April 5th - 2013

Single parenting a challenge in real estate

Working in real estate is a challenge at the best of times, but combining it with single parenthood is even more daunting.


Multi-taskingWorking in real estate is a challenge at the best of times, but combining it with single parenthood is even more daunting.

Raising a family on your own while working as a REALTOR® is a difficult combination, according to several Ontario parents doing just that. They talk about the unpredictable hours and erratic schedule, and how they cope with demands on their time that can sometimes feel overwhelming.

Work encroaches on family life because a great deal of residential real estate activity happens in the evenings and on weekends. Without a spouse at home to share the load, single parents have to figure out how to manage their work and life.

“It’s hard to wear all the hats at once,” says Joanne Morrison, a Belleville salesperson who has worked for 15 years in real estate. “Running a household and a business at the same time is very demanding.”

Setting boundaries is one way to deal with potential conflicts between family and work, says Morrison, a single mom of two sons aged 20 and 23. Clients often call on weekends wanting to see a property immediately. “I tell them that I’m not available today, but ask if we can do it another day. People are usually accommodating.”

Early in her career, neighbours sometimes showed up at Morrison’s house to ask real estate questions. They’d walk up to her porch where she was with family and ask her to look up the sold price for a house in the neighbourhood. “As REALTORS®, we want to be friendly and approachable, but some people confuse personal with business. Without being rude, I set boundaries,” she says.

Single parents working in real estate say they sometimes feel guilty when they are away from their children in evenings and on weekends, they say, or when work distracts them at home.

“During my son’s birthday party, I got stuck on the phone dealing with a client’s issue and I didn’t feel fully attentive to my son,” says Toronto broker Faithe Sversky. “Another time, I went with his class on a field trip by bus to the Science Centre. Then I got an offer on a property and had to leave by cab. I sometimes felt like I could never shut down.”

Look for solutions or other options when a scheduling conflict occurs, says salesperson Maggie Whitcroft of St. Marys, Ont., single mom to a 13-year-old daughter. She recalls having to withdraw from a school trip and miss meet-the-teacher-night due to sudden work commitments. Her daughter was disappointed, but Whitcroft arranged to meet the teacher another time. “There are challenges, but I can usually make it work,” she says.

Dad with baby while workingThe younger the children, the harder it is for single parents in real estate, the sources say. When duty called, Whitcroft learned to ask for help from others. “I would ask if a friend could come over to watch my daughter or if I could drop her at her Dad’s place for a bit.”

When her sons were younger, Morrison hired a babysitter if she had to work evenings. She tried to do errands, chores and other tasks during the day and “tried to cram as much into the daytime as possible. But if one of the kids got sick and needed the doctor, my whole schedule turned upside down. I didn’t tell clients that my kid had a runny nose, but instead said that I had to reschedule.”

Exchange favours with other parents, arrange play dates and hire help if you can afford it, advises Sversky. “I did carpooling for other people’s kids so that when I needed help, I could drop my son off with them for a few hours.”  She hired a nanny when her son was young, and since she didn’t have time to help with homework, she found a tutor.

Good planning is essential to juggling work and family life, says Whitcroft. However, this can be frustrating with a daughter who doesn’t always bring home information about school trips or other events, she says.

Communicating openly with your children about the challenges you face is important, say all of the parents. “Although you may feel guilty about changing plans at the last minute, you try your best to make up for it in other ways,” says Whitcroft. “And you must remind your children of this too.”

Sversky says she was always honest with her son about her unpredictable schedule. “I told him that I need to make a living to pay the bills, and that this line of work has unusual hours.”

It is sometimes difficult for her daughter to understand why clients need so much time and attention, says Whitcroft. “I’ll be on the computer searching for comparables, and she sometimes gets upset when I ask her not to interrupt me.”

Whitcroft also tries to be open with her daughter. “I tell her that if I make this sale, I’ll have money to make a better life for us. This work keeps a roof over our heads, feeds and clothes us, and pays for activities like horseback riding.”

When a client suddenly called Sversky and wanted to meet when she had arranged to pick up her son from school, she says it was hard not to panic. When possible, she tried to suggest an alternate time, but some last-minute schedule changes are unavoidable, as all REALTORS® know.

Life got easier as her son grew older, says Sversky. “The second he turned 16, I got him a car – for me,” she says. “It took the pressure off me driving him around and it gave him more flexibility.” 

Although it can be tough working nights and weekends when most people are off duty, real estate’s flexible hours can be a plus. “Your schedule is somewhat your own, so I don’t spend Saturdays at the grocery store when it’s crowded. I often helped on school trips, which most parents couldn’t do.  And I’d pick my son up from school and we’d hang out until after dinner,” says Sversky. She often prepared dinner in the morning so it was ready ahead of time if she had to work evenings. 

Morrison also appreciates the flexibility of her real estate career, which has enabled her and her sons to take two vacations a year, usually in August and December when the market is slower. 

A support system is vital for all REALTORS® who are parents. “Good relationships help,” says Whitcroft. Friends and family can often assist in a pinch, and talking with other REALTORS® about the stress and challenges helps to let off steam, she says.

Being organized and staying positive are crucial, advises Morrison. “If your personal life is chaotic, you’re not going to be able to do this job. Spend time with people who are positive and supportive,” she adds. “In the office, hook up with a mentor. I worked every Sunday for three years doing open houses and being a gopher for a successful REALTOR®, and my own business grew from that.” 

Morrison’s strategy to balance work and personal life has been to strive to work from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday to Friday. Although she has to work a bit later some days and the occasional weekends, she mainly sticks to that schedule.  

Careful budgeting is also important if you are entering real estate as a single parent because you will incur business expenses without a spouse’s income for support. Monthly brokerage fees, board and association dues, insurance, transportation, advertising and office expenses can all add up.

“Real estate is challenging enough as it is,” says Whitcroft. “And being a single mom throws in an extra wrench.  But with the flexibility it works out. And I always keep in mind that as a self-employed REALTOR®, I have greater opportunities to increase my income.”

Asked what she would tell other single parents who are considering work in real estate, Morrison responds: “There will be times when everyone wants a piece of you, when you feel tugged in every direction and flying by the seat of your pants, but it’s still an awesome career.”

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