Setting Mutually Acceptable Limits in Real Estate

avatar.jpgOnce upon a time, when I first started in real estate, I advertised my phone number as my “24-hour cell number.” Another agent in my office used the terminology and I thought it sounded impressive – 24/7/365, I’m here to fulfill your real estate needs!

In time, though, I realized I’m not a McDonalds drive-thru. Twenty-four hour service was not only unnecessary, it was downright silly for one person to claim to deliver. (When I was at Charles Schwab, the active trader division came to the same realization.)

Anyway, inspired in part by the example of Tutas Towne Realty in Florida, I set business hours for myself. Call me between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. any day of the week and if I don’t answer, you will hear back from me within 59 minutes. It’s a policy that both sounds good and seemed to meet the needs of the vast majority of real estate sellers and buyers.

Apparently not. I was fired by a seller this morning. My crime? Going to a Phoenix Coyotes game and not answering my phone after 7 p.m.

I’ll tell you a secret. Most of the time, I’ll check my messages after 7 p.m. and often return calls the same evening. I don’t guarantee this because I can’t, but I try. Last night, I never heard the phone ring at the game. And answering messages wouldn’t have worked.

An agent called and left a message that he would be at one of my listings in 15-20 minutes. Agent arrives and since it was after dark and not expecting the visit, seller decline to show the house. Agent is angry even though the notice was ridiculous. Seller is angry, even though they would also have been upset about a Saturday night showing with nearly no notice. And I’m to feel guilty that 11 hours of guaranteed daily availabiliy is insufficient.

Except I don’t. I’m not a 24-hour drive-thru. I have carved time into my schedule to spend with my family and otherwise to recharge. That time comes after 7 p.m., a time when there are virtually no showings scheduled and little work to be done.

In any event, whoever takes the listing next will be the sellers’ fifth agent in just over a year. And despite being fired, I wish the seller well. If I find a prospective buyer, I’ll still show the house. And I’ll do it before 7:20 p.m. on a Saturday night.


Jonathan Dalton

Jonathan Dalton is a 40-plus-year resident of the Valley and has been helping folks buy and sell homes since 2004. He can be reached at 602-502-9693 or info at


  • Norm Fisher 11 years ago

    Jonathon, sorry to hear of your “firing,” but it as probably inevitable given the fact that this seller found three other victims prior to your arrival.

    I realized several years ago that being a “24/7/365” agent was not only unhealthy, but it makes a guy look desperate for business. I know of no other professional that is that accessible and I don’t think real estate agents need to be either. I once had an agent who told me that she could not turn her phone off long enough to share an intimate moment with her husband. Imagine how that made him feel. “Oh damn! I’m going to have to take this call Jeff.” It’s often some inflated sense of self importance that makes agents think they have to be available to deal with emergencies. Sorry, but there aren’t many emergencies in the real estate business.

    Before I began to operate on an 8:00 am – 8:00 pm schedule, my life felt like one long work day. My work is much more enjoyable now that each work day eventually comes to an end. I feel strongly that I deserve it, and I also feel that my family deserves some time where my attention is undivided and focused on them. I rarely find clients actually attempt to reach me beyond 8:00 pm anyways. It’s usually some agent who doesn’t have enough foresight to be prepared and organized that wants to make that my problem by calling at the last minute.

    I now have my hours of operation spelled out in my listing presentation so all of my sellers are very aware. Most of them actually appreciate the fact that I’m not going to call them as they’re getting ready for bed and I haven’t had a single seller ever tell me that they’re uncomfortable with my hours.

    Here’s a suggestion that you might find helpful. Record a new voicemail message before you turn off your phone. “Hi, you’ve reached Jonathon’s voicemail. Thank you for calling. At the time of this recording it’s 7:00 pm and I’m going to be away from my phone for the balance of the evening. I will be checking my messages between 8:00 and 8:15 am tomorrow and will be happy to return your call at that time.” The agent that called and left a message would have at least been aware that his last minute message would not be getting through.

  • Jonathan Dalton 11 years ago

    I’d had the same idea, Norm, and am making the change on my voicemail.

    And your thoughts are appreciated … it didn’t occur to me later that phrases offering absolute accessibility actually seemed less professional.

    There are some agents in my office who have their business to a point where they only return calls twice a day. That, I believe, would be an interesting place to be.

  • Norm Fisher 11 years ago

    Hmmm. That is interesting.

    I guess it’s all about making sure that the client understands what can be expected of you. I choose to be as responsive as possible during my work hours and I think that probably buys me some grace when I’m not at work.

    Bottom line? Most reasonable people recognize your right to have a life outside of real estate. Your son is also entitled to some of Dad’s undivided attention. I really believe that you have to protect and treasure those times. If you are willing to have those moments interrupted all of the time, what message can the kid take from that except, “Even though I don’t know who is calling me, the phone is ringing, and that is more important than what you and I are doing together right now.” Not cool.

    Sorry for writing a post on your post. 🙂 I feel strongly about this one.