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How to Become a Successful Real Estate Agent, According to Experts

If you’re anything like me, you probably spent last summer binge-watching Selling Sunset, the Netflix reality show that follows the high-end real estate brokerage firm the Oppenheim Group.

The show makes the life of a real estate agent look glamorous — and it can be. With flexible hours and high earning potential, the life of a real estate agent can be both freeing and massively rewarding.

But before you quit your job to become a cast member on Selling Sunset, you should know becoming a real estate agent is hard work.

Here, we’ll explore what it takes to become a real estate agent, how long it takes, how much it costs, and whether it’s the right fit for you.

Already a real estate agent? Keep reading. We’ll also explore tips for becoming a successful real estate agent from experts in the field. (Feel free to jump ahead to that section if you’re already an agent.)

Let’s dive in.

How long does it take to become a real estate agent?

The time it takes to get your real estate license depends on your state’s requirements. Typically, obtaining a real estate license includes between 60 to 90 hours of formal education, plus studying and sitting for the licensing exam.

This means it can take anywhere from three to six months to become a licensed agent.

Once you have your license, most states require you to find a real estate broker who will sponsor your first two to three years as an agent.

Of course, the trainings you’re required to complete depends on the brokerage you join, as well as the state requirements — for instance, you might choose a national franchise, local or boutique brokerage, or even a virtual brokerage for your first real-world experience.

The time it takes to train and get you up-to-speed before becoming a fully independent agent depends on which brokerage you choose, but you’ll want to plan on spending at least six months to a year in a training program.

So, how long does it take? TLDR — likely at least one to three years.

How much does it cost to become a real estate agent?

Once you’re committed to becoming an agent, you’re probably wondering how much money you’ll need to save to get started.

The costs of becoming a licensed real estate agent vary by state, as well as which education course you choose, but you can expect to spend anywhere from $500 to $1,200 total. That includes your education course, license application fees, fingerprinting and background check fees, as well as state licensing exam fees.

However, you’ll likely need to rely on your savings until you’ve closed your first deal if you’re working for a brokerage that works off commission. To play it safe, you’ll want to plan on having enough savings to fall back on for six months to a year, until you’ve established yourself as an agent and are closing enough deals to make a living.

One alternative would be to look for a brokerage that pays a salary rather than commission, or consider getting a side gig until you feel comfortable with the money you’re making from real estate.

Why should I become a real estate agent? 

There are plenty of reasons you might want to consider a career in real estate. One of the biggest is flexibility — real estate isn’t a 9-to-5 office gig. You’ll create your own schedule.

I spoke with Tessa Sims, CEO at KW Real Estate Schools, Inc., to learn her take on the benefits of becoming a real estate agent.

tessa sims quote for becoming a successful real estate agent

She told me, “A career in real estate is such a desirable choice for so many people, perhaps because of its flexibility. You can work from home or from an office. You can fly solo or be part of a team. You can work for others or have others work for you. You can create a schedule that fits your lifestyle, and choose both your clients and your niche. You can make a decent living or build an extremely profitable business. The possibilities are endless.”

Of course, to find success as a real estate agent, you’ll want to ensure you’re available to conduct showings during peak hours, such as nights and weekends. But if you want to take a week off for vacation, or spend mornings dropping your kids off at school, that’s entirely up to you.

However, as Rich Cawley, President of Massachusetts-based real estate brokerage United Multi Family, tells me, it’s important to understand that the flexibility of the job doesn’t mean it’s less hours than a traditional 9-to-5.

As Cawley puts it, “There are good pay-offs, and it can be a lucrative career, but the good agents I know are always available for their clients. Especially with all the technology we have now, whether client’s want to be reached via text or phone, real estate agents are never truly off-duty.”

“So while the benefits are certainly the scheduling flexibility, you also have to love connecting with people because that’s a big part of the job.”

Fortunately, if you do like connecting with people, real estate could be the career for you. Real estate is a fantastic opportunity to meet new people. 

Success in real estate also largely depends on an individual’s drive and dedication. One exciting aspect of real estate is that there are no salary limits — since it’s typically based off commission, what you put into real estate will directly impact what you get out of it.

A few other major benefits to becoming a real estate agent include:

  • The opportunity to see really cool, interesting properties
  • Flexibility to work from home — this isn’t a job where you need to be in an office all day
  • No dress code
  • You’re your own boss
  • You don’t need a college degree

why you should become a real estate agent, perks of real estate

However, we should also briefly cover some disadvantages of real estate, so you know what you’re getting into.

For one, the flexibility we mentioned (above) can become a drawback — since it’s not a traditional 9-to-5, you may end up working more hours than you would in an office, particularly since you’re working off commission.

