With a booming housing market in certain parts of the country (and all the episodes of Selling Sunset you’ve been binge-watching during quarantine), being a real estate agent may seem like a pretty solid gig. And it can be. Once you get your first commission on a house, you’ll be popping the champagne for sure, but don’t expect to get million-dollar listings right after getting your real estate license.
It’s much more of a hustle than HGTV would make you think—in fact, a good part of your days might involve securing new clients and following up on potential sales. While the job is not going to look as bougie as Selling Sunset makes it out to be, real estate agents say it won’t hurt if you have a social media presence to showcase your ~personal brand~.
If you’re ready to start showing some property ASAP, you’re in luck. Real-life real estate agents Liane, Kimberly, Emily, and Kinh gave Cosmopolitan the lowdown on what it’s really like to chase that commission.
1. The buying process is not that easy.
If the romanticized home buying process and all the flipping and flopping going on HGTV has you hooked, just beware. “New agents are getting licensed daily because they’ve seen HGTV and think, ‘Wow, I only have to show three homes, and my buyers will purchase one and I’ll get a fat commission check!’” Liane says. But it doesn’t work that way. “I’ve worked with buyers for literally *years* to find the right home. I wish I could limit them to just three,” she adds.
Also, the whole negotiation process takes way longer than 30 minutes. “There are so many fires a real estate agent has to put out in a real estate transaction before we can get to the closing table,” says Liane. It’s all worth it when you can help the buyer settle into their dream home though, she says.
2. You’ll have to put some cash down up front.
Training and licensing aren’t free. When you take into account all the fees, dues, and additional expenses you have to run your business, it’s a lot—real estate is definitely not a get-rich-quick scheme. “I personally pay for insurance, real estate dues (which is a couple thousand every year), brokerage fees, my phone, my car, and my marketing,” says Emily. “Your commission does not necessarily go directly into your pocket,” she adds.
3. If you’re a social media star, you’ll be perfect.
Calling all lifestyle influencers in the making: Being TikTok or Insta-famous definitely won’t hurt when it comes to real estate. “As agents, we’re no longer just selling homes, but having to become our own brands and create a following in order to achieve success,” says Kimberly. Getting client referrals through word-of-mouth won’t make you rich. “Especially for newer agents, social media is the way to form connections and market to an audience of friends that may one day turn into clients,” Kimberly says. Reaching out on social is the way for people to see your real vibe and might sway potential customers to work with you over a random agent on Zillow, she adds.
4. You have to hustle to get and keep clients.
Putting yourself out there on social media is just one way to get noticed. You’re going to need to get in touch with “for sale by owners” properties, do open houses, and even knock on doors to get clients early on in your career, Liane says.
Plus, expect to follow up at least five to 12 times with prospective clients before making a sale, Liane says. And don’t be afraid to get on the phone. “What’s worse, fear of bugging them or fear of missing next month’s mortgage payment? Make. That. Call,” she says.
5. Your days might involve a lot of administrative work.
“It’s not Selling Sunset!” Emily says. “You’re running a business, and showing homes is just one piece of that.” There will be many days where you’re following up with clients for a good portion of the day. Other days will be devoted to contacting prospective customers, or to marketing and research, Emily adds.
6. It’s important that your clients jive with your personality.
“Agents at the forefront realized that people choose them for their personality and what they bring to the table, and it’s important to be their authentic self,” Kinh says. This goes back to your social presence too, which might be the first impression clients have of you (Good news: You don’t need to hide your tattoos anymore).
It’s all about building personal relationships with your clients so that you’re their go-to person for anything involving the house. “Savvy agents know we truly need to partner with their clients beyond the transaction at hand, whether that means helping them make their home Pinterest-worthy when they move in, helping them find a plumber if a pipe leaks at off hours, or anything we can do to be their one-stop shop when it comes to home needs,” Kinh says.
7. You will work long hours.
Make no mistake, this isn’t your typical 9-to-5. “I think a lot of people get into the business of real estate thinking, ‘this is great! I will have no boss, I can go to the beach on a nice day if I want to, or I can work when I want to,’” Liane says. That’s so not true. Part of your day is going to involve prospecting and keeping new clients, and busy realtors will be showing property long past 5 p.m. and even on the weekends, Liane says.
“If you don’t have appointments, you should be prospecting more, going to broker open houses, and learning your market,” Liane adds. “Full-time hours are required for a full-time paycheck.”
8. You don’t sell a house and get paid overnight.
It can take years to build a relationship with a client and sell them the house of their dreams, says Emily. And sometimes that might mean waiting until that client is ready to move. “This means I am following up with that client for a year to nurture that relationship. Then we have to find the right house and wait for the closing,” Emily adds.
The closing is not the quickest process either—Emily says it could take months even—so your paycheck isn’t going to arrive until after the sale closes.
9. It won’t happen right away, but you can make good money.
Don’t forget that your brokerage will take a portion of your earnings, Emily says. “They may have capping options once you hit a certain milestone in commissions, though,” she says.
But once you find the right brokerage and setup, you’re good to go. “This is one of the only businesses I know of where your income is virtually unlimited,” Liane says. It’s not impossible to eventually become a millionaire real estate agent once you climb up far enough, adding on an assistant, or a team of buyer’s and seller’s agents, says Liane.
10. It may help to get licensed in multiple states.
Getting a license in a couple of states could help you keep more clients in the long run. “It’s really convenient for the clients to have one point of contact when moving to a different state,” Kinh says. “I am their go-to person, because I understand what they are used to and what they want in their new area.” Buying or selling your home in-state is already stressful, she adds, but adding relocating into the mix is even more stressful. “Many people appreciate already having a friendly face who knows them and whom they can trust, so they don’t have to start all over again when they move,” Kinh says.
11. You’re probably going to be sued (or at least summoned in court) at some point.
This is just kind of the reality, Liane says. “I have been called into court two times in my 13 years in real estate. Twice, it was a nasty divorce situation and I had to come in and say what the home was truly worth to a judge,” says Liane.
Another time, there was an error on the home description based on incorrect info the seller gave her that led to a subpoena situation, Liane says. “That was a mistake I’ll never make again—always double-check what your seller tells you,” she advises.
12. Point blank, it’s a competitive business, so be ready to get your game face on.
To make sales, it’s all about setting yourself apart from other agents. “Since there is so much competition, you have to ask yourself, ‘what am I going to do differently that my colleagues won’t?’” Liane says. This totally goes back to honing your brand as a realtor.
At the same time, don’t let the competition get to you too much. “You should never burn a bridge with anyone in this business if you can help it,” says Liane. “You are likely going to have to work with them again at some point.”
If you like having a work wife, joining a real estate team offers lots of networking opps with other realtors, Emily says. “It’s important to find your own support network and have the confidence to know you can do things independently.”
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