Is a Career as a Real Estate Agent Right for You? Pros and Cons

Should you become a real estate agent?

Realtor showing new house to young couple
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A lot of people think that a real estate career is easy money, and it can be—usually after a while.

Of course, every career has its drawbacks. It's a matter of balancing the good against the bad and gauging your tolerance for the bad. You're your own boss as a real estate agent, but this comes with a good deal of added responsibility and a bit of a cash investment to get started. 

It's Not Just About Sales

You don't have to be a "salesperson" to make a good living in real estate. This is primarily a service business, so serving your clients well contributes significantly to your success.

But many people have found that real estate is a natural transition from another sales career, and that it's more fulfilling. You're helping people with what's often one of the largest financial transactions they'll make in their lives. 

Education Requirements Can Be Minimal

You don't need a college degree to become a real estate agent, although licensure is required and states almost universally require that you have at least a high school diploma or GED, and that you be at least 18 years old.

Some states have training requirements and you'll have to pass the licensing exam, but you can do this in much less time than it takes to earn a bachelor's degree. You'll most likely have to complete a pre-licensing course, but the investment of time can be minimal—as little as 30 days from start to finish.

The exam itself can be challenging in some states. It's often divided into a state-level section with a second part dedicated to national laws and issues. You'll have to pass both.

The National Association of Realtors regularly sponsors courses that you can enroll in to prepare yourself, and they'll look great on your resume, too.

The Money Is Good...Eventually

Any limits to your eventual earnings are those you put in place yourself. How much you earn tends to be directly proportional to how much and how hard you work. 

That said, the word "eventual" is key. You won't reap a windfall your first week, or even your first month, and you should be prepared to deal with that. It can come down to your temperament and your tolerance for a little financial stress, and whether you have enough money saved to tide you over until that first sale.

You'll have to spend money to get started, too. There's that licensing exam and the cost of training. You'll need business cards, a marketing budget, and a decent, reliable car—and you'll have all your own personal bills to pay as well.

Some experts advise that it could six months to a year before you receive your first commission check because commissions are typically paid at the end of transactions. You'll have to put in a fair bit of work to get to that point, and you'll need ample savings to survive during that time.

Real estate agents earned a median annual salary of about $50,300 in 2018, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Median means that half of all agents make more than this and half earn less. It encompasses those who regularly deal in seven-figure properties as well as agents who dabble in the field part-time. The two extremes tend to balance out the numbers. 

You'll Enjoy Flexible Hours...Sometimes 

This perk comes with a caveat, too. Nobody is going to require that you punch a time clock at 9 a.m. and stay planted at your desk until 5:00 Monday through Friday. You can set your own hours, and you can move them around to accommodate your personal needs. If you like to pick up your child from school, you can do that.

That said, many of your real estate clients will be punching time clocks or will be otherwise confined to set working schedules. You'll have to make yourself available when they are if you want to do a good business. This often means working nights, weekends, and even some holidays. 

You're Helping People 

The helping aspect of real estate work is a big advantage for altruistic types. Your clients might be buying their first homes or selling long-time family homes to downsize because they're retiring. You can expect nerves and sometimes buyers' or sellers' remorse in either case.

You don't need a Ph.D. in psychology to handle all this, but having a lot of compassion and patience can help.

The Tech Advantage 

Technology and the mobile world can help agents who aren't exceptionally people-oriented to become successful in real estate. You should have a solid chance to connect with prospects if you can work a good website that's mobile device-friendly, and if you can handle some social website posting. Responding quickly and regularly to emails or text messages can go a long way as well.

The Pros of a Real Estate Career

Many love the helping nature of this job, while others want to exercise their independent nature and be their own bosses.

It takes commitment and an investment of effort, time, and money to build a successful real estate career, but you'll get a lot in return. You're an independent contractor, so you can control your own business. Your income isn't limited. It's based on your skills and your work ethic. 

You can set your own work schedule and vacations, and you can work outdoors and in varied locations. You can build future business with great service and client referrals. 

The Cons of a Career in Real Estate

You're more or less on your own when it comes to making sure your business thrives. You have to constantly be available when clients want you. Income can be a long time in coming when you first start out. The early months and years in real estate can be feast or famine until you get going.  

There's a high failure rate for new agents, and the job involves some liability and risk. You'll need insurance because some mistakes, such as failing to disclose a material fact about the property or neglecting inspections, can get you sued.