The transition into a real estate career looks pretty easy if you don’t know a thing about the industry. What else is there to do besides get your license, join a brokerage, and sell houses? Truth be told: There are plenty of steps in-between each of these essential stepping stones, which is why you need to plan out your real estate venture carefully before diving in head-first.
The best way to get into a real estate career begins with pre-planning—talk to agents, build a savings account, interview brokers, and complete pre-licensing online. Then, invest in exam prep, join an agent-centric brokerage, create a business goal, time-block your schedule, and begin marketing.
There are likely dozens of paths you can follow right now that’ll lead you toward your real estate license and your very first listing. However, not all of these paths are equal or guarantee you’ll last in the industry for longer than five years. To learn about the best way to get into a real estate career (from start to finish), read on.
Talk to a Real Estate Agent and Ask Questions
It’s safe to say that the rosy picture you’ve painted in your mind about the real estate industry is mostly incorrect. The fact of the matter is this: A massive 87% of real estate agents will fail within their first five years as an agent. The statistics don’t reveal precisely why so many new agents ditch this career venture so soon.
The good news is that, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are over 477,000 real estate agents and brokers across the country. Somebody within your circle—or within a few degrees of separation—is in the industry and can let you in on the details.
Before you even enroll in real estate school, you should meet with a current agent and ask questions about what to know before starting a career in real estate, like:
- How commission splits, structures, and fees work
- What the daily and weekly schedule of an agent looks like
- How long it takes to get listings and buyers
- What goes into great marketing materials
- How much money you should expect to spend
- The balance between home and work-life
- How important choosing the right brokerage is
Building a relationship with a current real estate agent also has another critical benefit: They could serve as your “unofficial” real estate mentor. Many new real estate agents feel like a lone wolf once they join a brokerage, so having a mentor that you can lean on for support, tips, and questions can help you become one of the 13% of new agents that make it!
Build Up a Savings Account or Get a Second Job
When you’re a real estate agent, you become a small business owner. Translation: You have to spend money to make money. You no longer have an employer to rely on to buy office supplies, cover professional development costs or reimburse you for mileage. As a real estate agent, you have to keep a close eye on your spending and savings.
Research shows that 53% of real estate agents spend less than $5,000 a year on marketing alone, but far more costs go into being an agent than many newbies overlook. In the table below, you’ll see the average monthly expenses and fees that come along with being a real estate agent as of 2012 (according to Placester).
|What You’re Paying For||How Much You’re Spending (Annually)|
|Licensing & permits||$100 to $500|
|NAR dues (optional)||$150|
|MLS access||$300 to $1,200|
|Desk fees (not present at all brokerages)||$300 to $9,000|
|Office supplies (ink, paper, business cards)||$240|
|Utilities (WiFi, data plans)||$900 to $1,800|
|Software (CRM, cloud storage)||$240 to $3,000|
|Transportation (gas, maintenance, insurance)||$1,790|
|Marketing (website, online, print)||$300 to $1,500|
|Education, training & conferences||$500|
|TOTAL||$4,820 to $11,090|
Since it may take a good six months to a year to get the listings and clients flowing, you either need to have a solid savings account to cover these fees and your monthly bills or look into holding down a second job part-time.
Ensure that you have at least six months of bills (including mortgage or rent) in your bank account to lean on as you build your business. Or get a job with flexible scheduling that gets you interacting with the local community (get leads on the job), like becoming a bartender, personal trainer, barista, or gig worker.
Start Interviewing Brokers in Your Local Area
Because you’re going to be an independent contractor and not an employee, you’re not typically vying for an open position at a real estate brokerage. Assuming there are enough desks for new agents and you don’t say anything overly concerning in your first meeting, you usually have complete control over the broker you choose to sponsor you.
With that in mind, you’re swapping roles—you’re going to be interviewing brokers to find out if their company is right for you (not the other way around). The trajectory of your future career is on the line, which is why you want to ask questions about:
- Fees, commissions, caps (and do any of these change?)
