Working in Real Estate

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Becoming a Realtor 2013-14

Aug 2013

Hi all - I looked in the files, but the info is dated and limited. I am considering a career switch from marketing to real estate agent, and I'd like some community input. I've been in marketing-communications for 15 years, before being a SAHM for a few years. For the past 2-3 years I've done part-time contract work in ''marketing'' (everything from true marketing, to coordination/operations work, to marcomm, to presentations, and all kinds of semi-related tasks). I've worked in a variety of markets, from high tech, to financial services, leadership training, nonprofits, insurance, etc. I'm very confident that I can master new fields and challenges. But I've never done straight selling, and I'm not sure of the steps to become an agent. I don't have an unrealistically rosy view of life as a realtor - I've owned a few homes and have refinanced many times, and I have several friends who are agents, so I know it's hard work and a f/t job. But I've reached the point where I need a real career change. I like mainly working for myself, I want a job that's not ageist (I am 47), and I feel comfortable in the world of real estate. On a personal level, I've done quite well financially in RE. Yes, I can afford to earn nothing for 6+ months - though I'd prefer to earn a pittance for a year+ and be trained and mentored. Did YOU change careers to become a realtor? What steps did you take? What would you do differently? Did you join a particular agency and take their courses? Did you find a mentor? How long did it take before you earned $40-50K/year? Do you work with a coach? Are there any sites or books you recommend? And - would you be willing to have coffee with me, for a kind of informational interview? Thanks! Sarah

Hi Sarah -

You will probably get some sunny feedback from other real estate agents, saying ''It's always a good time to go into real estate!'. For some people, being a Realtor may be the ideal job, since, as you point out, you get to be your own boss, utilize your expertise gained as a real estate investor, etc.

But, as someone who has been an East Bay Realtor for over nine years, I am going to tell you something about the downside. You may still decide that real estate is where you want to go, and if so, may you live long and prosper.

First, being an agent COSTS you money, whether you are making income or not.

The state Bureau of Real Estate charges an exam fee to get licensed, a license renewal fee every 4 years, and requires continuing education classes in order to keep your license.

Most respectable agencies will want you to be a member of the local association of realtors (BAR, OAR) - which in turn makes you a member of the CAR and the NAR and allows you to use the capitalized trade-mark ''Realtor''. You must belong to the Multiple Listing Service and rent an electronic key box opener. The cost of all this professional stuff is about $1200 per year.

Each agency has its own system of compensation splits and charges to the agent. When you are interviewing different agencies, it will be hard to compare apples with apples.

My company charges us $79 per month ''technology fee''. We are also charged $625 per year in June, plus $400 out of the first three sales per year for ''errors and omissions insurance''. And for each transaction, we are charged $300 - $400 for ''transaction management''. Some agents try to pass the latter fee on to the client.

How much does the agent get to keep from their commission? The typical ''split'' for a new agent is 55% = 60%. A top producer can negotiate their way up to a 90% split eventually, in theory. Not many get there! So, say you sell a property for one million dollars. Assuming that you have negotiated a 6% commission, the seller will pay $60k to your broker. The buyer's broker gets $30k of that. From the $30k that remains, your broker will subtract all the sorts of fees charged by your company, then you get a percentage split of what remains. Say $30k - $2k=$28k. If you have a 60% split, you get a check for (0.6)x$28k = $16,800.

Not bad? Well, subtract all your costs associated with being in business and associated with the sale - property website, flyers, marketing, ads, computer costs, gasoline, parking office supplies. That's your net. From this, subtract about 25% for income tax.

And that was calculated for a million dollar property.

Second, there are certain personal traits that will set the stage for your success or failure as as a real estate professional.

The industry favors the agents who put in the hours of a full-time job. That means that your Sundays will henceforth be spent slinging A-frames, not playing with your kids. Some devout agents set up their business so that they have their Sundays free, but it is atypical.

The market favors agents who are youthful and attractive. It is true that the majority of Realtors are over 40, but the majority of buyers are under 40.

Third, it is an emotionally difficult business. When you are hustling for leads (''prospecting''), you will get a lot of rejections. A thick skin is an absolute requirement. Most agents encounter situations where old friends list their home with another Realtor. It can put a strain on relationships.

