In Real Estate, Nobody Cares How Hard You Work

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Appointments are set. Leads have been followed up with. As you head home and take a breather, it’s hard not to feel the warm glow of self-congratulation. You’ve put in the hours and checked off your to-do’s. Who shouldn’t feel a little smug, right?

Well … not to ruin those moments of happiness or anything, but maybe we should rethink it. Real estate agents and other professionals regularly confuse the feeling of effort with the reality of results. It’s something psychologists call the “labor illusion.”

Let’s talk about why “work smarter, not harder” is a legitimate statement you should pay attention to:


The Illusion of Hard Work

We judge other people’s work based on how much they wore themselves out, not by how quickly and well they did their job (as we often say). Don’t believe me? Check out this story, as Dan Ariely shows how a locksmith began to earn fewer tips and more complaints about pricing as he got better at his job. Each job took him so little time or effort that customers felt cheated, even though being super-fast is an asset people supposedly desire.


Think clients hate waiting? Not so fast…


A 2011 study done by the Harvard Business School found people actually preferred to wait longer for search results on flight-booking websites, such as Expedia (which you’ll see if you look for flights there). The perception is they are working hard to help you, which is why you have to wait.

In real estate, we call this the Effort Trap. It’s dangerously easy to feel a 10-hour day of catching up on calls and clearing out emails from your inbox is more worthwhile than 2 hours of concentrated work on negotiating deals. Those couple of hours may not exhaust you or take that long, but it doesn’t mean they were less meaningful.

So, if you’re judging output by your tiredness, you’re sure to be misled.


Enter “Work Smarter, Not Harder”

Avoiding the effort trap isn’t easy. Our culture reinforces the idea of: Hard work is ultimately what matters. It’s everywhere … from office workplaces to home tasks. Too little do we place value on working smart instead of hard.

In real estate, we think calling a thousand leads is hard work, but it’s worth it. However, not many leaders acknowledge there’s an easier way to do those tasks. For example, having a phone dialer or real estate CRM to help with lead follow up.

Since they take so little time, we start to place less value on the work behind it. However, if you’re properly thinking about which leads to call and when to call them, gathering a honed list of quality leads versus a large list of all leads … well, hopefully you see the value. Which list do you think will convert better? Remember, results are what bosses look for.


Your Thoughts...

What do you think about this article? Do you think this is a legitimate argument -- is working smarter vs harder a priority for real estate professionals? I’d love to hear your thoughts, ideas, concerns, objections, etc.

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Nina Hollander
Coldwell Banker Realty - Charlotte, NC
Your Charlotte/Ballantyne/Waxhaw/Fort Mill Realtor

No one does care how hard or how much we work, because much of the public thinks we make a ton of money for not doing very much. Part of the problem is that historically this industry has tried to keep things "secret" and mysterious. So our clients really did not understand what we did, how much of it, and what we bring to the table. I strip that mystery away from my clients and none of my clients think I don't work hard enough and that I earn too much money. I always make sure they know what I'm doing, why I'm doing it, when I'm doing it, and how I'm doing it.

May 07, 2016 08:43 PM #1
Betsy N. Robinson - Serving the Sandhills, NC
Everything Pines Partners, LLC. - Whispering Pines, NC

I, like Nina Hollander, do my best to keep my clients aware of what I am doing, both to be sure they are informed as the process unfolds, but also to be assured that they know it is all the little details handled well and in a timely fashion that makes for a smooth and successful transaction. Real Estate is hard and tedious work, and while we all need to work smart and take advantage of technology, this is a human business and sometime the "old fashion" handholding approach results in a steady stream of referrals so you do not need to make those lead phone calls.  Focus on what achieves result for you and you will be a success!

May 07, 2016 09:31 PM #2
Ritu Desai
Samson Properties - Ashburn, VA
Virginia Realtor-Fairfax/Loudoun/PW-703-625-4949

I am with Nina, my clients appreciate all the hard work and away from family time I spend. There are some who will never appreciate and nothing can be done.  I am not selling my efforts I am in business to sell real estate. I get the job done and what they perceive of my hard work is their perspective. 

May 07, 2016 10:25 PM #3
Ricki Eichler McCallum
CastNet Realty - Corpus Christi, TX
Broker,GRI,ABR, e-Pro, TAHS

Good points!  I agree we should work smarter not harder.  Results count not the hours we put in, that's why i target market.

May 07, 2016 11:42 PM #4
Juan Lacayo
The Keyes Company - Westchester, FL
I know my neighborhood.

I would say that working smarter and not harder could be reasonably argued both ways, and find valid points on each approach.  However, in this business of Real Estate, we need to first understand what's best working for our niche market.  What could work for a 55+ community niche market, could not work for an International or even a millenial market/audience.  I honestly think the turning point to our success is to know what works best for our customers. For example; if you specialize as a new home sales consultant, your best approach would be social media. But if you specialize in 55+ communities your best approach could be door knocking, postards, letters, health magazines.  As you can see both efforts requires hard work and smart work, consequently, bringing superstar results.  We are already working smarter with all the technology available to us through our REALTOR Association Membership, where some are failing is to allocate our hard earned money to the right marketing strategy.  Hope this post helps some secret agents find their niche market and expose themselves to their right market audience.

May 08, 2016 12:58 AM #5
Jim Lee
RE/MAX Shoreline - Portsmouth, NH
Portsmouth NH Realtor, Portsmouth, NH

I think people value our work based on their perceptoins of how much time and effort you may or may not have put into it. 

People also value our services the same way. We demonstrate multiple things we do for sellers on their listings and are able to command a higher fee because of the perception we create. 

May 08, 2016 01:14 AM #6
Sam Shueh
(408) 425-1601 - San Jose, CA
mba, cdpe, reopro, pe

When you are self employed, self discipline and motivation go hand to hand.

You picked a flexible career where it is not 8 to 5 routine chore. Rather you work as much or hard as you want.  

In RE there is no substitute for hard work.....

May 08, 2016 02:31 AM #7
Larry Johnston
Broker, Friends & Neighbors Real Estate and Elkhart County Subdivisions, LLC - Elkhart, IN
Broker,Friends & Neighbors Real Estate, Elkhart,IN

Hi Jaycie at BoomTown , Obviously it is better to work smarter instead of harder these days.  Have a great week.

May 16, 2016 01:09 PM #8
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