Taking Medical, Bereavement, or Maternity Leave

These circumstances may require an extended break from work, but you don’t want to lose track of clients and transactions while you’re out. Follow this system to ensure your business remains on track.
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The cycle of buying and selling property never ends. That’s good for your business—but not so great when life circumstances require you to take a break from work and focus on personal situations. Many practitioners have a hard enough time unplugging to go on vacation. But what if you need to go on medical, bereavement, or maternity leave for an extended period of time? These sensitive conditions often don’t allow you to take much, if any, time to check in on clients or tend to tasks such as prospecting, creating marketing plans, or maintaining your social media presence. So how do you keep your business functioning during a time when you must be fully present elsewhere?

The key is to be as prepared as possible, depending on how much notice you’re able to give clients and colleagues, says Candy Miles-Crocker, GRI, associate broker at Long & Foster Real Estate in Washington, D.C. A few years ago, before taking a two-week leave to attend to family matters, Miles-Crocker secured a colleague to cover for her and gave the agent her client list, letting him know where her clients were in the home buying or selling process. “If a property comes on the market that met a client’s needs, the agent would show it and write up an offer, if necessary,” Miles-Crocker says. “If I had an upcoming home inspection or settlement, the agent would attend in my absence.”

She also emailed all her clients to let them know she’d be away. During those two weeks, her colleague conducted and negotiated a home inspection and showed another client properties. “While away, I didn’t respond to a single email,” Miles-Crocker says.

Keep Clients From Straying While You’re Out

As soon as you schedule your leave, let clients know when you’ll be unavailable and for how long—if you have a firm timeline—and try to personally introduce them to your “replacement,” Miles-Crocker says. If you can avoid it, don’t plan your leave to coincide with a closing, suggests Emile L’Eplattenier, chief analyst for real estate news website TheClose.com. “Abandoning an active buyer or seller when that person is ready to close is a great way to lose future referrals,” L’Eplattenier says. “You should make contingency plans with another agent.”

Don’t worry, though, about providing notice to clients too far in advance. A personal leave often is last-minute due to unforeseen circumstances, and that can actually work in your favor, says Blayne Pacelli, a sales associate with Rodeo Realty in Studio City, Calif. The less notice you give clients, the less time they have to find another agent, he says. You shouldn’t use this as a tactic to manipulate your business relationships, but take solace in knowing that your most motivated clients likely will stick with you through an impromptu absence. Pacelli strives to give sellers two weeks’ notice and buyers one week. “The reasoning is that it gives [buyers] less time to go to another agent,” Pacelli says. “With sellers, they are in a contract, so they can’t leave.”

Create a Pay Structure for Your ‘Stand-In’

Once you’ve chosen a colleague to help you, work out an agreement on referral fees, which can motivate the colleague to maintain your level of service to your clients, L’Eplattenier says. For example, you might offer the agent a standard 10 percent referral fee to work with active buyer leads but offer a higher split for new leads that come in while you’re gone. “Even if you’re best friends with the agent, make sure you get this all in writing,” L’Eplattenier says. “You should also make sure your managing broker is aware so you can rest assured no disputes arise, and you’ll be spared from frantic text messages.”

Other factors to consider are how to structure the commission split if your colleague opens escrow with one of your clients or you hand the deal over mid-escrow, along with anything else that may pop up in your absence, says Richard Combs, SFR, managing broker at Hunter & Maddox International Real Estate in San Diego. Your automatic “away” message for both email and voicemail also is important, says James McGrath, a sales associate with Yoreevo in New York. “I recommend putting up an out-of-office message that gives some color on your ability to respond,” he says. “Simply saying, ‘I will be out of the office until [return date],’ isn’t very helpful. Your message should say how often you will be able to respond, and it should provide the contact information for someone else at your firm who can handle anything urgent that may come up.”

Tie Up Loose Ends Before You Go

If it’s possible, you may find it necessary to wrap up nearly completed transactions even after you’ve begun your leave time. When her father died in 2012, Gerri Edwards, then a broker with Eastwood Homes in Greenville, S.C., had to take a week off work but was in the middle of negotiating a deal for her seller. She explained the circumstances to the cooperating agent and sent over the sale contract while she was gone. “In this case, it was easier for me to continue negotiating this deal rather than getting someone else to cover for me because I was very familiar with what [my client] wanted, and we were all in agreement,” Edwards says.

The paperwork was signed and returned to Edwards’s office, and the staff (she was working for a builder, so her staff consisted of the builder’s office staff) progressed, handling the paperwork, until she got home. When she returned to work, she had a fully signed contract in place, and it was business as usual. “It’s important to have a staff that knows the process and can execute it while you are out of touch on these occasions,” Edwards says.

Having sufficient backup in your absence is important because, Miles-Crocker adds, the minute your clients hear that you’ll be taking time off is the very moment they want to buy something. “It never fails,” she says.