Sometimes you get a client who starts to act mentally ill during the stress of the transaction. I've had to call a psychologist when a borderline-personality-disorder client began to make wild accusations about me. The shrink pointed out that the ''stock-in-trade'' of the borderline is to make the other party feel that the problems are their own fault, and the only defense is to be very meticulous. This is sometimes easier said than done.

Do you want your children listening in when you have a phone conversation with this type of client?

But by far the most emotionally difficult part of the business, for me, is that I care very much about my clients, and sometimes they are not going to be better off at the end of the unavoidable sale or purchase. Is it ''right livelihood'' to profit from someone else's misfortune?

Author Barbara Ehrenreich, in one of her books, I think it was _Nickeled and Dimed_, points out that real estate sales is the most respectable and long-lived version of a job where the worker takes on all the costs of production - like selling Mary Kay cosmetics. Ehrenreich also points to labor statistics that say that something like 80% of people who go into real estate leave the business within 2 years, and something like 20% of real estate agents can earn enough money to support a family.

Again, you may be the sort of person who can make a real estate career work for you, and if so I congratulate you.

There you have it. Good luck. Around the Block

There are much easier ways to make money.

''Being your own boss'' - It's a lie. Clients need your services when they have free time, after THEY are done with work. My work day began at 9am. I'd work on research, planning presentations, processing my open files, writing some notes, working on marketing materials, working on my education, etc. Around 4pm I'd get to show property or have a listing appointment (if I was lucky). If the listing appointment went well, I could call it a night and be done by 7pm. If the buyer found something they wanted to write an offer on after seeing several houses, we'd go back to the office and write the offer. To do it right, to explain what they are signing, what their rights and responsibilities are, to go over all the different ways you can write the offer and what their payment will look like if they offer X or $20,000 more than X... if I got done by 10pm, I was lucky.

And these clients... sometimes they are your friends and family or people you go to church with. At first glance that sounds great. The problem is you're always ''on.'' Everyone will always ask you whats going on in the market. You will never again get a Thanksgiving or Christmas where you just get to talk about the weather. People who will use other agents will ask you for information and you will likely cave and give it to them in the hopes that they will refer you. Everyone will turn into a potential client.

I was a Realtor for the last 7 years. My folks had been Realtors when I was growing up. They made a lot of money. One year it was $350,000. But you know, we NEVER took a vacation. Never. Not even camping. We never had family weekends. Never. There was always an open house my folks had to get to, always a late meeting that they needed to be at. My father was never at any of my school functions and I was that kid wishing her folks would be there to celebrate important milestones but somehow they would ''forget.'' I used to say I'd get better attention if I was a client.

So why would I go into a business if this was my experience growing up? Because I thought it would mean freedom. I thought if I worked hard I could make $50-$60k without having to kill myself. That too was a bad assumption.

In my best year I made $28,000 gross. I sold 8 houses. That was considered good - better than 80% f the other Realtors out there. That same year a 25+ year veteran Realtor of the Year sold 1 house, just to give you some perspective. That $28,000 had to pay for my $1,200 in dues, $3,600 in desk fees for the year, marketing, education... I borrowed money from friends and took temp jobs to support my real estate job. Being my own boss wasn't anything to be excited about. It meant that I got to come in early and work late. I was the boss after all. Yes, I had time to go to doctor's appointments or grocery shopping in the middle of the day... exciting, let me tell you.

My health also suffered. I cared. I cared about my clients. I turned down business that was shady. I wouldn't lie. I wasn't unethical. All of these things meant I could hold my head high with my integrity in tact but my pay suffered directly. The clients I took on were great. Many are still my very dear friends. But there were also some really ugly people in the industry. On the last deal I had an agent get so upset she lost her mind and told me to ''Shut up! Just shut up!'' This was someone who had been in the industry for 30+ years. Her outburst was unprovoked. She just lost it.

I couldn't make it in real estate. I wanted time with my husband and my friends. I wanted weekends and vacations. I cared too much, had too thin of a skin, wasn't willing to be stupid, and had integrity I wasn't willing to compromise. All those things affected my paycheck.