Real estate is also an industry that often takes place after work hours. Showings usually happen at night or on the weekends, so you’ll need to adjust to a unique work schedule that may not fit the lifestyle you want.

A steady income isn’t always possible as a real estate agent, either. Your financial success in any given month will depend on a variety of factors, including the housing market, the economy, and more. Unlike more traditional salaried jobs, you can’t expect the same amount each month — which means budgeting and saving will be critical during the slower seasons.

And, finally, it’s important to keep in mind that buying and selling a home is an incredibly stressful process for your clients, so you’ll have moments of tension, anxiety, and frustration. It’s vital to consider whether you can handle this stress and whether you feel you have the emotional intelligence to curtail it when it does arise.

Should I become a real estate agent? 

Now that we’ve covered some pros and cons, you might be thinking: Okay, well … Should I become one?

That is ultimately up to you. If you’re unsure, consider shadowing a real estate agent for a day, or conducting informational interviews to learn more about the industry.

If you’re someone who has passion for real estate, creativity, and is a good problem-solver, then this could be a good industry for you.

Additionally, real estate can be a lucrative, social, exciting career, but it’s also one that requires independence and drive — you don’t have a boss telling you what to do, so you’ll need to find ways to make your own success. Consider whether you have the innate drive it takes to succeed.

There are different types of real estate, including residential, industrial, or commercial.

A quick rundown:

  • Residential real estate: The buying and selling of property for residential purposes, including homes, condos, duplexes, and townhouses.
  • Commercial real estate: The buying and selling of property for business purposes, including hospitals, gas stations, apartment complexes, and restaurants.
  • Industrial real estate: The buying and selling of property for manufacturing, production, distribution, or storage purposes. Think: warehouses, power plants, or factories.

When you’re considering whether you should become a real estate agent, you’ll want to think about which type of real estate feels like the best fit for you.

Within residential real estate, additionally, you might choose a niche type of home or specific client on which to focus.

For instance, perhaps you choose to focus on luxury homes, apartment buildings, new construction, single-family homes, or homes that offer waterfront views or historic value. Alternatively, maybe you focus on a given neighborhood.

So the question “Should I become a real estate agent?” becomes: “Should I become a real estate agent — and which type of real estate interests me? And what would I like my specialty to be?”

Of course, only you can answer that one. If you’re unsure, keep reading — the “How to Become a Successful Real Estate Agent” section, below, will highlight tips from the pros, and should give you a better sense for what you’ll need to put into the job to get the most out of it.

If you’re confident real estate is the job for you, let’s dive into the steps you need to follow to become one.

The first few steps in this list are covered in How to Get a Real Estate License in 7 Steps, so I won’t cover those in-depth. If you’re interested in learning more about the pre-licensure course or how to get your real estate license, check out that post before continuing.

Along with a pre-licensure course, your state may require additional courses (to learn more about your state’s requirements, select your state on the drop-down menu on Real Estate Express’ website). Here’s a list of real estate courses you might be expected to take depending on your state requirements:

  • Pre-licensing courses
  • Exam preparation classes
  • Post-licensing classes
  • Continuing education classes

However, once you have your real estate license, you still need to find a sponsoring brokerage. Most states require a real estate broker to sponsor your first few years as an agent.

There are different types of brokers you can consider joining: National franchises, like Keller Williams Realty; boutique-style brokerages, which are smaller or local brokerage firms; and virtual brokerages, which takes place entirely online.

Once you’ve found a sponsoring broker, you’ll want to consider whether joining the National Association of Realtors (NAR) is the right choice for you. You must join NAR to call yourself a REALTOR®, which is required if you want access to Multiple Listing Services (MLS), which enables you to see other realtors’ listings. While not technically necessary, joining NAR can help you increase your earnings potential.

Next, you’ll need to create marketing materials, including business cards, brochures, etc. Having clean, sleek, personalized marketing materials can help you grow your own personal brand — which is critical for expanding your reach, finding new leads, and growing your community.

Which leads me to my last point: networking. The last step in becoming an agent is networking and growing your community. As an agent, meeting someone new is always an opportunity to expand your reach and collect new leads. You’ll want to have your card on hand to pass your name along whenever you hear of someone who might be interested in buying or selling property.

Creating a clean website that displays your successful listings, as well as remaining active on social media, are other good opportunities for expanding your network.

Requirements to Become a Real Estate Agent

While the full requirements vary state-by-state, here’s a quick rundown of what you’ll likely need to become a real estate agent:

  • Pre-licensing education
  • State approval to take the licensing exam
  • Real estate license
  • Sponsoring broker
  • Acceptance into National Association of Realtors (optional but recommended)

How to Become a Successful Real Estate Agent

Becoming a real estate agent is one thing — becoming a successful agent is another.

