The benefits of working with your spouse

They’ve been a couple since their teens, worked part-time jobs together in high school, went to separate full-time jobs, then joined forces to carve out successful careers in real estate.

“We always get comments,” says Broker of Record Rachael Polakovic of The Agency Real Estate Brokerage in London, Ont., who works with her husband, Dan, a sales rep.

“People say, ‘I don’t know how you work with your spouse.’ I say, ‘I don’t know how you can’t.’ It’s a blessing to have the opportunity to work together,” she says.

The Polakovic’s story

“We were really young. We had our first baby 18 years ago. Dan worked in a factory. I worked in insurance. After maternity leave, I returned to my cubicle. I called Dan and said, ‘I can’t do this. I need to do something else.’”

At 24 years of age, they took real estate courses together. Polakovic says, “We got married. The phase 2 class was our honeymoon.”

Then Dan learned the factory where he worked was closing down and decided to go into real estate full time while she kept her day job but acted as her husband’s unlicensed assistant his first year.

“We decided that if Dan could make a certain amount in the first year, then I could quit. He made $1,000 over the goal. I left my job and joined him,” she says.

Her spouse was the face of the team, while Polakovic says, “I did the background stuff, then marketing, then lead generation. Eight years ago, we opened up our own brokerage. Now I’m the face of the brokerage and help support our agents.”

She says their time working together during high school laid the groundwork – they both worked to their strengths and continued to do that in real estate. She says agent couples who want to work together should “list each other’s strengths and find different job roles to play.”

It’s also important to take turns with work and home duties. “Somebody is always at an open house,” she says, suggesting couples balance tasks by taking turns working and caring for kids on the weekends.

A con of working together is that it’s “difficult to differentiate between daily life and work,” she says. “Every dinner conversation turns into real estate. It’s difficult to turn off. Find a way to leave work at work.”

They have made it a point to take at least two vacations a year so they can enjoy fun family time together.

The King and Brown’s story

Architect Jim King sold his company and thought he was going to settle into retirement, but Penny Brown, a busy agent with Sotheby’s International Realty Canada in Toronto, had other plans.

“An agent’s life has so much chaos and unexpected time – someone needs to list or get an appraisal etc. I said he’d have to get a license, or he wouldn’t see much of me.”

Brown says King’s architectural training, retail design experience, interest in buildings and knowledge about how to make special spaces work meant he is well suited to real estate and made the transition easier.

She says she and King are complementary because of their training and his past career. Brown does the first showing, and then if there are questions, King goes along on the second showing to provide answers.

“He’s amenable and easygoing, a comfort to people,” she says. “Couples who work together make compromises in lifestyle. They have to have a lot of flexibility in timing and react quickly.”

Tips for working together

When they go on vacation, they leave everything in the experienced hands of experienced realtor Nigel Denham, not juniors, she says. “It’s important to have a great team. You can’t be on full alert all the time.”

Having a spouse in the business means you have someone who can understand what you’re going through, another bonus, says Brown. She has been in real estate since the 1970s and has been married to King, her second husband, for 17 years. He’s been an agent for over 10 years.

There is a learning curve, and when one is learning a new career and the other is seasoned, some marriages break down, she says.

There can be a level of expectation from the seasoned one. Brown’s mantra: patience, patience, patience. “Your spouse will only be as good as their mentor.”

If there isn’t patience, your spouse will never develop a joy for the business, she says. “Understand it’s another point of view. Frame your criticism constructively.”

Brown says it also “helps when you work off each other’s strengths.” She says couples working together don’t last long if there is a competition of egos or they can’t adjust their lifestyle to make it more flexible.

One last word of advice from Brown and King: Keep on dancing.

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