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Your Life as a Real Estate Agent/Broker
April 5, 2010 8:10 AM   Subscribe

What's life like as a real estate agent? I've considered it in the past; I'm considering it again. But what should I know about the good and -- more important -- the bad before taking classes and embarking on this new career?

Life behind a desk is becoming increasingly untenable and I'd like to make a change.

In the past I've considered becoming a real estate agent and, possibly, a broker somewhere down the line. I enjoy interacting with people one-on-one, understanding their needs, and working to satisfy them. I have 20 years experience in advertising, and think that might give me a leg up when it comes to marketing properties and myself. I'm interested in homes, architecture and decor. And I'd enjoy the opportunity to work non-traditional hours and be outside of an office. There's decent earning potential there, too.

Those are the good points. But what about the bad? I know we're still in a housing slump which continues to affect many agents' professions and finances. I'm sure there are nightmare clients, just like in any field. What else should I know? What's the worst part of the job? The best? I'm in Chicago, but welcome responses from anywhere.

There are lots of questions on the AskMe about finding and working with real estate agents, and even taking the tests, but none that I saw about the actual ins and outs of the job on a daily basis. That's where you come in, with my thanks.
posted by Work to Live to Work & Money (12 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
You will starve for the first year or more, regardless of the market. Starve, if you don't have savings to fall back on. Real estate is about your sales skills, not just advertising. It's also about the referral networks you build, and your previous client base.

The best way to get started in the business is to find a successful and experienced mentor who will help you build your own referral network by using theirs. These mentors are few and far between, and inundated with people just like yourself.

If you take one thing from this comment, remember that real estate is sales.
posted by 517 at 8:21 AM on April 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


I asked a similar question to a friend of mine in real estate. The basic process she follows is:

- Get listings from boss
- Post ad on Craigslist
- Wait for phone to ring
- Show places (mostly on evenings & weekends - the people who are looking work for al iving)
- Sell, sell, sell
- Earn commissions on sales

Her salary varies from month to month. I make a decent wage for my area & in her good months she earns less than I do. In her bad months she earns nothing.

I'm sure seniority, getting into a good agency & negotiating a good commission with your boss is all essential too.

All in all, it strikes me as a job for people who have another income source (e.g. "housewives") and are looking for some extra cash outside of the 9 to 5 structure.
posted by MesoFilter at 8:33 AM on April 5, 2010


I'll try to keep this brief, but MeMail me with any particular questions.

I am currently a broker, and began as a salesperson about 5 years ago. My position is not the norm now, but I did go through the basics as a beginner.

Starting out in real estate stinks. You will make little to no money in the first months (or even up to a year). At the same time, you will consistently have professional bills to pay - depending on the agency you work for - desk fees, Multiple Listing Service Fees, license fees, business cards, printing costs, advertising, and the list goes on and on. I do not recommend starting in real estate unless you have a sizable savings and professional budget to start you down that path. You cannot be a successful part time real estate agent, either, so don't plan on starting it while you have another job.

The housing slump is cleaning out the glut of agents, but that is largely area dependent. In my area we had everyone and their brother and their sister working as agents (literally 3 agents for every home listed in our region's MLS system), and that is starting to go away.

The other challenge is that starting out in real estate will closely resemble "life behind a desk." You will most likely answer phones, get a handful of leads per month there if you are lucky. Any listings will come from networking, not from answering the phone at the office. You may get some buyers from incoming calls (which sounds like the part you would enjoy more, anyway), but those prospects are often not good. People who cold call an agency without asking for a particular person are sometimes not well informed about the home buying process - home prices, what they can afford, loan eligibility.

A large part of real estate is paperwork, emails, and phone calls. The out-of-office work is much less common, only when you are evaluating listings or taking clients out to look at homes. As a beginner this happens even less often.

Generally, the money is made in listings. Successful agents have numerous listings and then other agents in the area sell the home for half the commission. The work for the listing agent is up front - getting the listing, pricing it, advertising it. Then it is maintenance work to keep the home prominent and work with other agents (or direct clients) as they come.