Best of luck with your journey. Not There Anymore

Getting Real Estate License

June 2012

I've been a SAHM for three years, and am ready to get back to work, but don't want to go back to my old career. I'm seriously considering real estate, and would like to get my license. I'd like to take a class to prepare for the exam, and I've tried to look up the information online, but I feel like I'm just seeing ''scam'' classes. I'm in the Walnut Creek area, so I would love to find a class around here. I'd appreciate any information on classes, and which kind of class I should be taking. Looking for a change

I am also thinking about this and recently met with an acquaintance who is a successful agent in my town. We had a great meeting and she gave me direction, where to go, how to go about it, encouragement (she thinks I have the right personality for it) as well as the pitfalls of getting started. She did tell me, though, contrary to what people think, it is NOT a part time job. To be successful, you have to put in the hours. Granted, you work from home and set your own hours, but most clients will want to meet up after work hours and on weekends. I'm still interested in doing it, though. Kaplan offers a course on the test and getting the license. My thinking is it's best to get in while things are at rock bottom so you can be ready when the market starts to go back up. future real estate mogul

I have been renewing my Realtor Associate's license (i.e. 'sales license') with Duane Gomer Seminars ( since 1982. You can take a course from him or one of his instructors when they come to northern California, or you can take the course online and order the materials to study at home. I like Duane Gomer -- he has been in the business a long time and he is ethical and wants agents to be well-educated. Becky

What's it like being a real estate agent?

April 2010

What's it really like to be a real estate agent? I'm rethinking my current career, and I love houses and I'm thinking that maybe being real estate agent would suit me. What do you like and dislike about your job? What does it really entail? I would appreciate any insight the BPN community can give me. curious about a new career

1st thing you need to know is: it is NOT a job. You're starting a business. A sales license requires you to affiliate w/ a licensed brokerage to learn how to manage legal & liability details. You do not receive any guarantee of compensation. In fact, you will pay them. You will pay both a share of commissions earned, & fees for services they provide. This is a good thing; in the beginning you need guidance & services. Choose carefully - the big companies are set up to train & retain. They're not there for emotion support - It's biz. If you pick the right company, the training is absolutely worth it. They all tell the same glowing story - implementation varies. Some small, local companies will train you as well; you still pay to play.

So, you are starting a business, for which you'll receive no compensation for an unknown period of time. 60 days if you are really, really lucky. Could be a year, even wrkng 7 days a week, before receiving a check - & 1st check does not guarantee a 2nd one. As a biz owner, you have expenses... You need to have money set aside, to have the patience of Job, & the capacity to work hard w/ absolutely no guarantee of getting paid. If you have a mate, you need them to understand that if you don't show up, the clients find another agent, & you start over. Clients never make their decisions based on your need to pay your bills, nor should they. You will put their needs ahead of your own, in most every way. I won't discuss helping people under high stress.

It's like the scene in Men In Black, when Will Smith has to make the decision to join. He asks ''Is it worth it?'' TLJ says ''oh, yea...if you're strong enough''. If the delayed compensation aspect is too scary, but the biz intrigues you, you might try to check it out by finding a part time assistant's position. You get to learn all the paperwork part of the business with a partial view to how demanding it is. The individual details of RE all seem easy, but the aggregate is tough, tough, tough. Your clients will never fully understand all that you've done for them, which is exactly why they need you - if you are a GOOD agent.

I've worked at 3different companies, trained with 1 of the best companies in the state, & ended up at a wonderful small local office. You are welcome to email me with any specific questions, but I prefer to remain anonymous for bpn on this one. RealANON

Real estate is an awesome career if you are motivated and persistent. You also have to be able to handle stressful situations, have uncomfortable conversations, confront issues head-on, and be willing to go to bat for your clients. You have to embrace change, shrug off defeat, and keep yourself on task and moving forward. You'll be working against a stereotype and sometimes that can be demoralizing so you have to have a positive attitude. Most people start out with a picture of flexibile work schedule, pretty houses, happy couples buying their first home, and big commission checks - which are all realities but the other side, the hard work side is there too. You will work around other people's schedules so while Monday at 2pm might be free time for you, you could very well be working weekends, evenings and every other hour of the day. You will find that every client you have will present a new challenge you haven't faced before and every transaction is unique. You could also spend months on end working incredibile hours with no money coming in. If you are up for the challenge, find an office with the best training program, interview each manager knowing that they will be a big resource for you, and find out who the top agents are, take them to lunch and get as much advice as possible. Learn, learn, learn, then do it. ali

