comes to contract negotiations.”

Sometimes, however, boundaries need to be broken—especially during closing week. And if you must break boundaries, give yourself some extra personal time to make up for it. Cox says that whenever she has to work Sundays, which she typically takes off, she gives herself a few extra hours another day to revitalize.

Ryan Heller, broker-associate at RE/MAX Urban Properties in Denver, came to the conclusion that he needed to set boundaries after working 17-hour days for nine months straight. Now he says he doesn’t take client calls or emails between 10 p.m. and 9:15 a.m. “There are two exceptions, however: if my mother calls or if it’s regarding an offer, I will pick up,” Heller says. “But mom trumps all.”