A Career in Real Estate and Why It Might Be Right for You

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RealEstateThe pathway to becoming a real estate expert is an interesting and varied one, just as the profession itself is. Students looking to pursue this vocation will find that many colleges offer related degrees and risk-management programs.

Those looking to practice real estate typically opt to specialize in residential property, though commercial real estate also represents a viable and popular field. In this guide, you’ll find everything you need to know about this rewarding career and will learn about what education is needed, and what opportunities are available.

What Real Estate Professionals Do

A career as a real estate professional involves so much more than sales. Essentially, you will be responsible for helping buyers and sellers realize their property goals, but there’s also an emotional side that many find very rewarding.

Agents must have a deep understanding of the market and of the communities in the area to effectively advise their clients. Additionally, agents may assist clients by hosting showings and negotiating directly with sellers.

Brokers, on the other hand, are licensed to manage their own businesses. Generally, however, the job role remains similar to that of agents in most other respects.

 Is Real Estate the Right Career for You?

Oftentimes, students aren’t quite sure how to narrow their fields of interest when they begin to consider this career. If you’re at this point, first ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are you a natural problem solver with business acumen?
  • Does working as your own boss appeal to you?
  • Do you enjoy helping others realize their dreams?
  • Are you motivated by commission-based income?

If you answered yes to any of these and you can see yourself enjoying the relational and financial aspects of the profession, a career in real estate might be your ideal occupation.

Salary Outlook and Earning Potential

The top commercial real estate firms are hiring graduates above the 75th percentile and are reportedly paying them well, which is great news if you’re considering a career in commercial real estate. Your compensation will vary depending on the firm, the amount of sales you close and whether you pursue the commercial or residential path, but the average annual salaries are:

  • Residential realtor: $39,300
  • Commercial realtor: $85,000

Whatever path you choose, you can be well compensated for your efforts with an uncapped earning potential that depends on the types of sales you handle and how consistently  and effectively you close deals. Higher income usually come with years of experience and acquired skill sets. To sharpen your skills and acquire new sales and lead generation techniques, you can pursue non-licensing continuing education.  In addition, realtors and brokers are also required to complete annual continuing education in order to maintain their state licenses.

Opportunities and Potential Pathways

It’s no surprise that a career in real estate is rated one of the best business jobs; real estate agents and brokers typically experience higher levels of upward mobility, higher rates of job satisfaction and greater flexibility when compared to many other career paths.

There’s a large degree of flexibility in career progression, and various pathways in residential or commercial real estate.

Differences between Residential and Commercial

Many people gravitate toward careers in either residential or commercial real estate, and there are a number of key differences between the two.

Residential Realtors:

  • Sell homes, apartments and other dwellings specifically suited for living
  • Have smaller, more frequent sales transactions
  • Experience a faster sales cycle (quicker closings)
  • Often work non-standards hours (evenings and weekends) to accommodate their clients’ schedules
  • Deal with more individual home buyers so must be prepared for more emotional/personal client decision-making
  • Must maintain GRI, CRE, ABR and/or other licenses or certifications

Commercial Realtors:

  • Sell various business properties including land, office buildings, and industrial and retail complexes
  • Have fewer, larger sales
  • Experience s longer sales cycle (deals are more complex and take longer to complete)
  • Usually work standard business hours
  • Deal with business, investors and corporate entities that typically make business decisions based on numbers
  • Must maintain CCIM, SIOR, CPM and/or other licenses or certifications

Residential Realtors and Brokers

Residential Realtors and Real Estate Brokers the face of the industry and are the job titles most familiar to the general public. Realtors (sales agents) and brokers typically help their clients buy, sell and rent properties.