Considering career switch to realtor

Oct 2006

I've been seriously considering transitioning from my career as a school administrator (which I enjoy, but find very stressful, too demanding on my family life, and not adequately compensated for my level of effort and commitment) to working as a real estate agent. My husband is a contractor, so this transition could benefit us in more ways than one (finding properties to purchase and renovate as well as serving as an agent for clients). I'm looking for advice from people who are involved in real estate: Where did you take the required classes? Are the online options any good? How did you find your first brokerage to work for? What kind of hours do you keep and what sort of income do you expect in a moderate housing market? I think I've got what it takes to do this job--great people skills, great management skills, very self-motivated, lots of contacts--I just want a little more info before I take the plunge! Any input would be appreciated.

Here's some advice about finding a brokerage from when I tried to get into real estate a few years ago. The most important thing is to find a place that is willing to invest in you. This is extremely difficult as few places are willing to invest in people. If you can find a mentor, you are on the right track, though make sure you have a detailed understanding of what the mentor is willing to offer. Too often, brokers tell prospective salespersons that they'll mentor them without explaining what that entails. Oftentimes, salespersons will find out too late that the mentoring is nothing more than a 5 minute conversation once a month over the telephone. Get the facts straight before you make a commitment. Interview several places and read the contract before signing as some contracts are unfair and could put you at a serious disadvantage if you leave. Also, if the brokerage has in house loan officers, make sure the loan officers are licensed by the Department of Real Estate. If they are only licensed by the Department of Corporations, you should avoid working for that brokerage as DOC approved loan officers tend to be on the shady side. Keep an eye out for dishonesty. A lot of supposedly reputable brokerages are less than honest and you don't want to work for them. Don't be afraid to ask prominent people in real estate associations at conferences and meetings what they think about different brokerages while you are looking. Good brokerages usually offer free classes that are of high quality so that you can get your license and build up your sales skills. If the classes are not very good, or there aren't any available, that is often a bad sign. Finally, keep in mind that promises made when you're choosing a brokerage to work for carry little weight. Remember, there are a ton of brokerages out there and every one wants you to work for them so a lot of brokers will say anything to get you to place your license with them. My advice is to take your time, even if it's a month, before choosing a place. One other pointer to keep in mind is that no matter who you choose, you will be working for yourself and that is what your customers will see first before they see the name of the place Anon

Changing careers from law to real estate

April 2005

I'm currently working as an attorney (doing non-real estate related work), but I'm considering throwing in the towel for a career in real estate. I'm studying to take the broker exam and was wondering if anyone has any good suggestions for how I can get a career started either as a real estate or mortgage broker. Any insight would be helpful. Thanks in advance. -Looking for a change

I'm happy to advise in any way I can. Please feel free to contact me with more details on your situation. Real estate sales will differ from both the legal profession and mortgage brokerage in that you alone will be responsible for generating your business. Especially in the beginning, you're sure to spend as much time obtaining clients as all other business activities put together. You'd be going from a high-skill (presumably high salary) position to *relatively* less skill, entirely commission-based compensation.

The CA real estate license (which is WAY too easy to obtain, IMO) is the first step in a career in anything from real estate sales to mortgage brokerage to property management, & others.

So as you pursue a license, how do you choose a career? Talk to people in each profession. Most real estate brokerages have a weekly office meeting open to anyone. That's a great way to get a feel for how that office operates, which can actually vary quite a bit. I would imagine there are similar opportunities for the mortgage side.

Speaking for myself, moving from the consulting world to real estate was an easy transition. I was already self-employed, used to irregular hours & managing my time & priorities independently. A career in real estate affords me many more opportunities to spend time with my family due to flexible work hours (I didn't say short ;-)

Again, please feel free to contact me. I'm curious what draws you to real estate. Casey

A career switch is always difficult, and going from a job where you have a certain amount of status to a new sales position is a difficult one. Real Estate can be a really rewarding career, but it takes time to become established. Until then you'll be working with many first time home buyers, who generally (and understandably) need a great deal of hand holding. It can be time consuming and frustrating.

You may be well established in this community, but you'll be suprised how many of your contacts already have a RE agent they enjoy working with, and to get them to try you out (esp. when you're new and have less experience than their current agent) will be an uphill battle. Your law degree, however, will give you an added cachet for many buyers and sellers, which will help you out quite a bit.

