Image courtesy of Flickr user alancleaver_2000

Being a real estate agent is totally screwing with my social life, again. It’s not enough that I unfailingly have to show houses at noon on Mother’s Day when I should, by all standards of decency, be three mimosas in (that’s simple motherhood math: I have three children, so it’s totally socially acceptable to have three mimosas or bloody marys, whichever I prefer, before noon on Mother’s Day) or at 4:00pm on Superbowl Sunday when I should be munching myself into a pre-awesome-commercials nacho cheese coma. No, I also have developed a weird inability to decipher the social norms of appropriate arrival times.

As an agent, I’m hyper-aware of the time on the clock at all moments of the day. I think of the day (and well, let’s be honest, my life) as a giant scheduling puzzle. Every day I look at my calendar and my to-do list, and I fit the pieces together. I have a listing appointment at 9:00am in Maricopa and then 3 houses to show at 11:30am in Chandler. At 5:30pm, I have a final walk-through to do in Gilbert. In and around these, I have a 50-minute commute to Maricopa and then another 25 back in to Chandler and from there 30 back to my house. I have to have the children to the bus stop and dropped at school at 7:18 am and 7:32 am and then picked back up at 2:30 pm and 2:40 pm. Then I have another 30-minute drive to Gilbert and 30 minutes back. During any free time existing between fixed-time appointments, I must turn in a new listing contract and upload photos, plan my blog for the next day, return client emails and phone calls, request feedback on shown listings, make sure children do homework and prepare dinner. In order to make this all happen, at every minute of the day I’m checking the clock and recalibrating my timeframe.

Each activity has its own uncontrolled variables. Some days the bus is late. (Some days, it just doesn’t come. Not that I’m bitter about that. It totally wasn’t me who slashed the octogenarian bus driver lady’s tires on her personal vehicle Monday afternoon and you can’t prove a thing.) And then I’m late to drop off child number two, making the 9:00am appointment in Maricopa tricky to pull off. If it looks like I’m going to be more than five minutes late, I’m on the phone, calling to warn that client I’m running a touch late. We all know the fastest way to lose a client is to make them feel like they’re not your most important client. How does your lateness make them feel? Like proper hygiene to a 12-year-old boy: unimportant. It also makes them feel like telling you to take your commission agreement, fold it five times and cut little triangles out of the edges so that it looks like a pretty snowflake. Because it’s as good as a snowflake in the desert. I know I’ve learned this lesson the hard way more than a time or two. I’d much rather lose a client because she Googled me, read my writing and thinks I’m a little snarky for her taste than for tardiness. At least snarkiness is something I have no control over. (I was born this way. It’s in my DNA.) There’s no excuse for tardiness.

So over the years, I’ve developed an almost sixth sense about time. I can feel in my split-ends when I’m sliding from the comfortably on-schedule zone into the red zone of potential lateness. I start to get sweaty in that extra-smelly, cold, nervous way. (Shut up! I’m not the only one with smelly nervous sweat, I know. It’s a medical condition. Stop making fun of me.) My foot gets heavy on the gas pedal, and my eyes uncontrollably twitch toward the clock every three seconds. When it’s an especially important meeting (a first-time showing or a high-dollar buyer), I inevitably have to pee as soon as I edge into the red zone. Excessive earliness makes me almost as tense. When traffic is unusually light or my previous appointments ran short, I often park three streets away from where I’m meeting a client and squeeze my eyes shut in the hopes they won’t drive by and see me waiting out the clock on our appointment time. That would probably be embarrassing.

This physical need to be smack dab on time (I like to be opening my car and placing my left foot on the pavement when the clock in my car blinks over to the agreed-upon meeting time) has become so ingrained over the last five years I’ve been in real estate, it has begun to make me forget that in real life, sometimes the goal is not to show up the very minute an event is slated to begin. Parties, for example, generally aren’t meant to be attended within 30 seconds of the time printed on the invite. I’ve shown up to more than one in the last couple of years only to find the hostess removing food from the oven with curlers in her hair, shocked my promptness. I showed up at 1:58pm to a 2:00pm bridal shower a few weeks ago only to find not a single car parked anywhere near the house I was aiming for. I hid in a nearby Old Navy until 2:10pm, and there were three other people in attendance. It goes the other way too. You have to be 20 minutes early to movies, apparently. Being at the door at 7:50pm for the 7:50 movie assures you a seat in the front row or no ticket at all. Who knew? The same principle applies to weddings. If it starts at 5:00pm and you’re not in attendance by 4:45pm, you run the risk of walking the bride down the aisle. (Which is super humiliating and I do not recommend it. I think that one bride was just extra crabby because I looked prettier than she did, but it was still a poor showing on my part.)

You know, the more I think about it, though, I really think the problem is not with me. I think my promptness makes a lot more sense than all of these fake, built-in times. We Realtors strive to arrive when we say we will (sure, we’re known for being late, but that’s really not our fault). Party planners and wedding invitation makers should take a cue from us and just tell us all what time they really want us to walk in the door. I should be 20 minutes late for maximum fashionableness? Why don’t you just include an arrival time chart on the invite so I know:

6:55-7:05 pm = Losers and Creeps (or REALTORS®)

7:06-7:15 pm = Lame at Best

7:16-8:15 pm = Acceptably Chic

8:16-10 pm = Too Cool to Care If They Miss Anything Fun

That would really make my life easier. Please? Join me, fellow agents, in this cause. It’s not just me, right?