Although realtors and brokers perform similar roles, brokers are licensed to manage their own real estate businesses, while realtors must be affiliated with a real estate broker. Quick facts from BLS data:

  • 2012 Median Pay: $41,900, primarily commission-based
  • Entry-level Education: high school diploma or equivalent
  • Predicted Outlook: 11% growth (as fast as average)

Appraisers and Assessors

Real estate appraisers and assessors estimate the value of buildings and land, usually before it’s sold, mortgaged, insured, taxed or developed. These particular fields of expertise attract slightly less interest than their sales and brokerage counterparts, however. Quick facts from BLS data:

  • 2012 Median Pay: $49,540
  • Entry-level Education: bachelor’s degree
  • Predicted Outlook: 6% growth (slower than average)

Within these subcategories is the opportunity for specialists to work in commercial, residential or industrial arenas, though the scope varies on a project-by-project basis and compensation may  also be based upon commission.

College Degrees and Popular Majors

The real estate industry is made up of people from all walks of life, and a college education is always beneficial. While there are specific degrees in real estate, often the skills learned in other majors are transferable. so majoring in real estate isn’t strictly necessary to pursue a career in the field.

Popular majors that provide skills beneficial for real estate professionals include business, marketing, architecture, economics, entrepreneurship and communications.

 Licenses, Designations and Certifications

While state licensure is usually required to become a realtor, most designations and certifications are optional.  These designations and certifications, however, are designed to help you succeed in your area of expertise. As such, they will depend on the path you’ve chosen to follow.

Commercial Real Estate Experts most often receive certification with CCIM, SIOR and CPM designations.

  • CCIM: Certified Commercial Investment Member Brokers. This is the global standard for professional achievement in commercial real estate. Obtaining this designation requires an extensive 200 hour curriculum and professional requirements.
  • SIOR: Society of Industrial and Office REALTORS. This is held by only those with the most knowledge, experience and success. Designees must meet standards of experience, production, education, ethics and must provide recommendations.
  • CPM: Certified Property Manager. Those with a CPM are recognized experts in real estate management.

Residential Realtors most often have GRI, CRE and ABR licenses.

  • ABR: Accredited Buyer’s Representative. This is for real estate buyer agents who work with clients in every stage of the home-buying process.
  • GRI: Graduate, REALTOR Institute. Requires in-depth training in legal and regulatory issues, technology, professional standards and the sales process.
  • CRE: Counselor of Real Estate. Membership is invitation only and is an international group of professionals focusing on property and land.

Understanding Licensing

Licensing requirements vary by state. For instance, in Texas, real estate agents are required to complete Sales Agent Apprentice Education (SAE)  in order to become fully licensed. States also have regulations and requirements related to license renewal.

Continuing Education in Real Estate

In order to maintain their licenses, realtors are required to complete annual continung education. There are a variety courses that can lead to a career in this exciting and growing industry, including continuing education courses. There are a wide range of studies in areas such as pre-license, Mandatory Continuing Education (MCE) and Salesperson Apprenticeship Education (SAE).

Don’t worry if you find these terms confusing. Essentially, they are two differing forms of continuing education that a licensed agent must go through to maintain their standing, depending on the state.

Mandatory Continuing Education (MCE)

Real estate agents and brokers may be required to complete mandatory hours of MCE credits every two years, though classes will vary depending upon your professional title. For instance:

  • Licensed agents must attend six hours of legal/ethics classes in addition to completing a nine-hour elective.
  • Brokers and salespersons engaged in sponsorship must complete six hours legal/ethics classes and six hours of broker responsibility.
  • Brokers and salespersons not engaged in sponsorship or supervision of a licensee must complete six hours of legal/ethics classes and a nine-hour elective.

Exploring careers in business? Be sure to check out the entire series of career exploration posts!

A Career in Real Estate 

A Career in Marketing

A Career in Business Law

A Career in Finance

A Career in Accounting

A Career in Insurance

A Career in Supply Chain

A Career in Human Resources

A Career in Management

A Career in Sales

A Career in Consulting


About the Author

Sarah Landrum

Sarah Landrum is a freelance writer, blogger, and aspiring world traveler. Sarah is also the founder of Punched Clocks, a site on which she shares advice for young professionals on navigating the work world, and finding happiness and success at work. For more on all things career follow her @SarahLandrum

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