You may know that more productive, successful real estate agents have assistants to help them manage the minutiae of the business — but how do you know if you’re there, yet? The question of when to hire an assistant can be a daunting one for many agents, and quite a few of them realize after they get an assistant that they probably could have hired one (and been appropriately relieved) much earlier than they did.
Hiring an assistant doesn’t hinge on how long you’ve been in real estate, and you can absolutely justify hiring an assistant if you could use some help with the tasks that assistants are allowed to complete. Remember that flexible arrangements, such as sharing an assistant with another agent in your office who’s at a similar stage, can help you bring help onboard faster than you otherwise would, making you more productive and saving your sanity.
Is it time to hire an assistant? If these are signs that resonate with you, it’s at least time to consider it.
1. You feel like you’ve lost your work-life balance
This is the biggest sign by far that it’s time to start thinking about hiring an assistant. Everybody knows the real estate industry is nonstop, and it can also feel isolating, especially if you’re a solo agent who’s trying to juggle everything by yourself. That can be a lot of pressure for someone when the stakes are as high as someone else’s place to live, immediately or for years — it’s a stressful environment with a lot of details to remember, and it’s no wonder a lot of agents struggle to keep all those balls in the air once they reach a certain level of success.
If you’re having trouble sleeping at night, consistently neglecting your family engagements for work, can’t exercise or eat well because you’re too busy — you know the signs — then consider it a serious warning that if something in your real estate career doesn’t change, you might not have a long-term real estate career.
2. You know how much money you make (gross and net)
Most agents ask themselves first whether they can afford an assistant, not whether they need one. Well, before you can assess whether you can afford an assistant, you need to know exactly how much money you make and how much of that money you take home, usually, two different numbers for real estate agents who have to factor in brokerage fees, franchise fees, pay for photos and marketing materials, or other expenses that result from assisting a home sale transaction.
Last year’s tax return might help, but it would be beneficial for you to keep running track of how much money you’re generating and what you’ve got to work with so that you can start to think about standardizing pay for someone who will help you maximize your production.
3. You know what you like and what you don’t like to do
It’s probably not hard to think about the tasks that you relish and the ones you loathe when you consider the day-to-day of your job. Some agents thrive on the marketing and networking aspects of working with buyers and sellers, while others are lead-generation whizzes, and still, others make transactions run so smoothly that everyone’s head on all sides is left spinning. But nobody likes to do everything, and nobody is good at everything.
Make a list of the things you have to do every day, every week, every month, and every year in your job, then divide it according to things you enjoy and things you really don’t. Are there enough things on the list of things you don’t enjoy that an assistant could tackle? If not, maybe an inside sales associate (ISA) is a better fit?
4. You understand which activities really require your personal touch … and which don’t
If your sellers really expect you to answer every phone call personally and schedule all appointments, then maybe you have an issue with a high-maintenance client base that can’t really be solved with an assistant. But there are plenty of things that require your personal touch and hand-holding with your buyers and sellers, and plenty of things that really can (and should) be delegated to someone whose time isn’t at quite as much of a premium.
This isn’t just about your sellers, either. Maybe you truly believe that you have to personally craft your business Instagram and Facebook presence in order to be taken seriously as a real estate agent. And it’s possible that in your market and in your niche, you’re correct. But you also need to be aware of what activities should be most hands-on for you, and which ones you can logistically and ethically release to someone else.
5. You have a well-structured lead generation strategy
Again, this goes back to the fear that you might not be able to pay an assistant consistently. Looking harder at your business can tell you whether that fear is founded or not, and lead generation is, of course, a big part of your financial stability.
If you’ve just kind of been letting leads fall in your lap and have happened to get pretty lucky, then don’t hire an assistant until you’ve been able to establish a consistent lead-generation strategy that’s yielding some solid, reliable returns for you. And keep a regular eye on whether those lead sources are continuing to work well for you or whether some of them start to run dry so that you can start to diversify before your leads disappear “without warning.”
6. You’re consistently closing at least a couple of deals each month
Depending on which market you’re in, closing about two deals a month (on average) will give you the ability to take care of your own business expenses, pay bills, and have enough left over to invest in your business somehow. Making that investment an assistant could increase your productivity and boost your earning power, so if you’ve reached the stage where you can count on closing at least two deals a month or 24 a year, then it might be time to think about onboarding someone to help with the minutiae.
7. You know what an assistant can legally do
Some real estate agents get lost in fantasies of being able to lie on a beach while an assistant handles the bulk of the heavy lifting — which is just not realistic. Real estate assistants are legally allowed by law to complete only certain tasks, and it’s critical that you know what an assistant can (and can’t) do so that you don’t run afoul of the legal system and get yourself into trouble when you were only trying to alleviate stress and elevate your business.
