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How to Become a Real Estate Agent

real estate agent
Real estate agents guide clients through the complex processes of purchasing, selling, or renting properties.
Credit: Andy Dean Photography | Shutterstock

If you’ve ever bought or sold a home, then you know how important the work of a real estate agent can be. Real estate agents and brokers guide clients through the complex processes of purchasing, selling, or renting properties.

If you’re considering a career as a real estate agent or broker, then keep reading for some important information, including the responsibilities you can expect to take on, what your schedule may be like, and what qualifications you must possess to get the job.

What real estate agents do

Those pursuing a career in real estate sales typically choose to become licensed as either a broker or a sales agent. The two jobs are similar in their responsibilities, but brokers typically have more experience in the industry than agents and are additionally licensed to manage their own real estate businesses.

Sales agents must work with a broker, and many agents become brokers after gaining several years of experience and obtaining a broker’s license. The term Realtor identifies a real estate agent who is a member of the National Association of Realtors.

For both brokers and agents, the demands of the job are as broad as the sales process itself. People hire real estate professionals because the process of buying, selling, and renting property is nuanced and time-consuming, and brokers and agents can help make sure that no part of the process is overlooked.

The job of a broker or an agent begins with the solicitation of potential clients and does not end until a property is bought or sold and all terms of the purchase contract are met. Agents and brokers are responsible for advising clients on different aspects of local markets, helping clients compare properties, and mediating negotiations between buyers and sellers. They are also responsible for keeping up-to-date, detailed portfolios of properties for sale, promoting properties with open houses and listing services, and preparing documents such as deeds and purchase agreements.

Real estate professionals must be knowledgeable about the market in which they are working, possessing a well-rounded understanding of quality-of-life factors such as crime rates, nearby school systems, and access to services such as public transportation, hospitals and grocery stores. It is also important for those in this line of work to stay abreast of trends in financing and best mortgage options, government programs, zoning regulations, and fair housing laws.

Because trends and laws in the real estate industry are continually changing, more states require that brokers and agents participate in ongoing educational programs to maintain their licenses.

Where real estate agents work

The majority of real estate brokers were self-employed as of 2010, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, with others employed at real estate firms. Sales agents, who must work for brokers, typically find employment with a brokerage, leasing office or other real estate establishment. Because of the vast differences in real estate markets in different areas, workplaces in this industry can range in size from one-person businesses to large firms with numerous branch offices.

Some brokers have franchise agreements with national or regional real estate companies in which the broker pays a fee to be affiliated with a widely known real estate organization, such as Century 21, Coldwell Banker, or Sotheby’s.

Regardless of where a broker or agent works, he or she will typically spend much of the workday away from the office, scouting and showing properties or holding meetings with clients. Sales agents who are new to the industry may also spend a good deal of time at networking events in order to build a reputation within their communities.

Real estate professionals notoriously work long, irregular hours, as they must be available to clients on weekends as well as after business hours. Many agents and brokers work more than the typical 40-hour workweek, though some do keep their real estate careers part-time and work at other jobs, as well.

Brokers and agents earn most of their income through commissions on sales, the rates of which vary depending on the type and value of property sold. Real estate incomes vary greatly depending on the area in which one chooses to work, the experience one has in the industry, and how motivated one is to sell. According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, real estate brokers earned $54,910 annually as of 2010. Sales agents earned $40,030 on average in that same year.

Becoming a real estate agent

Though the licenses for real estate agents and brokers differ, the basic requirements for each are the same. In the United States, almost every state requires that agents and brokers be at least 18 years of age and possess a high school diploma or equivalent, pass a written exam, and complete a certain number of hours of real estate courses. Some states have additional requirements, and most licenses are not transferable between states.

Broker licenses can be obtained by agents who have several years of experience selling properties and who complete additional training courses. In some states, brokers may substitute a bachelor’s degree in place of industry experience.

Because of the popularity of this career, many colleges and universities now offer courses in real estate, as well as certificate programs. Some institutions also offer associate’s, bachelor’s, and master’s degree programs in real estate.

Most states in the United States require that licenses for brokers and agents be renewed every two to four years, and many states additionally require real estate professionals to attend continuing education classes throughout their careers. For a comprehensive list of the requirements for sales agents and brokers by state, visit the Real Estate Library or the National Association of Realtors.