- Training, education, courses
- Rooms to meet with clients
- Vendors, contractors
- Office atmosphere, company culture
- Marketing materials (and are they at a discount?)
Remember that this choice will impact you on day one and ten years down the road, so it’s essential to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Take the time to meet with at least five local brokers—franchise and hometown—and give yourself time to weigh each brokerage’s pros and cons.
Choosing a brokerage now, even before you start pre-licensing, saves you from the mad dash later that only stalls your ability to work with clients immediately.
You’re used to being on the other side of the table while in a job interview, but now you’re the one asking the questions. Here’s a video discussing the types of questions you should be asking each broker to help you make the best career choice for yourself:
Complete Pre-Licensing at an Online Real Estate School
Unless you happen to have a degree in real estate or are in good standing as an attorney in your state, the first official step toward licensure is attending real estate school (also known as pre-licensing). While you can’t dodge your state’s hourly and course requirements set by your state, you can make this step easier by attending an online real estate school.
Take a look at some of the benefits of choosing online over traditional courses:
- You can maximize course hours in a day. Some states have a daily hour cap, usually 6-12, that you get nowhere close to if you’re attending a weekend or night course. Online school allows you to fast-track pre-licensing and complete it in a few weeks.
- You still have access to resources. All real estate schools will give you a textbook, but online schools tend to go above and beyond. You may receive access to three eBooks, glossaries, and even instructor support (Ctrl + F is excellent for finding things quickly).
- You can learn where you learn best. Not all of us function well in a classroom surrounded by our peers, which is where online coursework shines the brightest. You can listen to music, watch TV, and work from the living room.
- You have 24/7 access. Traditional classroom courses never seem to fit nicely in your schedule, especially if you work another job or have children. With 24/7 access to the module, you can squeeze in lessons on your breaks at work or as the kids sleep.
Most importantly, you get all of these benefits for only a fraction of the average in-person course cost. Online schools like Real Estate Express, Mbition, and The CE Shop cost as little as $100 to complete your pre-licensing.
Schedule Your Exam Several Weeks Out
One day, after several weeks of studying, you’ll wake up and realize that you’re ready to take your test. The problem is this: There is no guarantee that your nearest testing center will have an open testing slot within the next four weeks. To use your time more efficiently, schedule your state exam as soon as possible after finishing pre-licensing.
When test day finally arrives, it’s completely normal to feel the nerves kick in. The last thing you want to do is rush around on test day or—worse—arrive at your testing facility too late or without the required documents. Be sure to arrive 15-30 minutes for check-in and bring your testing voucher, photo ID (like your driver’s license), a pencil, and a calculator.
Also, know that you can’t bring your smartphone, study materials, or a high-end calculator into the exam room—don’t even bring them with you.
Let Your Sphere Know You’re Becoming an Agent
Many new real estate agents make the mistake of being a “secret agent”—they’re legitimately in the industry, but nobody around them seems to know that. Here’s the unfortunate truth: People want to work with agents they know and trust, and not telling your sphere of influence that you’re becoming an agent is also depriving you of connections with people most likely to hire you.
You need to tell the people you know that you’re joining the industry. Whether you do that via phone call, email, Facebook post, or small gathering is entirely up to you. The goal is to have your inner circle think of you when they or someone they know is looking to buy or sell.
To take this big announcement even one step further, ask those you reach out to: “Who is the next person you know that’s looking to buy or sell?” Not only will this give you an extra contact to add to your database later, but you may have your first lead before you even get your license.
Invest in an Exam Prep Program & Take Time to Study
The major roadblock that many agents face is passing their real estate exam on the first try. In fact, many new agents show up on test day so ill-prepared that only about 50% of agents across the country will ace the exam on the first go-round. To ensure you earn that required 70%+ on your state exam, you need exceptional content knowledge and excellent test-taking skills.
