It’s November 2017: I’m standing at the front desk of the licensing test center with an awkward forced smile on my face as I eagerly wait to see if I passed. The woman at the desk finally hands the form to me, and it’s official — I passed my real estate exam on my very first try.
It’s the first piece of good news I’d gotten in months. I was unemployed and completely fed up with working jobs that I absolutely dreaded going to every single morning. I had always had an interest in homes for as long as I could remember, and I loved helping people any chance I got.
Being unemployed and broke, I had a feeling that I really had nothing to lose at that point. The important thing now was to just figure out what that next step was after getting my license.
See, this is where everything starts to go from bad, to not so bad, to great, to horrible and good again — in that exact order. The exam teaches you the legal side of the job with a hint of vocabulary. As far as actual job training goes however, that’s where you’re on your own.
If you’re brand new to the industry (or even just interested in real estate), here’s some intel on what the first couple of years are like — from someone who has lived it first hand, including all the frustrating and funny moments in between.
Lesson 1: Find your direction
When you first get your license, you have to hang it at a brokerage before you can even show a single house. You’re now put into a situation where the brokerages are trying to win you over versus you trying to impress them like any other job interview.
Remember, they typically make money on you when you sell a house as well as on desk fees. In my personal opinion, brokerages will sell you on things that are really no different than what any other brokerage could offer you.
Do your research thoroughly, and carefully choose the right brokerage for you.
This is a cutthroat business, and you’re going to deal with a lot of agents, brokers and personalities. The kinds of personalities that won’t want to show you how to use DocuSign, for example, because it might threaten their own business (at least, in their minds).
You might even get managers who will scream at you in private for not copying them on emails and then burst into tears seconds later while having a breakdown about their personal lives being shambles.
I wish I was making those examples up, but they’re true stories, and that’s 100 percent the reason I am on my third brokerage in three years.
My biggest regret, so far, has to be that I started off on my own. I would highly suggest that you start off working on a team as an assistant to a high-level broker or find a mentor you can learn from.
Soak up as much as you can and learn from the best, so you’ll be better prepared when you do end up going out on your own.
Lesson 2: Let them know who you are
Now that you’ve found your brokerage, you can’t help but imagine how sweet your life will be in just a few short weeks.
You’re in your newly leased Range Rover and taking the $5 toll bridges just to save four minutes on your commute. You’re living your life without a single care in the world in a whole new tax bracket.
Then, the annoying shriek of your alarm clock wakes you up, and you realize you’re still poor.
Listen, do not quit your day job unless you have savings or a rich significant other. There are a lot of expenses in this business, and you’ll be spending a lot more than you’ll be making in the beginning.
Because I was already in debt, I didn’t have the luxury of a big marketing budget in the beginning. To keep myself alive and find new clients at the same time, I worked delivering food for Postmates and even as a server at a Chinese restaurant in North Seattle.
I told everybody I came across that I worked in real estate and always had business cards in-hand. I even stuck them onto every bag of food I delivered.
Social media has also been my best friend. It’s a low-cost method of reaching out to the people who already know me, and best of all, the people they know who might not know me yet.
Be sure to find that balance between showing your personal life and business though. That’s the key to not losing any followers you do have.
You should also be prepared to work a lot of nights and weekends whether it’s doing paid showings for other agents or hosting open houses to find new clients. It doesn’t sound very glamorous, I know, but hard work really does eventually pay off. You’ll be glad you skipped out on that brunch with your friends when you’re depositing that commission check.
Lesson 3: Keep calm
Starting out in real estate is tough in itself. Starting out when you are thousands of dollars in debt, even harder. Don’t you worry though, your clients are super sympathetic to how hard you’re working and will even pay you for the hours you put in regardless of if they buy a house with you or not. Oops, there goes your alarm again!
Back to reality, your clients don’t care how long you’ve worked at your other job that day. They don’t want to know how broke you are, and they certainly won’t be paying you if you didn’t get them into a new house or sell their current one.
It’s very hard to sell people on the idea of trusting you with their life savings when you just learned how to write up a contract. That said, when you do find a client who’s willing to take a chance on you, you should never let your clients ever feel whatever personal struggle you’re going through.
The homeshopping experience is a life-long memory for them, and it should always be all about them. Another big mistake you can make is assuming that this job is easy money and experienced agents will line up to help you.
Whether you like it or not, the only way to succeed in real estate (other than marketing the hell out of yourself) is to work for other agents for free in the beginning. It can be shadowing them on tours, doing open houses for them over the weekend or even just delivering them coffee and picking their brains for advice.
The key is to show them you’re trustworthy, willing to learn and a hard worker. In exchange, you’ll gain their confidence, they’ll teach some fundamentals, and they might even bring you on to co-list one of their properties in the future.
Lesson 4: Make the mistakes early on
This job is going to stress you out more often than not. There are those moments, however, that make the hard work worthwhile other than closing day.
I mean the times when you try to open the door, and the key won’t work. When you walk into the master suite and notice the tub is in the actual bedroom not the bathroom. And all those other funny moments in between.
You’ll spend so much time bonding with your clients, and the important thing is to make it as fun and stress-free for them as possible. Don’t hide your personality under the mask of pretending to be “professional.”
They hired you for you and not the version of you that you think they want from you. After the tours, take them out to your favorite restaurant or a popular happy hour in that neighborhood to show them what they’re buying into.
Create a vision for every person who walks into the house so they can imagine themselves living there. Play music at your open houses, and offer food! Nobody seems to do snacks anymore, and I think that’s something that should absolutely be resurrected.
On that note though, you don’t need to go to Costco and buy multiple containers of turkey roll ups and cookies. It will more than likely just take up a lot of space in your refrigerator at home if nobody shows up.
That’s another true story.
Lesson 5: Save your money
Nothing will test your self-control quite like getting your first commission check. Honestly though, who can blame you? You’re getting a check with more zeros on it than you’ve probably ever seen in your life.
It’s exciting, and things you used to stare at in the windows while walking around downtown are actually attainable now. You’re not dreaming this time!
You do still need to come back to reality though because that check is about to become a whole lot smaller when you hear a knock on the door.
It’s that uncle who never talks to you until he finds out you have some money. We’re all related to him and his name is Uncle Sam. Unlike your normal 9-to-5, you’re now a business owner, and that means figuring out your own taxes from every commission check.
As much as it hurts, the safest way to avoid any tax problems come April 15 is to stash away half your check in a savings account you can never touch.
It’s way better to save too much than not have enough stashed away. There’s a positive in all this though, and it’s a big reason you should save your receipts. Being a business owner means you get to deduct certain expenses.
Make sure you work with a good tax professional who can help you figure all of this out.
You’ll learn something new about this job and yourself every single day as this is truly an amazing people business. If you do right by the people and make it all about them and less about the money, I truly believe you will find success much easier than those who are only concerned and motivated by the material benefits.
You are not going to live like the people on Million Dollar Listing early in the business, but they do have very interesting life stories.
One more small piece of advice I can offer is to make friends with as many new agents as possible. You will appreciate having someone by your side who feels the same struggles you do.
You’ll also have someone to bounce ideas off of or even just a buddy to vent to over happy hour cocktails. Be kind to yourself, believe in yourself, and remember to work hard every day on yourself.
Last but certainly not least, always keep your phone charged.