Get Your Inner Control Freak Under Control

Real estate careers appeal to perfectionists, but sometimes you just need to let go.

December 15, 2014

For Richard “Ric” Martel, being a control freak backfired. Shortly after starting his real estate career in 1991, he found himself managing a handful of potentially lucrative transactions. Eager to prove his skills and give clients his best, Martel micromanaged every detail.

“I was trying to get a contractor to do estimates ahead of appraisals and home inspections, and the buyer and seller weren’t coming to terms,” says Martel, a broker-associate with Berkshire Hathaway Home Services in Rumson, N.J.

One property failed to appraise at the purchase price. “The bank said, ‘Forget it,’” Martel recalls. But he rejected the idea of failure, scouring market values and tax records and creating spreadsheets. “I was trying to make it a win-win for all the parties. I wanted to keep everyone satisfied.”

Despite his best efforts, Martel’s string of deals began to unravel. Before he knew it, all five went south within a week.

“I was so consumed by those deals, trying to control everything and make everything perfect for my clients, that I wasn’t working on developing and opening new business,” he says.

Exposed to the professional wreckage of his inner control freak, Martel stood back, surveyed the damage, and looked inside himself for answers.

“I didn’t know I was a control freak when I entered the business,” he says. “But I realized that by trying to make everything exactly the way I wanted it to be, I was limiting myself.”

Admittedly, the real estate industry often attracts and rewards overachievers and perfectionists. But to build a healthy business and avoid burnout, practitioners say it’s important to not have a rigid mindset, embrace the fluidity of the real estate transaction, recognize problem behaviors, and adopt strategies to get your control freak in check.

Let It Go

Have a decent handle on 15 things instead of trying to micromanage five, and allow things to play out, Martel suggests.

“You can’t be the only one who wants the deal,” Martel says. “But if you’ve done everything you can do, you have to let some things go, put it out into the ether, and let other people — clients, attorneys, contractors, and other agents — take responsibility.”

While you yield control and let other people do their part in the transaction, practice acceptance of the situation and any painful feelings or thoughts that come along with it. Try to be compassionate with yourself, Martel suggests. Recognize that you can’t control the universe and that you have done your best.Check back on the progress of the transaction in a day or two.

Martel says a healthy dose of regular prospecting keeps his control freak in check.

“I focus on making sure I’m out there networking, asking for business, asking for referrals, and staying active to get new business coming back my way,” he says.

Because ceding control can be hard for many — it can even be emotionally painful for a perfectionist — shift gears to try to minimize fear and anxiety while waiting for things to come together. Take a walk, exercise, meditate, put technology aside and spend time with your family, or start working on a project you’ve been putting off for too long.

Hire Smart

Mandy Troutman was answering phones in her grandfather’s real estate office when she was 16. Later, she dabbled in mortgage processing and worked as a buyer’s agent before founding Next2Close, a St. Petersburg, Fla.–based virtual transaction coordination service, in 2009.

She has watched many real estate practitioners strive to provide excellent service but struggle with perfectionism.

“Ninety-nine percent of real estate agents are control freaks,” Troutman says. “But I understand that most good agents are involved every step of the way.”

Troutman says many successful sales associates find balance.

“The person that runs all over the place can end their real estate career because they get so burned out, working seven days a week and 24 hours a day. Their fear is that they will lose business. But it is surprising to me how many real estate agents who don’t do this still have a really good business,” she says.

Now 30, Troutman manages transactions for about 40 pros in Florida and Texas. For a flat fee of $395 per transaction, she sends contracts, changes MLS information, contacts clients, tracks paperwork, arranges home inspections, orders appraisals, and coordinates closings.

Julia Fishel, a managing co-owner and sales associate for Suncoast Partners at Keller Williams Realty in Palm Harbor, Fla., is a self-described control freak who recently used Troutman’s services.

Many control freaks find it hard to ask for help, but Fishel says hiring other professions for certain duties involved in the transaction has been liberating.

“I couldn’t be happier,” Fishel says of Troutman’s services. “I don’t worry about things because I know they’re being handled. Mandy copies me on everything.”

Troutman says it’s important to make time for yourself. “Time blocking is very healthy. You can’t just walk into a doctor’s office and talk to them. They have a schedule,” she says.

Fishel also started time blocking in 2012, leaving outgoing messages with information about her available hours (on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., for example, and on Sundays by appointment only).

“It sets the tone with everybody right off the bat. And if we’re in the middle of negotiations, obviously, we are going to be there for you. We will text and take phone calls,” she says.

However, she remains unconvinced about the benefits of clients having 24/7 access to practitioners.

“It’s something I continue to struggle with,” she adds. “But I can honestly say that it has really been life-changing.”

Set Boundaries

Lacey L. Fisher, a sales associate with RE/MAX Executive in Modesto, Calif., says it’s important to set healthy expectations for yourself and your clients.

“It can be a really slippery slope if you don’t set boundaries and be firm with people upfront,” she says. “And I think that by being firm with people from the start, you elicit more respect from them. I am definitely a control freak, and I think the nature of real estate has made me that way. But I have learned what I can and can’t control.”

When it comes to working with controlling clients, Martel says it helps to keep the focus on service.

“A lot of control freaks are successful people, so if you take good care of them, you can end up getting quality referrals,” he says.

But if it feels like a potentially abusive situation, get out — or find “a more reasonable control freak,” Martel cautions.

No matter the strategy for getting your control freak in check, Fisher says, stay flexible, trust your instincts, and work toward improvement — not perfection.

“Every healthy ‘no’ is an opportunity to say ‘yes’ to something,” she adds, “possibly a new opportunity.”