And since it may cost up to $100 for each attempt and your state could require remedial education if you fail too many times, get yourself out of the “I’ll wing it” mindset. It would be best if you took the time to study before you schedule your exam.
Fortunately, many online real estate schools also sell exam prep packages to ensure you pass your test on your first try (they usually cost $40 to $100).
Here are some study tips that’ll make your real estate exam a breeze:
- Focus on the areas you struggle most with (practice exams tell you which topics)
- Take and retake the practice tests until you can repeatedly score a 90-95%
- Learn to pace yourself and get accustomed to the formatting
- Keep an eye on the wording and tone in both questions and answer choices
There are just two factors that’ll decide whether you pass your real estate exam on the first try: In-depth content knowledge and extraordinary test-taking skills. In the video below, you’ll see some exam prep tips to ensure you make the most of your study sessions:
Join an Agent-Centric Brokerage Like Keller Williams
Earlier in the process, you met with several local brokers to figure out which one would be the best for your business growth. Now that you’ve had some time to think about your options, we do have one tip for you: Go for an agent-centric brokerage.
An agent-centric brokerage understands that agents keep the company afloat—not brokers and managers—and, therefore, is willing to offer much more to its agents in terms of assistance. Rather than taking a step back, having the company name outshine your own on yard signs, or sacrificing a considerable percentage of your commission rates, Keller Williams offers:
- Training opportunities (Ignite for new agents, BOLD for all, Mega Agent Expansion)
- Profit share system (when you bring new agents to KW, you earn passive income)
- Potential 100% commission structure (after maxing out your caps)
- Agent Leadership Council (all agents get a voice in how the Market Center is run)
Once you complete your fingerprinting and send in your application (with the help of your sponsoring broker), you’re ready to hit the ground running as soon as possible. Understand that your choice in brokerage can be a game-changer for your entire career for decades, so make a decision that makes sense now and years from now.
Attend New Agent Training and Pay Attention
Regardless of the brokerage you join—though Keller Williams is the best place to start a real estate career—you’ll likely have the option to attend new agent training. While it may be a bummer not to spend your first day in the office and looking for leads, new agent training can give you some insight into building your business the right way.
Let’s say you join Keller Williams.
The Ignite program with Keller Williams is the most comprehensive new agent training out there. This training program lasts 18 days, with three sessions a week lasting up to three hours at a time. The good news is this: Ignite isn’t about lectures but rather hands-on activities that’ll help you adopt the traits of top-producing agents.
In Ignite, you’ll learn:
- How to generate leads (with practice in class)
- How to use and memorize scripts that convert
- How to set a list price, negotiate a deal, and close a sale
- How to set and work toward business goals.
As long as you take the course seriously and apply what you learn in class to your career, you should start seeing the leads pile up and get your first listing in no time.
Set Realistic Business Goals
Many new agents go into the industry, hoping to sell a few houses. While your clients will certainly appreciate your willingness to get them into their dream home, you have to remember that this is your new job. You have bills to pay, and one or two deals a year isn’t going to cut it. That’s precisely why you need to set realistic business goals to ensure you profit.
According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), the average conversion rate for real estate agents is 0.4-1.2%. In other words: Every lead won’t pan out, and you may need to work 100 leads to walk away with a single client.
In the table below, we’re going to walk you through creating a business plan for real estate that’ll help you stay on track toward your income goals.
|1. Define your ideal annual income||$60,000|
|2. Figure out the average list price in your area||$349,000|
|3. Calculate your commission on each average sale after splitting with your broker (1.25%)||$4,362.50|
|4. Divide your ideal income by average commission||13.75 deals a year|
|5. Multiply by 100 to get the number of leads you’ll need||1,375 leads a year|
|6. Divide leads per year by 52||26 leads a week|
You’ll need to generate 26 leads a week and close an average deal once every 3.78 weeks. Things won’t always tie themselves up so pretty in real estate but keeping an eye on your progress during the year is essential.
