A woman in a business suit walks along a sandy beach next to a modern office.
Illustration by Lanette Behiry/Real Estate News; Shutterstock

Yes, you can take a vacation (here's how) 

An agent's job is rarely just 9-5, and it can be hard to carve out time for breaks when clients are counting on you. But it's possible — and important.

March 18, 2023
4 minutes

Key points:

  • You don't have to be available all day, every day, to be a great agent.
  • Trading coverage with another agent or team member ensures you both get breaks.
  • Some advance planning and expectation-setting will help set you, your brokerage and your clients up for success.

Kristi Jencks has been that real estate agent. The one on her phone at Disneyland, negotiating a deal so she could rush back to her hotel to do paperwork, all while "vacationing" with her family.

These days, as a business coach for the Tom Ferry organization, Jencks helps other agents understand the need for boundaries and systems that allow them to take much-needed vacations. After all, numerous studies show that being available to clients 24/7 can lead to a higher risk of serious disease, fatigue, stress and a diminished ability to learn. Time off is essential. 

"Most agents are deathly afraid of setting boundaries," says Jencks. "Would you call your doctor or accountant or lender at 8 p.m.? Probably not, but most realtors set that expectation. They tell clients, 'Call me anytime. I'm available whenever you need me.' It's not healthy."

Building breaks into your business plan

Anders Ibsen, managing broker at Anders Ibsen Homes-Windermere Professional Partners in Tacoma, Washington, says time off is not only deserved, it's needed. "I like to think of real estate agents as corporate athletes," he says. "Any athlete is going to prioritize rest as part of getting stronger. Agents need to do the same."

Ibsen makes vacations and rest part of his business plan. He routinely takes off weekends and Wednesdays, unless there's a problem only he can deal with. He also completely unplugs from work one week every other month.

"The way to do that and have a successful, thriving business, is to have systems in place so you can deputize other people to carry on while you're away," he says. 

Arranging coverage

Coverage while you're out of the office will look different in different situations. You may want to trade coverage with a fellow agent; they take care of your clients while you're away and you'll do the same when they go on vacation. If you're part of a team, you may work out an agreement with one of them to be your backup agent — just be sure to discuss financial considerations ahead of time, such as whether you're splitting commissions or paying them hourly. 

Once coverage is arranged, letting clients know you'll be away is vital. "What you say and how you say it will greatly impact how clients react to learning you're going on vacation," says Jencks. "If you have a buyer, you might call them and tell them, 'Here's the good news: Suzanne, who is completely up to date on what you're looking for and what you've already seen, will give you a call if something exciting comes on the market.' That's much better than telling them, 'Hey, I'm leaving town,' or even worse, not telling them anything at all."

Setting limits for yourself, expectations for your clients

If you're someone who simply can't stay disconnected during a vacation, Jencks urges setting limits. Tell clients you'll be on email and responding to work calls or texts for one hour each day, just before dinner — and then stick to it. 

Of course, an annual vacation is not a substitute for taking shorter breaks from work. Both Jencks and Ibsen clearly communicate boundaries with clients from the start.

"I tell agents to think of them as 'expectations' rather than boundaries," says Jenck. "I let sellers know I'll update them every Monday. If I need a signature on something, I tell them if I don't have it by 7, it'll have to wait until tomorrow. It's important to tell clients: 'This is what you can expect from me' and then carry through with it."

Ibsen agrees: "Most people love clarity of expectations. For example, I generally stop taking calls at 6 p.m. I tell clients, if there's something urgent, I'll respond. But if it's a routine question, I'll get back to them the next morning. People respect that. It allows me to have a better quality of life, and it leads to a relationship of trust with my clients.

Your pre-vacation checklist

Whether you're stepping away from your office for a day or two weeks, don't forget: 

  • Your broker and the agent or agents covering your clients need to be in the loop two weeks to a month prior to your departure. That allows time to review pending clients and "what if" scenarios; you'll also want to include these folks on client communications in the weeks leading up to your vacation.

  • It's likely your brokerage or agency has a vacation reciprocity agreement template. Ask before you begin hammering out an agreement on your own.

  • Change your voicemail and email response so people know not to expect a quick replay. Be sure to include contact information for your broker or back-up agent. This will also let potential clients know when you'll be back in the office and ready to assist them.

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