It may seem that if you become a real estate agent you can make a lot of money with little risk, just by selling other people’s property for them. This is almost true. You also can get the inside scoop on possibly profitable investments. The part that isn’t entirely true, is the low-risk part. It can be a tough business to start out in, especially if you don’t know many people. It takes money and time (and time is money as well, right?).
I hated being a real estate agent. I was young (17 years ago). It wasn’t that I didn’t sell anything. In the few months I was actually trying I sold seven or eight properties. But I also realized that I would never learn to enjoy the process.
It was simply that it doesn’t fit my personality. I didn’t like being in the middle of transactions. I remember people crying at closings and yelling on the phone. I remember struggling to advise sellers on what was best for them, even though if I were in their shoes I would have found it easy to say what was best for me. I operate best as buyer or seller – not as the person bringing them together.
On the other hand, I met a lot of great people who love the stress and busyness and action of being a real estate agent. They are mostly people who love to help people. Some of them just enjoy the business, while others enjoy it and make a lot of money.
Then there was poor Henry. He was there when I first started, at the desk in front of mine. He was there months later when I was quitting, and he was finally making his first and last sale (he quit shortly afterwards). He was one of the nicest guys I have ever worked with, but he didn’t know how to sell real estate.
I think Henry hated the business more than I. Keeping the money in mind, I could at least make myself get on that phone and start calling hundreds of people who didn’t want to hear from me, just to find the one or two that did want to. I got listings this way while Henry sat there waiting for the phone to ring. But I found it harder and harder to do.
Bottom line? It will help greatly if you actually enjoy this business – that way you can motivate yourself to do the things you need to do.
How To Become a Real Estate Agent
In most states it is relatively inexpensive to get licensed. It will be somewhat different in each, but when I was licensed in Michigan, it was necessary to be sponsored by a broker. There are always brokers looking for new agents, so this shouldn’t present a problem. Then you may take a class that teaches you everything you need to know for the test. This too isn’t too expensive.
After you pass the state exam, you go to work, but you are not an employee. You are provided a desk by your brokerage, but you are an independent contractor. Despite not being in business for yourself, you cannot go off and sell on your own. Usually the law requires that you work for a time (three years is common) as an agent for a broker before you can become a broker yourself and own your own real estate company.
You will have to pay for your own business cards, signs, supplies, and dues. You might even need some new clothes. The dues to join and remain a member of the MLS, or “Multiple Listing Service,” as well as any other memberships required or “suggested” by your employing broker, is where it starts to get more expensive.
You have to be financially prepared for the transition. If you have no other job at the time, you may have no income for at least several months. Unless you have a lot of contacts or are coming into the business from a related one, it may take a month or more to get your first listing. If that property sells in just two months (3 or 4 month is common in many areas), and closes a month after selling, that means that at the start you are four months away from your first paycheck.
Obviously, apart from the couple thousand dollars needed for direct expenses, you need to plan for this lag time before you start collecting commissions. If you are the sole provider for your household, I recommend that you have at least six months income set aside before you quit your job and start selling real estate.
How much can you make? This depends on where you work and what you sell. At the time I was selling real estate in Northern Michigan, all the real estate companies were charging 7% commission on residential properties. My broker split the commission with agents, so if I sold the house, I got half the commission. If an agent from another broker sold the house, that broker took 50%, and my broker split the other 50% with me. In other words, I got 1.75%. This was common then.
Lower commissions are more common now. In some areas, they are as low as 3% for full service brokers. This is because of increased competition, and because home prices have gone up faster than wages or inflation in recent years. 3% of a $500,000 sale (In California, for example) is still a hefty commission: $15,000, to be precise.
Brokers each have their own commission structures. There are brokers that let you keep 100% of the commission, and then charge you for the use of the office, including perhaps a secretary for the common use of a dozen agents. You might pay $15,000 per year under this arrangement, so obviously it would be best to wait until you are selling enough real estate before considering working under this kind of broker.
How do you sell a lot of real estate? That is a book-sized subject, but here are a few basics:
1. List a lot of property for sale. You can spend weeks showing a young couple homes just to have them go to another agent or not buy anything. Get a listing of a home, however, and no matter who buys it or sells it, you will be paid. Concentrate on working with sellers more than buyers (although you will always do both).
2. Get high-priced fast-selling properties. You can spend as much time and effort selling a $100,000 property as you will selling a $400,000 home. But you will make four times as much money with the latter. Too unusual and expensive can mean a long time to sell, however, so balance it out. Sell the most expensive properties that are selling relatively quickly.
3. Specialize. Work an area or type of property until you are the expert. Then the sellers will start to come to you.
4. Learn how to sell. It doesn’t matter if you just want to list those properties and let others sell them. You still need the sales skills to get the seller to list with you. Read, take advice from top sellers, and go to seminars. You can always learn more.
Investing As A Real Estate Agent
About the only disadvantage to having a real estate license as an investor is that in most states you have to identify yourself as an agent when you advertise your properties for sale. This may make some people feel that you – as the expert – can take advantage of them.
The big advantages, however, are two. First, you get the inside scoop on properties coming to market. You may have an offer in on that new rental property even before there is an ad in the paper or a listing in the MLS.
The other advantage is that you effectively get a discount on any MLS listing. Suppose you see a nice little house for $100,000 for sale. If it is listed with another office and the commission is 6%, your broker may get half of that, and give you 60% of that as the selling agent (you are selling it to yourself). That is $1,800 that you make as a commission when you buy – perhaps enough to cover closing costs.