Plan Out Your Daily Schedule With Time-Blocking
As a real estate agent, your scheduling can go one of two ways: You either spend far too much time on work that you never get to do the things you enjoy or dedicate too few hours to real estate a week to see progress. Time-blocking is a skill and strategy that you need to learn on day one of your career and bring with you as you spend years in the industry.
Time-blocking is essentially a plan of how you intend to spend each hour or half-hour of your day—work and personal activities.
Here’s a look at a sample day of a successful real estate agent:
- 5:00 AM to 8:00 AM: Wake up and get your day going, get the kids ready for school, workout, eat breakfast, do chores
- 8:00 AM to 11:00 AM: Work on lead generation, scout out the MLS or Zillow, reach out to expired listings and FSBOs, call your current clients
- 11:00 AM to 12:00 PM: Have lunch, rest, go for a walk, ease your mind
- 12:00 PM to 4:00 PM: Work with your clients, host listing appointments, view houses, take your buyers on tours, call up your contractors
- 4:00 PM to 5:00 PM: Tie up any loose ends for the day, send out the last of your daily emails, jot down what you plan to do tomorrow
In this sample schedule, anything from 5 PM and onward is your “personal time.” Except for extreme business-related circumstances—like an offer coming in, an issue arising after inspection, or a client being ready to make an offer—avoid picking up the phone and responding to emails during this time. The happiest agents are the ones that still have a personal life left.
Learn to Talk Real Estate Confidently
Being in the industry isn’t enough to convince everyone in your circle to buy or sell with you. Remember that there are nearly 500,000 agents across the nation—the people in your database are probably in the six other agents’ database.
You walk a very fine line as a real estate agent. You don’t want to talk about real estate so often where it seems like you’re a one-trick pony and people are reluctant to invite you out in fear you’ll talk about the market the entire occasion. You also don’t want to respond with a snippy “Good” when somebody asks how the market is going.
Knowing the market and talking about its health confidently is one of the best ways to prove you’re the real deal and responsible enough to take on the job.
Take the time to read the local market reports each week, learning about things like sales volume and how long homes are sitting on the market before selling. Set-up alerts on your phone that’ll keep you in the know about mortgage rates, a huge sticking point for prospective homebuyers looking to get a good deal.
Also, it wouldn’t hurt to learn a little bit more about interior and exterior design trends—show your inner circle that you’re a home expert.
When somebody in your world asks you a question about how the market is doing, you want to be able to explain from several different viewpoints.
Create an Online Presence (Social Media & Website)
The days of door-knocking and cold-calling aren’t entirely over, but they’re slowly becoming part of our distant memory. A good portion of lead generation, marketing, and communication in the real estate industry has moved to the internet and social media. That means you need to go where your future clients are and build your online presence.
Now, creating business profiles on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and even Pinterest is a fantastic start. But you can’t stop there—you have to use these accounts strategically to broaden your base and reach people looking to buy and sell.
Here are some tips for building your online presence:
- Avoid too much self-promotion online (20% of your posts should be about you, 80% should be about the industry, trends, and other things worth knowing)
- Set-up a website that integrates with the MLS so locals can search listings through your site and not Zillow
- Apply location-based SEO keywords to your social media profiles and website (when someone searches “real estate agent in [your town],” they should find you)
- Claim your business on Google to put you on the map (literally)
- Like, comment, and follow people on social media
There are so many bells and whistles on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube that it’s hard to know where to begin your marketing efforts. Take a look at this video by Tom Ferry to learn about the best real estate agent social media strategies for maximum impact:
Many new agents go into the industry, thinking it’ll be a piece of cake. Once you get your license, it’s smooth sailing—everyone you know will come to you when they’re ready to sell, and you can count on your broker to give you leads.
Unfortunately, that’s not how it works at most brokerages. So before you get into real estate, understand that:
- It takes hard work to make a name for yourself locally.
- It could be a year or more before you get consistent listings.
- You may have to spend money to make money.
- The market can be unpredictable.