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Who says you have to work 24/7 to be a success? Our expert shows one sales associate how to stop living to work and start working to live.

Anita Kent Handy starts each workday at 7:30 a.m. and seldom winds down before 8 p.m. Her weekends are filled with job-related obligations as well, like listing presentations, open houses and taking buyers out to see properties. “I typically travel four to five counties with one customer in one day,” says Handy, a sales associate with Poole Realty in Live Oak (an hour northwest of Gainesville). “To think that people make a living off one neighborhood is amazing; we’re such a rural community,” she says, explaining that her farm area is so scattered that she has to do a little of everything—from vacant land to commercial to residential—just to make a living.

On rare occasions when Handy does take a day off, she’s so worn out that she spends her time catching up on lost sleep. And vacations are unthinkable. After all, she might lose business if she were unavailable to her customers.
What’s the payoff? Handy prides herself on leading her office in transactions and having a reputation as one of the “hardest-working and nicest” sales associates in her area.

But she’s on the threshold of burnout. “I have an assistant, and my broker’s support, but I’m still struggling,” she says. “I’m always answering e-mails and returning phone calls.” Try as she might to stick to a schedule, her whole day is disrupted with the first phone call. “The other day I had a board meeting, and within those two hours I [received] 10 voice mails,” she says, adding that she’s got to stop “spinning around like a madwoman” and “start getting a life.”

Bring in the Expert
Real estate trainer Pat Zaby agreed to help Handy find a way to bring some sanity back to her work life. Here’s what he had to say:

1. Rethink Your Schedule
Zaby is quick to point out that Americans work longer hours than anyone else in the developed world, but that those who take time off are actually more productive than those who are always “on call.”
“Anita, if you’re working sunup to sundown, you’re not being nice to yourself,” he says.

To help Handy curb her tendency to run in 100 different directions, Zaby suggests that she record how she’s spending her time during the next few weeks. “This takes discipline but it’s going to be an eye-opener,” he says. “In your [Microsoft Outlook] calendar, I want you to record everything you do. Attach a different color to personal and business appointments. Put all personal items in blue and all business items in red, for example. Listings, showings and open houses are directly related to production, so make sure they’re in there. Then, take a look at the results. Assigning a color is an easy way to get a visual picture of where you’re spending your time. If red totally outweighs blue you’ve got to get some balance. Time off keeps you refreshed and thinking clearly, so it would be good to get out of town without your cell phone to get a new perspective.

“If somebody wants to look at houses but you’re already committed, you’ll ask them to come another time, right?” Zaby continues. “So, make appointments with your husband, Fred, and put them on the calendar too. Don’t let anyone get in the way of that. If you’ve planned to go out to dinner and somebody calls and wants to look at houses, you can’t say, ‘Oh, Fred, we’ll have to go later.’ You can simply tell customers that you already have a commitment and offer to help them later. About 99 percent of the time, they’ll say yes. You can serve customers and still be good to yourself.”

2. Continue Building Contacts
Past customers can be a rich resource during trying times, says Zaby. “We all do business with people who appreciate us. Talking with them should be the fun part of your day, so pick up the phone and tell them what’s going on. More people will be convinced by the height of your enthusiasm than will ever be convinced by your logic.

“Let people know that even if the market is challenging, there’s a better selection of homes than we’ve had in years and that they have an opportunity, from a buyer’s standpoint, to get a better price.

If Handy doesn’t know what to say to these people, she can take some tips from the National Association of Realtors® recent television campaign. “I guarantee there will be some positive things you can be enthusiastic about,” says Zaby. Had you been in real estate years ago, you’d know the market is always cyclical and you could pull back into your memory bank and use scripts from the past.”

3. Know Your Numbers
Next, Zaby wants Handy to study her market’s housing statistics to figure out what’s selling. “Many times we work so hard in our business that we don’t have time to work on our business,” he says. “Agents burn out and then their production goes down but it may not be consistent with the rest of the market. For example, if my productivity is down but the market isn’t, it’s my fault. On the other hand, I don’t want to use a down market as an excuse.”

Handy says she had phenomenal sales in both 2005 and 2006, when she did between 40 and 50 sides and closed $12 million and $7 million, respectively. “This year to date, I’ve done 10 units with five more pending,” she says, adding that residential and commercial have stayed strong while land has tapered off significantly.

“If that’s the case, you need to put less effort into land sales,” says Zaby.

4. Price Listings Right
 “Experience has shown us that more activity will occur during the first 30 days than at any other time during the listing period,” says Zaby. “So, if we don’t price it right in the beginning, all the newness is worn off by the time we get it right. Sellers want you to hold an open house, run an ad in a magazine and so forth, but those don’t sell property. Paint the market the way it is for these people. Ultimately, you want to sell people’s property for them. You don’t want to tell them what they want to hear.”

As a last-ditch effort, Zaby recommends that Handy have sellers sign a price reduction that says she’ll try to sell their home for 30 days at their price and then reduce it by a specific amount if it doesn’t sell.
One of Zaby’s products, the Marketing Library, offers spreadsheets and presentations that Handy can use when talking with sellers about pricing their homes correctly. [See list on page 51.]

5. Lighten Your Load
Finally, Zaby recommends that Handy have a heart-to-heart talk with sellers and explain the market conditions. “Not that you haven’t been honest, but the best way to help them is to make them realistic about today’s market,” Zaby says.

“It’s better to disappoint someone now than disillusion them later. Eliminate the unrealistic [sellers], and you’ll have more time to work with those who are listing right. Don’t you think your life would be simpler if you fired some of your overpriced listings right now?”

Handy admits that she’s got several that probably need to go. “You cannot chase the market down,” Zaby adds. “I’m always reminded of this ‘Cathy’ cartoon from a few years ago, where Cathy said, ‘Only once I’d like to be somebody’s first love, second wife or third Realtor.’ Why do you think she said that?  Because the third sales associate might be the one who finally gets the seller into a realistic situation. You need to be that kind of sales agent.”

This column provides advice from industry experts concerning marketing, technology and business issues. It won the Silver Award in the 2007 Best Column category from the Florida Magazine Association.