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ABOVE: Tammy Tinnerello, William Pitt Sotheby’s International Realty; Betsy Wadsworth, Four Seasons Sotheby’s International Realty; Sam Plouchart, Sotheby’s International Realty – Beverly Hills Brokerage; Angela Gollan, Sotheby’s International Realty – Los Feliz Brokerage; Liane Dobson, Kienlen Lattmann Sotheby’s International Realty
Over the past few years, professionals in all fields have faced upheaval and uncertainty, and this has put the problem of burnout front and center. But in real estate, this problem is exacerbated. Not only are agents facing the same uncertainties as everyone else, but these same uncertainties have created frenzied real estate markets where housing supply can’t keep up with buyer demand.
So when agents are feeling crushed under these compounding pressures, what can brokerages do to alleviate the burden? That’s what this panel of real estate professionals came together to answer.
To start, let’s level-set. Just how bad is burnout right now?
Tammy Tinnerello: It’s higher than normal. Newer agents are getting overwhelmed and confused in this market, and seasoned agents are having to come up with different strategies for their clients. Often, they’re writing up many, many offers only to be defeated.
Angela Gollan: When every desirable home is commanding 50 offers, that’s 49 agents managing the disappointment of 49 buyers, and we all feel it. Buyers have to be long-distance runners these days, able to brush off 10 to 15 failed offers before finally landing in escrow — and I think many of us have had to learn to be cheerleaders and then therapists in addition to being agents. It can take an emotional toll if we’re not careful to avoid burnout.
Betsy Wadsworth: It’s similar even if you’re working with sellers. When you list a new home, it becomes a three-ring circus. Showings, phone calls at all hours of the night, text messages, Facebook messages, agents from outside the marketplace — and the list goes on. All of this is mentally draining.
Would you say that any of you have been through burnout recently?
AG: In March 2020, the economy was sunk and I wondered if I would ever sell another house again — but by June, I had eight properties in escrow at the same time, and I could barely eat a meal unless I’d written it on a to-do list. I felt outside of myself — disconnected from my husband and a stranger to my friends. Oddly, though, the burnout didn’t come for me when I was at my busiest. It came after. Once my deals started to close, I found myself uninterested in pursuing new clients, even though my phone was ringing off the hook. Eventually, I realized that I was experiencing burnout.
Liane Dobson: For me, I was getting truly rundown at the end of 2021. The holiday season is usually a nice break, and last year it didn’t happen. Our EVP encouraged me to bring another agent onto my team who could provide me with the support I needed.
Sam Plouchart: 2021 was a burnout for sure, after some of the largest transactions and highest volume.
BW: I can relate. At the close of 2021, I hit an all-time high in my sales production, but it didn’t come without pure exhaustion and I had to reevaluate my work-life balance. I recognized I needed to reinvest in myself.
AG: It’s so important. Overcoming burnout required me to accept that what I was feeling was valid. It’s easy to fall into the emotional trap of feeling less tough than other agents, less capable of managing the stress. Although a lot of other agents were feeling similarly in 2020 and 2021, we all hid our burnout from one another because we thought it made us look weak.
How were you able to overcome this? What did you do to beat burnout?
AG: For me, the first step was talking about it, and seeing how rampant it was across the industry. I compared notes with my colleagues, my manager, my friends. Talking openly about burnout made it feel less like a personal flaw, and more like a reasonable response to an intense workload. Understanding my own burnout helped me recast it as a challenge I could overcome. I took some time to regroup, leaned on my team, prioritized self-care, and soon I felt much better.
TT: I recently spoke with an agent on my team who was experiencing this. I had her come to my office and we talked about life and how we were feeling. I was able to help her figure out what was triggering her stress. When we identified it, she was able to prioritize the most effective and productive way for her to move forward with her business. We also came up with a weekly plan to meet up just to chat.
It sounds like having these conversations is critical. What else can brokerages do to diminish and destigmatize burnout?
LD: From a management perspective, I think encouraging self-care is incredibly important. Also, managers need to be on top of their associates’ business so they can see when they’re struggling, and make sure there are systems in place to help.
SP: At my current brokerage, the tailored service for each agent allows me to focus on generating more business by eliminating time-consuming computer work. My business model is focused on relationships and requires face-to-face time, so every extra minute I can spend with my clients versus having to create my own e-blast is worth its weight in gold. In my opinion, this is what a brokerage is supposed to do for its agents.
What advice would you share with a colleague coping with burnout?
TT: For managers who may be concerned for someone on their team, my advice is to reach out. Ask the agent to grab coffee or lunch. Start by talking about anything except real estate. Chances are, once you start the conversation, the agent will reveal what the root of the burnout is.
LD: And for agents, my advice is to practice self-care. I do a lot of yoga, and I believe it has helped my mind and body cope with the stress we see daily. I also take several vacations a year — albeit not long ones. It’s important to disconnect from the daily grind and to remember why you’re working so hard.
AG: That’s great advice. I’d say, do the thing you feel most guilty about, or don’t have time for. If all you want to do is sleep, take a whole weekend to do exactly that. If you need to run away to a beach, go find a beach! Allow yourself a targeted window of time to shut down, regroup, and refocus. Sometimes our brains just need a little rest, or distraction, or a fresh challenge. When we remove the guilt associated with burnout, recovery can be a lot more straightforward than it may seem.