5 reasons it sucks to be a parent in real estate (and how to make it work)

All parents learn one thing pretty quickly after their first kid is born: that first child changes your entire life completely.

That’s true for all working parents, but real estate agents‘ lives are even more chaotic because we’re essentially “on duty” at work and at home 24/7 — which makes an already stressful profession even more so. And that really sucks.

From never having free time to figuring out how to prioritize your kids while making your clients feel like they’re No. 1 — being a real estate agent with kids isn’t easy. Here are some of the most commonly felt growing pains that come along with having children in this industry.

5 reasons being a real estate parent sucks

The Solari Group’s Napa and Solano agent rosters include several parents of children under 12. We especially welcome and support such agents because we Solaris are “blessed” with young children of our own. Here’s how parents are making it work in this hectic industry.

Kiss your dream of ‘having it all’ goodbye

None of us would ever want to not have kids or not practice real estate, so you’re caught between your family and your passion.

Doing both simultaneously would totally suck all the time if we weren’t highly attuned to the necessity for rigorously balancing (and continually rebalancing) our work and family needs.

Being a working parent in any profession means giving up the illusion that you can do everything perfectly (it’s really not possible, even if you don’t have kids) and that you can “have it all,” a total delusion.

Unfortunately, pursuing one goal means sacrificing others. That’s true whether you have young children, older children or no children at all.

Being a parent in real estate demands ruthless priority-setting from conception forward. If you can’t get your priorities straight and your work and personal life under control, you will burn out faster than a Roman candle.

Abandon spontaneity — and any hope of free time

Every agent has to figure out how to deal with the same issues any working parent does: How can we do our professional best while doing right by our kids?

That means planning in advance how your day and your child’s mesh, where there are gaps that need to be filled and how best to fill them. It means lining up child care and backup child care — and backups to the backups.

It means developing an optimum client profile and being willing to refer to other agents the clients you’re not suited to help.

It means thinking about your car and whether the family will travel in one car while one is reserved for work and transporting clients, or if that’s not feasible, how you will deal with the issue of the family car doubling as your work vehicle.

There are dozens of what-ifs to consider and plan for ahead of time. But you must have a plan and revisit it often. You must stick to that plan rigorously to keep the kid part of your life from overwhelming your work life.

And you must accept that there’s not going to be anything even approaching “free time” in that plan for the foreseeable future.

Know that things will still happen, regardless of your infinite planning

Even with a great work-life plan that you follow religiously, life will still suck sometimes, like it did that 100-degree day when I ran out of gas in a cell service dead zone and had to hike — in heels — with my 2-year-old on my hip for 2 miles to get gas. That’s a mistake you only make once.

We all love sharing war stories like that. We enjoy talking about the moment when one of our kids is having a melt-down, and we have to keep muting our phones so clients don’t hear the shrieking in the background.

Mario Moreno

That scenario alone has changed Vallejo agent Mario Moreno’s lifestyle completely.

“Before we had [my daughter], I used to just grab the phone and start chatting with clients anytime, anywhere. Now, I have to make sure my daughter isn’t headed my way screaming ‘papa, papa, papa!’ before I pick up the phone,” he said.

For many parent agents, having an uninterrupted conversation with a client can require more than virtuosity with the mute button. Sometimes, we just have to go sit in the car to buy five minutes of quiet.

Realize that clients won’t always understand why your kids’ needs come first

You just have to expect that some clients will understand — and some won’t — that despite your very best efforts, your parenting and your real estate work will sometimes come into conflict.

There just will be days when your child gets dramatically carsick and barfs on you right before a client meeting.

Personally, I don’t share the specifics of what’s causing me to run late to a client meeting; clients just want to know when you’ll be there. Working with clients who aren’t completely rigid is crucial for me. However, there are other ways to handle client-child conflicts, and agents get creative.

Angela Shackleford

For example, Angela Shackleford, who works in our Fairfield office, is a single mom on very good terms with her ex-husband. Although he has his son on alternate weekends (giving her free time to meet with clients and hold open houses), he can rarely provide backup child care outside that timeframe.

So, she waited until her son was older before she pursued a real estate career. When he’s not with his dad, Shackleford’s son often accompanies her when she’s working outside school hours. He’s even attended our staff meetings.