I suggest strongly that you sign up with a reputable, well known brokerage that has a program in place for new agents. They can mentor you and it should be a smoother transition than if you try and strike out on your own. If you know any real estate agents, ask lots of questions -- or call one of the larger RE offices and ask to meet with a manager, who can let you know how they recruit and train new agents.

Good luck with your career change! Former Agent

Studying for Real Estate License Exam

Feb 2005

I have begun to study using a book of sample exam questions purchased from Anthony's schools. I am wondering whether anyone out there has used an online or CD-rom based version of these practice exams and whether they were helpful/worth the investment. I am finding it impractical to take the exams, and then go back over them to learn the correct answer. Would prefer to use some program that corrects as I go along.

I took the sales person and brokers exam in 2003. I bought a bunch of different books - some on line (amazon) and some from Cody's. I have to admit that I didn't find any one book to be particularly perfect. There are some real sample questions that the state provides in their DRE text - I highly recommend that you know those questions and answers - some of them most definitely appeared on the exam. Another book that I liked and I thought provided some good questions was a finance book written by Robert J. Bruss (he writes a weekly column that appears in the Chronicle and he also has a website). Good luck - and remember, there are 43,560 square feet in an acre! :-) Elizabeth

Becoming a Mortgage Broker

Sept 2003

I'm considering switching careers to become a mortgage broker and want to find some current or past brokers to talk to about their experience in the field - how did you become a broker, job requirements, hours, pay, flexibility of the job, job satisfaction, positives and negatives. If anyone is willing to share you could contact me directly or reply in the newsletter. Thanks in advance.

Hi, I became a mortgage broker about six months ago and it's been great as far as the flexibility of hours go. I am an indepedent contractor so I can set my own hours. I switched from another professional career path to this because I have two very young kids.

However, as far as the pay... it is not steady at all. It's very hard at the beginning, especially if the company you are with does not provide leads. It's isn't something that you can do if you do not have another member of the family who is earning steady income. I am considering moving to a retail bank or lender and see if I can get a position that can at least provide a base salary, but I heard it's very hard to get in if you are new to the business. I wish you the best! Anon

Career as Real Estate Appraiser

June 2007

I was wondering if any real estate appraisers have input or advice about starting that career. I have received my Trainee License and need to begin my 2000 hours of trainee experience. I have a few questions: I was wondering how this career can be done ''part time, flexible'' while still available for the kids. I have two children, the youngest who is entering kindergarten in the fall. Is it possible/difficult to start this career on your own, without being employed by a bank, appraiser company, etc? Is business being negatively affected right now by the drop in the real estate and mortgage market? How long will it take me to get up and running (5-10 appraisals a month, if that is about a part time rate of working). Is anyone out there looking for a trainee appraiser in the Walnut Creek/central Contra Costa area? I have one possible person to train me, but I believe I could have more than one certified appraiser to sign off on my reports. Thank you! --Entering the work force after 7 yrs at home w/kids!

I have been a real estate appraiser for a long time. Over the years it goes from dead to fairly lucrative. It's YOUR time, effort, and accountability. You can get admin help when it's busy and you can have trainee(s), but it's on you. I've done many all-nighters, I deal with clients, there's training and employee issues, then the work itself. On the other hand, I was there for every school pickup, every play, every sick day.

The lending industry is interest-rate driven, so it can be volatile over time, though you usually see it coming. Right now, it's extremely slow and it's a bit tight. It can get scary. Most appraisers do other things at times like this.

For the training period, seriously you need a good year or so doing a variety of projects in order to really learn. After 6 months you have a basis, but you need the unexpected and the challenges and the practice, you need to develop judgment, efficiency, and speed. It's best to go with a larger institution because they have volume and give your resume legitimacy, and they may pay better. (They're also not screwed if you leave before a year, like an individual is.) You need to have some other source of income or a spouse if training with a small company.

I'm careful about who I train because it's a ton of work and a risk. What a trainnee gets is worth a lot and not found in classes, and it slows me way down. It may take 5 mo to discover they lack aptitudes - I've seen many excellent human beings bail. If they leave in 6-12 months, I've lost. If they stay, they end up very well trained and fairly compensated. There are many advantages to not carrying the whole business if you can get a decent fee split.

