Real estate brokers and sales agents help clients buy, sell, and rent properties. Although brokers and agents do similar work, brokers are licensed to manage their own real estate businesses. Sales agents must work with a real estate broker.

Duties

Real estate brokers and sales agents typically do the following:

  • Solicit potential clients to buy, sell, and rent properties
  • Advise clients on prices, mortgages, market conditions, and other related information
  • Compare properties to determine a competitive market price
  • Generate lists of properties for sale, including details such as location and features
  • Promote properties through advertisements, open houses, and listing services
  • Take prospective buyers or renters to see properties
  • Present purchase offers to sellers for consideration
  • Mediate negotiations between the buyer and seller
  • Ensure all terms of purchase contracts are met
  • Prepare documents, such as loyalty contracts, purchase agreements, and deeds

Because of the complexity of buying or selling a home or commercial property, people often seek help from real estate brokers and sales agents.

Most real estate brokers and sales agents sell residential property. Others sell commercial property, and a small number sell industrial, agricultural, or other types of real estate.

Brokers and agents can represent either the buyer or the seller in a transaction. Buyers’ brokers and agents meet with clients to understand what they are looking for and how much they can afford. Sellers’ brokers and agents meet with clients to help them decide how much to ask for and to convince them that the agent or broker can find them a qualified buyer.

Real estate brokers and sales agents must be knowledgeable about the real estate market in their area. To match properties to clients’ needs, they should be familiar with local communities, including knowledge of the crime rate and the proximity to schools and shopping. Brokers and agents also must stay current on financing options; government programs; types of available mortgages; and real estate, zoning, and fair housing laws.                                  

Real estate brokers are licensed to manage their own businesses. Brokers, as independent businesspeople, often sell real estate owned by others. In addition to helping clients buy and sell properties, they may help rent or manage properties for a fee. Many operate a real estate office, handling business details and overseeing the work of sales agents.

Real estate sales agents must work with a broker. Sales agents often work for brokers on a contract basis, earning a portion of the commission from each property they sell.

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Work Environment

Real estate brokers and sales agents held about 422,000 jobs in 2012. About 52 percent were self-employed.

Most of the remainder worked in the real estate industry in brokerage offices, leasing offices, and other real estate establishments. Workplace size can range from a one-person business to a large firm with numerous branch offices. Many brokers have franchise agreements with national or regional real estate companies. Under this arrangement, the broker pays a fee to be affiliated with a widely known real estate organization. 

While some real estate brokers and sales agents work in a typical office environment, others are able to telecommute and work out of their homes. In both cases, however, real estate workers spend much of their time away from their desks showing properties to customers, traveling to see properties for sale, and meeting with prospective clients.

Work Schedules

Many real estate brokers and sales agents work more than 40 hours per week. They often work evenings and weekends to accommodate clients' schedules. Many brokers and sales agents may spend a significant amount of time networking and attending community events to meet potential clients. Although they frequently work long or irregular hours, many can set their own schedules. 

Some brokers and sales agents work part time and may combine their real estate activities with other careers.

Education and Training

Real estate brokers and sales agents need at least a high school diploma. Both brokers and sales agents must be licensed. To become licensed, candidates must complete a number of real estate courses and pass a licensing exam. 

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

In all states and the District of Columbia, real estate brokers and sales agents must be licensed. Licensing requirements vary by state, but most have similar basic requirements:

Candidates must

  • be 18 years old
  • complete a number of real estate courses
  • pass an exam

Some states have additional requirements, such as passing a background check. Licenses are typically not transferrable among states. However, some states have reciprocity agreements and will accept licenses issued by some other states. 

To obtain a broker’s license, individuals typically need 1 to 3 years of experience as a licensed sales agent. They also must take additional formal classroom training. In some states, a bachelor’s degree may be substituted in place of some experience or training requirements. 

State licenses typically must be renewed every 2 to 4 years. In most states, brokers and agents must complete continuing education courses to renew their license. To verify exact licensing requirements, prospective brokers and agents should contact the real estate licensing commission of the state in which they wish to work.

Education

Real estate brokers and sales agents must have at least a high school diploma or equivalent. Although most brokers and agents must take state-accredited prelicensing courses to become licensed, some states may waive this requirement if the candidate has taken college courses in real estate. 

As the real estate market becomes more competitive and complex, some employers prefer to hire candidates with college courses or a college degree. Some community colleges, colleges, and universities offer courses in real estate. Some offer associate’s and bachelor’s degree programs in real estate, and many others offer certificate programs. Courses in finance, business administration, economics, and law also can be useful.

Brokers intending to open their own company often take business courses, such as marketing and accounting. 

In addition to offering prelicensing courses, many real estate associations have courses and professional development programs for both beginners and experienced agents. These courses cover a variety of topics, such as real estate fundamentals, real estate law, and mortgage financing.

