Jay Thompson is a former brokerage owner who spent over six years working for Zillow Group. He retired in August 2018 but can’t seem to leave the real estate industry behind. His weekly Inman column publishes every Wednesday.
If you’ve been a real estate agent for more than 15 minutes or so, you’ve probably had conversations with friends, family and complete strangers that started with this: “So, I was thinking about becoming a real estate agent… “
Several weeks ago, I penned the column titled, “7 reasons real estate might not be for you.” Filled with witty prose and solid advice, it was deemed by a few to be a bit depressing and dark. It was that, but it’s also essential to understand all sides of a topic, not just the bright and rosy parts of life, love and work.
Before that transcendent column, Mauricio (like Cher, Madonna and Tiger, legends only require a first name) dropped 10 reasons one should be an agent. He covered fundamental reasons like the learning, growth, creativity and the earning potential being an agent can provide.
Both those columns provide lots of food for thought for the aspiring agent. However bountiful those columns are, they don’t offer all the answers. Books have been published on the matter, so a column or three won’t provide all the answers, but in an attempt to go deeper into what one should know about becoming an agent, I offer these thoughts.
1. Understand that you’re a business owner
At times there seems to be a shocking lack of business acumen among real estate agents. It seems many don’t understand that by getting your sales license, you just became an entrepreneur and business owner, and you are ultimately responsible for everything that will make you wildly successful or an abject failure.
Perhaps this stems from the fact that virtually everyone who gets a real estate license has had other “real jobs” in their past. Ask children what they want to be when they grow up, and you’ll get answers like a fireman, a doctor, teacher, pilot, astronaut, dancer or athlete.
How many kids say, “I wanna be a Realtor when I grow up”? People entering this business often just don’t understand that everything — branding, advertising, marketing, prospecting, follow-up — is on them. There’s no blaming “those idiots in the marketing department” because you are the marketing department.
Yes, you can (and should) hire some external help. Having folks to help you with accounting, legal matters and insurance will go a long way. Adding things like a financial adviser will help round out the business you’re about to start.
For that is what you’re doing when you get a real estate license and decide to dive into selling real estate for a living — you are starting a business. With that comes responsibility for everything. You don’t just fill out contracts and cash commission checks.
You’ve got to locate the clients, nurture them, help them and get through the sometimes arduous process of closing a transaction. Then you get to cash the commission check. And then you get to start the cycle all over again.
It can be incredibly gratifying. It’s also hard work, and the paths to failure are many.
2. Your broker matters
Yes, as a sales agent, you’re pretty much on your own. Ultimately everything is your responsibility. But you do have someone at your side who can help, who can teach and mentor you, who can ease the transition into real estate sales and help ensure your success. That someone is your broker.
Too many agents, both newbies and grizzled veterans alike, look only at commission splits when choosing a broker. That’s a big mistake, in my opinion. Look, I get it; paying out a chunk of that hard-earned commission isn’t an easy thing to do. You need to understand what you’re getting for that split and what you’re giving up. It better be more than a logo and a desk. You need to be getting advice, mentorship, training and protection.
Brokerage models abound. They’re practically limitless. Sure, once you’ve got a few years and transactions under your belt, you might not need as much from your broker as those whose ink is still wet on their license. Finding the right broker for you and your experience level might be the single most crucial task you have.
3. Your association matters
You might not have a choice in what local association you choose to join. But in larger metro areas, you likely do have a choice, and that choice matters. Not all associations are created equal.
When I first got my sales license, I joined the local that was literally across the street from my brokerage office. That was the choice of every other agent in the office, and I ignorantly thought all associations were the same.
I couldn’t have been more mistaken. Associations are not all the same.
As I grew, learned and made connections with other agents in different locals, I finally realized that if I had to write a check for dues every year, I might as well send money to the association that provided me with the most help and service.
That help can come in different ways: training, advocacy, networking and a functional and dedicated board of directors.
I used to spend an inordinate (and ridiculous) amount of time in real estate Facebook groups, where it seemed every third post was from someone bitching about a local or state association or the National Association of Realtors.
Heck, I founded a blog sarcastically titled “NAR Wisdom” and used to rip the NAR regularly. Then a friend and NAR employee made an effort to get me involved in association business. Somehow he convinced the NAR to put this dissident naysayer on a committee.
I learned what the NAR really does for this industry; I took down NAR Wisdom and practically became a poster boy for the good that associations do. Of course, they still do some puzzling things, but they also do tremendous good and are a big reason you have a job selling real estate.
Someone is choking on their coffee right now. All I can do is encourage you to get involved with your associations and help them help you.
4. Real estate is a team sport
Yes, you are wholly responsible for your success. But as already mentioned, your broker and associations can contribute to your success. Although it certainly gets lonely out there, and at times you will feel frustrated, maybe even hopeless, it’s essential to know that despite all the responsibility you have for making your business successful, this is still very much a team sport.
You need other agents. You need a title company or an attorney if you’re not in a title state. As painful as they can be at times, you also need a cadre of lenders for your clients as well as inspectors, roofers, plumbers and electricians.
There are vendors out there that can be indispensable — those that provide websites, CRMs, coaching, printing, marketing, branding, lead generation and nurturing. The list is almost endless. While this feels many times like a solo effort, it takes a village to be successful.
5. There will be joy and pain
Real estate sales can be an incredibly remarkable career. There aren’t many things that equal the feeling of handing a buyer the keys to their new home or contacting a seller with a solid offer in your hand. You really can, and do, change lives. That’s ridiculously rewarding.
Be advised, though, that with the rewards often come pain. Late-night phone calls from clients freaking out. Waking up every morning effectively unemployed, wondering where and when the next closing is coming from. Dealing with unprofessional dolts and demanding clients and wondering what the hell you were thinking when you decided to endure those licensing classes.
Selling real estate isn’t easy. It’s not for everyone. But if you give it all you’ve got and pay attention to what’s happening in the industry (but don’t live in fear), you can have one of the most rewarding careers imaginable.
Jay Thompson is a real estate veteran and retiree living in the Texas Coastal Bend, as well as the one spinning the wheels at Now Pondering. Follow him on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. “Retired but not dead,” Jay speaks around the world on many things real estate.