In defense of part-time agents

Broker Notebook

Most full-time real estate agents hold part-time agents in low regard.

Part-time agents are sometimes considered unprofessional. But people become part-time agents for a variety of reasons.

Agent and clients image via Shutterstock.
Agent and clients image via Shutterstock.

Sometimes they don’t want to work full time, or they already have full-time “day jobs.”

Sometimes they are career changers who are not ready to take the leap to being a full-time agent. I have met flight attendants, nurses and even a chauffeur who sells real estate — and were good at it, too.

Most real estate agents are independent contractors, and some of us provide most or all of the income for our families. There are times when being a full-time agent is downright frightening — especially the part about getting and paying health insurance for ourselves and our family.

I am a full-time real estate agent but I am also a part-time photographer, which has taught me to be a little bit more open minded about part-time real estate agents.

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The agents who sell the most real estate are full time, and they have teams. They do make more money, because they have more agents working with clients. But they don’t seem to sell real estate better or faster than part-time agents.

As an agent, I have worked with some full-time agents who do not know what they are doing, are too busy to return my phone calls, and blame their assistants when they cannot scan and send a purchase agreement. They have about a zillion excuses for not being able to deliver an earnest money check.

I have also had both good and bad experiences with part-time agents. Some part-time agents who sell only a couple of houses a year are very enthusiastic and diligent. They really do give their clients great service, and seem to really understand the market. They can never talk on the phone during business hours, but they will generally answer emails and text messages.

As a part-time photographer, I don’t feel much love from full-time photographers.

I never went to photography school. Although I have excellent equipment, I don’t have the most expensive or best of anything. I don’t belong to any of the organizations or clubs that the pros belong to because I don’t have time.

But I read as much about photography as I can, and learn from the work of others. I rarely leave the house without a camera or two.

Full-time professional photographers don’t always think I charge enough, and sometimes I don’t. Sometimes the only reason I want a job is to have the experience and build my portfolio.

When I charge less, I undercut the rates of full-time professional photographers, and I am taking business away from them. They believe that professionals should charge more — that the rate you charge is part of what makes a person a professional.

My photography clients like the fact that I am flexible and guarantee my work. I take credit cards, and I work nights and weekends. I have even learned to be patient with those who want to buy prints that will match the couch.

I’ve taken many photographs over the years that people can buy, and I have learned how to sell prints and where to get them framed.

I try to set reasonable expectations and then I try as hard as I can to exceed those expectations. My photography clients know that I am not a full-time photographer.

I also leverage my photography and trade my services for food and drink, hotel rooms, or free tickets to concerts, sporting events and conferences. Sometimes I get media passes and front-row seats.

Full-time photographers do not see me as a real photographer because I am not full time, and I have no interest in shooting weddings or selling my photos to stock art companies.

The good news is I don’t need the respect of other photographers to be a photographer. I don’t think part-time real estate agents need to win the respect of full-timers to sell real estate either. A good part-time agent will read, take classes, tour homes and do open houses. Some will learn to do a better job than full-timers.

I am not recommending being a part-time agent, or suggesting that being a photographer is like being a real estate agent. But I think either can be done successfully on a part-time basis.

For some people, it is the best way to get started, and for others it’s the best way to retire.

Technology has made many things possible that were not possible before. Skill and professionalism are about more than the number of hours a person works.

As the market continues to improve, we will see more part-time agents, and more new agents too.

We shouldn’t make generalizations about part-time agents, or assume that they cannot do a good job and that full-time agents are always better. There is room for more than one business model in our industry.

Teresa Boardman is a broker in St. Paul, Minn., and founder of the St. Paul Real Estate blog.


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