Real estate assistants can:
• Answer phones, collect mail and relay messages
• Schedule appointments, including closings, home tours, and inspections
• Manage social media accounts
• Place advertisements and create marketing materials
• Create documents, presentations, and spreadsheets
• Take photos of listings and enter the listings into the MLS
• Help with expenses
8. You know what kind of assistant you need
In that list of things that real estate agents can do, you may have noticed tasks that they can’t do but that you are going to need to be done. So what are your options there?
One is to hire a different type of assistant that will be a better fit for your particular business needs. Real estate inside sales associates (ISAs) can legally work with clients on documents (including sales contracts), manage paperwork or prepare escrow files, or call new leads on the phone — you would need to use an ISA for these tasks.
9. You have some time to hire and train an assistant
Real estate is a seasonal business, and there are definitely some times of the year when you are simply going to be too busy to onboard anybody new; it would be too big an interruption to your flow with clients. On the flip side, there might be some times of the year when it makes perfect sense to train an assistant, such as the beginning of the year, when you might be going over all your processes anyway, identifying inefficiencies and making improvements.
When you have a decent handle on your schedule and it wouldn’t be too big a burden to spend a couple of hours a day for two or three weeks training an assistant, then it might be a good time to think about hiring somebody. Make sure you carve out some time for the hiring process, too!
10. You have a budget for paying your assistant
All of this talk about financial preparation has ignored one critical component that you’ll need to lock down before you’re ready to bring an assistant on board — the budget. It’s a smart idea to wait until you have three or four months’ wages for your assistant set back, whether you’re hiring someone part-time to share with another agent or two, or you’re hoping to have your own full-time helper bee.
If you haven’t yet figured out where this money is going to come from, start by assessing the wages for good assistants in your area (no point in aiming low), then figure out how many hours a week you’d need, and do your best to stash up at least twelve to sixteen weeks’ pay for an assistant. Then you can feel like a responsible employer.
11. You feel comfortable ceding control in some areas
Some agents gravitate toward real estate expressly because they can control a business down to some of its most minute details. If that’s you, then you might find it hard to hire an assistant specifically because you don’t want to give up control of what you’ve built, and that is an entirely understandable sentiment. It’s also one that’s going to cost you a lot of time and energy over the long term as you spend your own precious minutes on tasks that are, frankly, below your pay grade at a certain level of real estate sales.
Where do you feel comfortable giving up control to an employee — one you’ve hired and trained yourself? If you just can’t see handing over the steering wheel in any capacity to someone else, then you’re probably just not ready (or not desperate enough), and that’s OK. It’s better to understand that now than hire someone and realize you don’t want to give them anything to do!
12. You’ve talked to your mentors about hiring an assistant
Every real estate agent should have trusted mentors to provide advice; if you don’t, that’s a separate conversation. Hopefully, you do, and you can bounce questions off them about hiring an assistant. Ask them when they made the move in their careers and whether they wish they would have done it sooner or later — and why. Try to get as many details as you can about what went smoothly and what pitfalls they didn’t expect.
Maybe your mentors have assistants today and you could ask them for their perspective about what they wish they knew about the job, their thoughts on training and, and anything else that you might want to know. After all, if you have resources, it makes sense to use them!
13. You have a system for keeping track of transactions
An assistant can help you communicate with clients to some extent, but they’re going to need to know what’s happening before they can tell one of your buyers or sellers what’s going on while you’re otherwise occupied. So you’ll need a way to keep track of everything ongoing that clearly delineates to your assistant where it’s fine for them to be involved and where they would need more training in order to respond to a question or request.
This will also benefit you from a bookkeeping perspective, and any partners you work within the title or mortgage world will appreciate your newfound organization if you haven’t already systematized your transactions.
14. You’re organized enough to start handing over some tasks
Another barrier some agents have to hire an assistant is that they are barely hanging on to the current state of affairs by tooth and nail; they definitely don’t have time to pause and outline job responsibilities and transitions, let alone even think about the mess that can be the hiring process. If that describes you, then you probably already know an assistant is more critical for you, personally than ever.
Start by getting organized with some of the smaller tasks that you know an assistant can help with, such as scheduling appointments and entering listings into the MLS. Maybe you can hire someone part-time to start, with the understanding that you’ll ramp up hours as you get more organized.
15. Technology won’t solve your challenges
There are a lot of fun toys available for real estate agents in this day and age, and it’s entirely possible that one of those is going to be a decent answer to your problem. Perhaps you don’t really need an assistant to handle your social media posting and instead, there’s an app that will coordinate everything just as well.
The question you have to ask yourself is, how well do you need these things done, and is it really something you can trust in technology? A bot that schedules appointments might work fine for something simple, but for a more complicated request, you might need a human involved. Similarly, maybe your social media needs a personal touch. Use technology tools where you can, but don’t become blinded to their limits.
Some agents struggle with the question of when to hire help for their business. If any of these scenarios describe your life as an agent, it might be time to think about bringing an assistant on board, boosting your productivity and catapulting you into the next echelon of real estate success.