I review other people's work and I see people supposedly trained with an ''AL'' license who have no idea what they're doing. Their work is embarrassing and they could theoretically be sued. The ones who train anybody and everybody and send you out by yourself right away, I'd avoid. The ones who spend large chunks of their work week dealing with ''conditions'' or requests from lenders to correct errors or problems, I'd avoid. I get zero conditions. I would not want someone else to be training someone new at the same time I was - I don't know anyone who would like that, even though you may think it's quicker. If they're hard-nosed, it's probably a sign they will invest considerably in you. You want someone with defined policies and systems. It's a good sign if they do review work for lenders.

You need to put in the time to learn. And if you can handle ups and downs in income, pressure, details, times by yourself, deadlines, and responsibility, it's an independent, flexible way to make a living. view from the other side

May 2004

I'm a single mother of an 8 year old and I have discovered that I'm not able to spend as much time with her as I would like to because my career is very demanding. Consequently, I've been researching fields that might give me the flexibility that I desire. One such field is a real estate appraiser. I find it to be really interesting but I don't know anyone personally that can give me the proper insite. I've tried calling actual appraisers with no luck. Can anyone tell me if this area is a good choice in terms of time away from home and financial stability (we live very modestly). Thanks for the feedback.

I am not a real estate appraiser, but my dad and two uncles were all appraisers at one time or another. Here is my take on the field from observing them. Real estate appraising is an ebb and flow kind of business. When the market is hot, you are flooded with work, otherwise you are scraping by. It used to be that appraisers were mostly self employed, or worked in a little private office, but as the banks have consolidated that has changed. Now all the big mortgage companies have their own in house appraisers that handle their loans. This is good in the sense that the appraisers who work for the bank have pretty steady income (may be on salaries instead of paid by number of completed appraisal) but is bad if you want to have a lot of independence with your work hours/flow. Neither of my uncles (who both had their own businesses) is still self employed any longer. Additionally, the appraisal business is changing quite a bit because of on-line appraisal services. Some banks are switching to these appraisals because of the employee cost cutting involved even though the appraisal isn't as ''accurate'' as the kind done by someone who comes to actually view and measure your home.

This is not exactly a flattering picture; perhaps someone currently in the business would be more optimistic.
not the job for me

March 2002

I am the mother of two kids, both still under 2 years old. Both my partner and I work full-time at jobs with regular business hours. I am considering making a career switch and becoming a real estate agent first of all because I am interested in it, but also because I have this hope that I can keep more flexible hours and be available to pick my kids up from pre-school (eventually regular school) and spend the afternoons with them. I know I would need to give up some evenings and weekends, but am I totally insane to think that this is the type of job that adapts well to the needs of a young family? If you have some insight, I would love a reality check before I take the plunge.
Potential Career Switcher

In response to the person wanting the realty (reality) check... sorry, old joke...I am a broker who has counseled scores of people in the field of real estate as a career, and have written a handbook on Getting Started, free for the asking...and I am willing to chat also, with or without my wife/agent/business partner about what issues exist for families who choose real estate as a career. Tim AT or 527-5500

Home-study for real estate certificate

Jan 2003

My wife would like to work as a part-time real estate sales agent but she'd like to study from home. Can anyone recommend a good distance-learning program to get her to the Real Estate Salesperson Career Certificate? Hans

If your wife already took real estate principles in the classroom, she can take all of the other classes required for the real estate salesperson's license at home. I took all of my real estate classes as ''distance learning'' classes. The courses taught through ''Anthony Schools'' are actually through Kaplan (the big test pre company that teaches everything from the SAT to the MCAT). I found them to be fine. You sign up for as many classes at a time as you want. They give you a discount if you sign up for multiple classes. They send you the books. You have to study for a minimum amount of time (I forgot the length of time) and then you can request an exam. You have to find someone to give you the exam - like a friend or a neighbor (you can't monitor the test for your wife since you're related!). The tests are totally open book and are multiple choice. You send your test and answers back to Anthony Schools - they send you a certificate giving you your grade for the class. Then you hold on to all of those documents and you send them into the DRE (department of real estate) to prove you took the classes. Good luck! elizabeth

I am a long time realtor in Berkeley and have often used an online resource for continuing education and license renewal. The URL is's pretty inexpensive and a good home study option. good luck.