Work Experience in a Related Occupation

To get a broker’s license in most states, real estate brokers must have experience working as a licensed real estate sales agent. Requirements vary by state, but most require 1 to 3 years of experience. 

Training

Real estate sales agents improve their skills though practice and repetition. Because of the sales environment and the complexity of real estate deals, new agents typically observe and work closely with more senior agents. For example, new agents in some real estate firms may work with mentors and split commission on their first few homes sold. In addition, some of the larger real estate companies provide formal classroom training for new agents as a way to gain knowledge and experience.

Advancement

In larger firms, experienced agents can advance to sales manager or general manager. Sales agents who earn their broker’s license may open their own offices. 

Personality and Interests

Real estate brokers and sales agents typically have an interest in the Persuading and Organizing interest areas, according to the Holland Code framework. The Persuading interest area indicates a focus on influencing, motivating, and selling to other people. The Organizing interest area indicates a focus on working with information and processes to keep things arranged in orderly systems.

If you are not sure whether you have a Persuading or Organizing interest which might fit with a career as a real estate broker and sales agent, you can take a career test to measure your interests.

Real estate brokers and sales agents should also possess the following specific qualities:

Business skills. Because most brokers are self-employed, they must manage every aspect of their business. This includes reaching out to prospective clients, handling their finances, and advertising their services.

Interpersonal skills. Strong interpersonal skills are essential for real estate brokers and sales agents, because they spend much of their time interacting with clients and customers. To attract and keep clients, they must be pleasant, enthusiastic, and trustworthy. 

Organizational skills. Real estate brokers and sales agents must be able to work independently, managing their own time and organizing, planning, and prioritizing their work.

Problem-solving skills. Real estate brokers and sales agents need to be able to quickly (sometimes immediately) address concerns clients or potential customers may have with a property. They also mediate negotiations between the seller and buyer.

Pay

The median hourly wage for real estate brokers was $28.05 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $12.32, and the top 10 percent earned more than $85.07. 

The median hourly wage for real estate sales agents was $18.82 in May 2012. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $9.95, and the top 10 percent earned more than $45.93. 

Brokers and sales agents earn most of their income from commissions on sales. The commission varies by the type of property and its value. Commissions are often divided among the buying agent, selling agent, brokers, and firms. 

An agent’s income, therefore, often depends on economic conditions, the agent’s individual motivation, and the types of property available. Income usually increases as agents become better and more experienced at sales. Earnings can be irregular, especially for beginners, and agents sometimes go weeks or months without a sale. Some agents become active in community organizations and local real estate organizations to broaden their contacts and increase their sales. 

Many real estate brokers and sales agents work more than 40 hours per week. They often work evenings and weekends to accommodate clients' schedules. Many brokers and sales agents may spend a significant amount of time networking and attending community events to meet potential clients. Although they frequently work long or irregular hours, many can set their own schedules. 

Some brokers and sales agents work part time and may combine their real estate activities with other careers.

Job Outlook

Employment of real estate brokers and sales agents is projected to grow 11 percent from 2012 to 2022, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

Because people increasingly use real estate brokers and sales agents when purchasing homes, employment will grow as the real estate market improves.

Both financial and nonfinancial factors spur demand for home sales. Real estate is perceived as a good long-term investment, and many people want to own their homes.

Population growth and mobility also will continue to stimulate the need for new brokers and agents. In addition to first-time home buyers, people will need brokers and agents when looking for a larger home, relocating for a new job, and other reasons.

In addition, an improving job market and rising consumer spending will drive demand for brokers and agents to handle commercial, retail, and industrial real estate transactions.

The real estate market is sensitive to fluctuations in the economy, and employment of real estate brokers and agents will vary accordingly. In periods of economic growth or stability, employment will grow to accommodate people looking to buy homes and businesses looking to expand office or retail space. Alternatively, during periods of declining economic activity or rising interest rates, the amount of work for brokers and agents will slow and employment may decline.

Job Prospects

It is relatively easy to enter the occupation, but getting listings as a broker or agents depends on the real estate market and overall economic conditions. As the economy expands and more people look to buy homes, job competition may increase as more people attain their real estate license. Although the real estate market declines in an economic downturn, there also tend to be fewer active and licensed real estate agents.

New agents will face competition from well-established, more experienced brokers and agents. Because income is dependent on sales, beginners may have trouble sustaining themselves in the occupation during periods of slower activity.

Brokers should fare better because they generally have a large client base from years of experience as sales agents. Those with strong sales ability and extensive social and business connections in their communities should have the best chances for success.

For More Information

Information on licensing requirements for real estate brokers and sales agents is available from most local real estate organizations and from the state real estate commission or board.

For more information about opportunities in real estate, visit

National Association of Realtors

FAQ

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The career information above is taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook. This excellent resource for occupational data is published by the U.S. Department of Labor every two years. Truity periodically updates our site with information from the BLS database.

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