Your appreciation of homes, decor, and architecture is all well and good, but for the most part your personal opinions will have to take a back seat, especially for liability reasons. You can never make any statement about the home that you are not ready to state as an expert in that area. No comments about the wiring, the quality of the building, the architecture style. You will also be shocked by the difference in what people like going into a home - things you will hate, they will love.

I don't mean to just make real estate sound awful. It is a great field, rewarding, with potentially good income. I just see too many people go into it thinking it will be great money, and right out of the gate, which is almost never the case. With realistic expectations, I'd say give it a shot, but talk to some local agents first to get an idea of startup costs in what is essentially a small independent business - you.
posted by shinynewnick at 8:37 AM on April 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


And just to comment, the job MesoFilter describes is not a real estate agent in the traditional sense. There are very, very few agencies where listings will be given to you - and if they are, you get a small cut of the commission. And Craigslist isn't the place where you advertise homes - as one avenue, great; but not a true listing service where other agents are involved.
posted by shinynewnick at 8:40 AM on April 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


My friend does mostly apartments... I really don't know how her listing/commission thing works, I just got the view from 80,000 feet.
posted by MesoFilter at 8:52 AM on April 5, 2010


Please do something else. I am about to get divorced from someone who has spent the last five years chasing their dream of selling real estate in the worst market in recent memory. She's gone through all of her savings.
posted by fixedgear at 9:01 AM on April 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


I worked IT in a real estate office during a good housing economy. Those folks had to hustle for every dollar they made. And I mean HUSTLE; exploiting friendships, working relationships, everything. Think hard about whether you'd enjoy that aspect before you commit to it.
posted by KathrynT at 9:21 AM on April 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


My husband has been reading The First Steps to Becoming a Real Estate Agent: An Insight to the Initial Costs of a Career in Real Estate and it seems to have thorough, realistic coverage of the start-up costs. Basically, expect to spend a lot of money up front and not make any money for a while.
posted by Jacqueline at 9:27 AM on April 5, 2010


I was an agent for two years just as the market began to tank. I finally bailed because I needed a more steady income. You don't mention if you have a family but it's a difficult job to have with a young family because you'll be working nights and weekends. This is when people have time to look at houses so this is when you'll be showing them. Shineynewnick is right - Aspire to be primarily a listing agent because you can maintain way more listings than you can maintain buyers. Also, I agree that getting on a team with an established agent is an excellent way to learn the ropes.

A sales/customer service/marketing background helps but mainly you need a crazy amount of energy and patience. You need to work ALL THE TIME. You're never off the clock as a real estate agent. Every holiday party, PTA meeting, church function or trip to the grocery store will need to be used as a way to get clients. You will need to ruthlessly exploit every contact you've ever made. You'll need to be shameless in using your friends, neighbors and people you barely know as potential leads to the next client or listing. You need to always look professional, be friendly, drive a nice car and always be telling people that you're an agent and do they know anyone that's looking to list their house. I'm very serious...if you are the least bit hesitant in this regard than you'll be one of the agents that just limps along barely making a living or losing money every year.

Good luck!
posted by victoriab at 9:30 AM on April 5, 2010


Starting out in real estate stinks. You will make little to no money in the first months (or even up to a year). At the same time, you will consistently have professional bills to pay - depending on the agency you work for - desk fees, Multiple Listing Service Fees, license fees, business cards, printing costs, advertising, and the list goes on and on. I do not recommend starting in real estate unless you have a sizable savings and professional budget to start you down that path. You cannot be a successful part time real estate agent, either, so don't plan on starting it while you have another job

Quoted for truth. My husband has been an agent for years.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 11:17 AM on April 5, 2010


While no personal experience I though it appropriate to add this:

It's alarming to me the amount of people I run into that are wanting to become real estate agents. Now if it's from confidence in the economy or the crazy idea that getting a license is a piece of cake I just can't imagine the need for so many agents.

This is isn't to say that with your background you wouldn't be bringing value to the profession it's just something that I have been noticing/thinking for quite some time. I'm sure the Illinois real estate licensing board could tell you how saturated your market is with licensed professionals and that also may help you with your decision.

Best of Luck!
posted by doorsfan at 11:53 AM on April 5, 2010


My uncle quit his stressful IT job to become an agent. He regrets this...
posted by xammerboy at 7:59 PM on April 5, 2010


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