How To Get Started as a New Real Estate Agent

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A successful real estate career can be a delicate balance of doing the right things at the right times. Whether you're about to get your real estate license, or you're already beginning your career as a real estate agent, you'll need a plan of action.

You'll need a strong work ethic and a realistic budget, especially in the short term. You'll need a computer and a contact management system, as well as a reliable vehicle that's suitable for ferrying clients about town. Having a whole lot of friends and relatives won't hurt, either.

Real estate isn't the fast easy money career that many think it is, but it can be a solid business with high-income potential and an exciting lifestyle. You must understand, however, that you're an independent contractor and that it's your business to grow or fail. 

Understand Licensing Requirements

You're not going to be doing any business without a real estate license. You might already have yours, but look into what's required in your state if you don't. Forewarned is forearmed.

Don't assume that what holds true in one state is also true in another, such as if you're already licensed in Oregon but now you're moving to and want to work in California. Requirements can vary considerably. Contact your state's real estate commission to be sure.

And keep in mind that some agencies have their own requirements over and above what the state requires. You'll also most likely have to pass a criminal background check.

Some rules are pretty much universal, however. You must be a legal U.S. resident. You'll have to take some classes and pass a licensing exam.

Get a Grip on Your Personal and Business Expenses

This is a business, not just a job, and you'll have to treat it like one. Successful businesses have budgets and they have a handle on their expenses as well as their projected revenues.

You're probably going to need somewhere in the neighborhood of $2,500 to get started. You'll have to pay for all those licensing classes and exam fees before you purchase and start handing out business cards.

Now add to your estimated startup costs how much you must realistically put to your personal budget for a few months, as well as how much you'll have to kick into ongoing business needs and expenses during that time.

Be sure you can lay your hands on that money when it's needed because it's unlikely you'll be collecting commissions for a period of time.

Have a Realistic Plan of Your Income Expectations

Use a funnel approach for this. You can estimate income out the bottom of the funnel from the type and number of expected prospects that fall into the top of the funnel. This, too, can help you avoid failure due to lack of income—the No. 1 reason many new agents fail in their first two years.

Develop a Marketing Plan

You can allocate money to marketing expenses more intelligently when you have an idea of the results each type of marketing is likely to bring in. You can only make informed decisions about where to spend your marketing money by doing these calculations.

Don't overlook the comparatively inexpensive power of a really great website. Create the best one you can for yourself, even if your brokerage already offers one. You might need brokerage approval, but you'll probably get it if yours is a quality site.

Build Your Sphere of Influence

The more people you have in your sphere of influence, the more business and referrals you'll see. Hand out business cards to virtually everyone you know, then meet more people and hand out more cards. Use family, friends, and associates to mine contacts.

Choose Your Sponsoring Broker Carefully

Balance your needs for support with a broker's ability to provide it, then look at the commission split. The split is often the last thing you should consider when you're starting out.

Consider the size of the brokerage, but also ask about its goals. Consider their average number of listings, but look into the quality of those listings as well. Does the brokerage offer training, topnotch technology, and a decent marketing budget to help your own along?

You'll want to determine whether the broker is affiliated with the National Association of Realtors (NAR) as well...at least if you want to join the NAR and tack the title "realtor" onto your name.

And remember: Location, location, location! How far is the brokerage from your home? Are you going to have to waste precious hours of your days commuting?

Find a Mentor

Anticipate that it's going to be a dog-eat-dog world out there at first. It can help you to know that there's someone on your side to give advice born of years of experience, to suggest options, or to just nod comfortingly while you vent. You'll need a mentor, and this goes hand-in-hand with selecting a brokerage, at least to some extent. You'll most likely find your mentor in-house.

Keep in mind that not every experienced agent wants to be bothered with assuming this role. It doesn't have to be an official title, although it sometimes is. Ask, then ask again, then even a third time if necessary. Approach bearing gifts. This can sway the odds in your favor.

Kill Those Time-Wasting Habits!

Don't let bad habits and procrastination keep you from the behaviors you'll need to have in place if you're going to follow your plan. Get a system together to accomplish tasks in order of importance and priority. Set specific times each day when you'll check your email or other messages.

Get Your Contacts on a System NOW

You might already have MS Outlook on your computer and this can be the best beginning management system decision. Even better for many is using the free Gmail and other Google tools. Settlement Room is also a great system, but you might be pinching pennies when you first start out and it's costlier.

Some Other Tips

Never deviate from your plan...unless it's not working even though you're implementing it properly. In that case, change the plan, then stick to the new one.

Personality is important, but the bottom line is that this is a business of numbers. If you constantly build on the numbers of contacts and prospects, you'll build your business.

Don't spend a lot of time looking for the "magic bullet." It's all about having a plan, following it, and working hard.

In most cases, your money is better spent on promoting yourself than on buying leads from third-party lead-sellers.

You might say that your name is your business, but you might want to consider branding your business separate from just your name...unless you never want to retire or sell it. When you begin to build a career in real estate, try to do it independently of whatever brokerage you hang with at the start.

It's All Doable

There really isn't a limit to how big of a business you can build. You can grow into a team or even start your own brokerage. Getting into real estate can ultimately be a lucrative decision, but a large number of new agents simply don't make it past their first couple of years.