To set yourself apart as a real estate agent, there are additional steps you’ll need to take beyond the ones listed above.

Here, I spoke with real estate agents to uncover their strategies for succeeding in the industry. Let’s explore those, now.

1. Do your research before showing up to a property.

Rich Cawley told me it’s vital as a real estate agent that you take the time to learn about the history of a property.

rich cawleys quote on real estate tips

Cawley says, “You want to be as knowledgeable as you can about the history of a house. When you show up, you should already know everything you can about the property — that’s what sets successful agents apart. At UMF, our tagline is ‘we help you sell a story’, and that’s really what you’re doing in real estate.”

“You’re not selling a house, you’re selling a story.”

Beyond knowing facts about the surrounding neighborhood, property value, school districts, etc. consider what makes the specific house unique, and why you feel the house’s personality matches your buyer’s. 

As Cawley puts its, “Real estate is matchmaking. It’s about knowing the right type of properties to show your clients, and not wasting their time with mass email sends, but rather being strategic about the messaging you send them and ensuring you’re choosing the best properties for their specific needs.”

2. Be a strong communicator. 

Real estate is about connecting with people. As Cawley told me, he’s never met a good real estate agent who didn’t have a natural ability to connect with people. It’s about learning how to create trust and form strong relationships with your clients. 

And one key trait of a good relationship is strong communication. 

As Summer House Realty agent Gerilyn de Laurentys puts it, “You can set yourself apart from other agents by learning how to be a great communicator. Meet people in person, or call them to have conversations that aren’t about real estate.”

“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Listen twice as much as you speak.”

To practice your active listening skills, you’ll want to truly listen to your client — that means ignoring distractions, putting your phone away, and listening without simply preparing for what you’re going to say in response. 

gerilyn quote on how to become a successful real estate agent

Additionally, you might try feeding your client’s words back to them, confirming you heard your client correctly, or asking relevant follow-up questions to deepen your understanding of their needs. 

Real estate is all about selling, so it’s vital you practice the communication skills that are important for any sales job

3. Keep in-mind why you’re passionate about real estate. 

There will be months or even years when you’re not making the earnings you want. (Side note: many real estate agents I spoke with encouraged new agents to have savings to fall back on; this will help when you’re still building a client list, during dips in the market, or if you want to branch out and start your own brokerage firm.)

When the going gets tough, you’ll want to remember why real estate is important to you — beyond the money.

As Sims tells me, “Setting yourself apart from the crowd requires you to understand your ‘big why’ — in other words, knowing why you committed to a career in real estate. Your ‘big why’ will pull you through the highs and lows of building a strong business model for yourself.” 

This is true of any career: Considering most would choose meaningful work over a larger paycheck, it’s critical you find innate meaning and purpose in your profession as a real estate agent. 

4. Choose the right brokerage firm with which to partner. 

When you’re first starting out, you need to choose a brokerage firm with which to partner. This firm will introduce you to the industry, help you form connections, and provide you with mentorship opportunities. 

Choosing a “sponsoring broker”, as they’re typically called, is a key part of becoming successful as an agent. When searching, ask various brokers about their education opportunities — whether it be online courses, pamphlets, or sit-down classes. Additionally, you’ll want to find out how their cost structure works. Will you be paying them a flat fee, or will they split commission with you? 

Sims adds, “It’s critical you partner with the right broker — for the first 18 months of your career, your broker is key to providing mentors, productivity coaches, and support, all of which will help you develop the fundamental skills required for building a strong book of business.”

To figure out which brokerage firm fits with your needs, try sitting down with a minimum of three to five before making your decision. Ask these firms how they plan to help you develop in your career, which is key to becoming a successful agent.

5. Stay up-to-date on technology. 

These days, some clients might expect you to send along text updates of properties, while others expect an email, website notification, or phone call. 

As Cawley told me, “Successful real estate agents know how to use whichever technology their clients prefer to make it easy for clients to connect with them quickly, and on their own terms.”

To do this, ensure you remain up-to-date about communication methods your clients’ prefer. Ask other agents what they use, take yearly courses to refresh your knowledge, or simply ask your clients what they’d prefer using. 

Additionally, to stay on-top of all the clients and properties you’re juggling, you’ll want to consider investing in a CRM platform to organize your contacts, create a streamlined social media or email strategy, and boost your SEO rankings.

You might also want to explore how SMS messaging can help you manage automated text messages to clients, like texts that confirm a time or place for a showing. 

And there you have it! You’re well on your way to becoming a successful real estate agent.

Whether you’re just starting out or you’ve been in the industry for decades, it’s important to remember the importance of constantly expanding your knowledge of real estate to remain authoritative when helping your clients find — or sell — they’re dream homes. Good luck! 

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