And, because he’s frequently along for the ride when Shackleford is working with clients, she has built her business around family-oriented buyers and sellers. So, when new clients ask if they can bring their children along on home tours, Shackleford can respond, “Sure, if I can bring mine!”

Her clients invariably agree. Like any agent worth her salt, Shackleford has transformed a potential “flaw” (having a youngster along on occasion) into a “feature” — because he’s living proof that she understands her clients’ family needs completely.

Finding solutions will become your bread and butter

The thing that sucks most for agents with younger children is lining up child care, especially on a last-minute basis.

“Hi, I’m just in town for the day, and I’m parked outside your listing. Can you possibly show it to us now?” is the single most dreaded call most parent agents can get.

Not for Moreno.

In the child care arena, Moreno is the envy of the entire office. The day his wife — who is also employed full time — found out she was pregnant, his mother-in-law retired. This freed both Moreno and his wife to go back to work (mostly) guilt-free, knowing their daughter, now 2 years old, had the best care imaginable, day or night, provided by her grandmother.

“My family, including my extended family, has been very supportive. They always want to know about my business, and they want me to succeed. So, if I have to hold an open house and miss part of a big family gathering, I can just let them know I’ll get there when I can, and they’re good with that,” Moreno said.

That said, Moreno schedules all his business activities around the family calendar, so that both he and his wife are fully present with their child when they’re not working. So when a trip to Disneyland was scheduled, he moved up a new listing’s on-market date and first open house to work around the planned trip.

If anything suffers, he admits, it’s free time with friends and extended family. His immediate family and business come first.

By contrast, as Shackleford’s son has gotten older, he’s less eager to leave his friends and video games and tag along on his mom’s business outings.

So, when school let out for the summer this year, Shackleford asked him if he’d like to be her “summer intern.” He had one question: “Do I get paid?”

The parties came to a meeting of the minds on compensation, and Shackleford’s young “intern” helped ready her get ready for open houses by turning lights on and off, wrangling open-house signs and making sure doors and windows were locked tight when the open house was over.

By the time school started, “He scored big in video games” — his chosen form of payment — Shackleford reported. She also noted that, “He learned so much just by being on hand. It was great education.”

Shackleford is making single parenting and the practice of real estate work well. But, for most agents, especially those with younger kids, real estate is going to totally suck (and so is your parenting) if you try to go it alone.

It takes a village when kids are young, and you should accept help. You don’t want to wind up like this short-sighted agent in the news recently. He took his two kids along on a last-minute showing, but left them in the car on a hot day.

Having the police standing outside prepared to arrest you for child endangerment does not leave a deeply favorable impression on clients emerging from the home you’re hoping to sell them. We encourage our agents not to do that.

How to make it work

The truth is that it’s tough, and it does suck sometimes, but you can make it work with a little foresight, help from others and creative thinking.

All of us take full advantage of the flexibility the internet and cell phones give us. As working broker-owners, we handle the very same issues as our agents. But our “work-life plan” differs from Moreno’s, Shackleford’s and other parents in real estate because everyone’s plan is unique to their personal circumstance.

There’s no one right way.

For us, family comes first, so we schedule our days rigorously to get as much client-intensive work as possible done while the boys are in school. We handle activities that don’t involve much interaction with clients (like paperwork, catching up on emails, etc.) when the kids are around.

Because we have twin 10-year-olds and a 4-year-old, the car always smells like moldy Cheetos and gym socks. And the boys’ activities take up all our time on weekends. So, as much as we adore working with buyers, we had to make the hard decision that the optimum clients for our lifestyle — at least for now — are sellers. I miss buyers, and that sucks.

Despite having time-tested battle plans with built-in flexibility for delays, there are always out-of-the-blue client crises or unforeseeable kid-tastrophes that we can’t handle alone. To cover those times, my sainted business partner is incredibly flexible and good with both clients and kids.

She’s always ready to step in wherever she’s most needed, as is the rest of our wonderful staff and roster of agents.

However, I have to admit: “mom guilt” is real, and I haven’t found the antidote — and that totally sucks the most.

Nicole Solari is owner and managing broker of The Solari Group in Solano and Napa Counties in Northern California. Nicole runs one of the highest producing brokerages in all of Northern California.

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