Career: Real Estate Agent/Broker
Buying or selling a house or apartment is one of the biggest decisions of a person’s life, and real estate agents and brokers help people negotiate what can be a confusing process. Though both are often called real estate agents, agents and brokers have different roles. The broker has more administrative responsibility. There is usually one broker per estate, but often many agents are working with clients who are interested in the property.
When someone wants to sell or rent his property he usually calls a real estate agent. A large chunk of the agent’s day may be spent on the phone obtaining listings for her agency. The agent also arranges to advertise the properties she is showing, and may visit each property before it is shown to clients. She needs to know about everything from floor plans to heating systems to cesspools-she’s a matchmaker, and she’s got to know both sides of the equation. It’s also important for an agent to be familiar with the neighborhoods she works in, so she can counsel her clients about a property’s fair market value. A good real estate agent is informed about things like schools, tax rates, and public transportation systems, and should be aware of going mortgage rates.
A real estate agent must manage delicate price negotiations when an interested buyer and seller hook up. “Negotiating skills are not just important but critical for real estate agents,” as one respondent put it. The agent also coordinates the “closing” when a property is sold, which means the actual signing of papers and transfer of a property’s title. Networking is a big part of the job-most real estate agents develop a group of attorneys, mortgage lenders, and contractors to whom they refer their clients. Finally, a real estate agent should be able to discern and be sensitive to a client’s needs during what may be an uncertain time.
In order to be available when their clients have free time, real estate agents work many evenings and weekends. An experienced agent will sometimes avoid some of the weekend hours by having an “open house” and drafting a new agent to go and answer potential buyers’ questions. Commercial real estate agents’ jobs involve more research on market trends and an even more detailed attention to the needs of buyers. Since they work longer on each deal, commercial agents and brokers make fewer sales than residential agents but receive higher commissions.
About the only things real estate agents have in common in terms of preparation are high school diplomas and communication skills. More and more people are entering the field with college degrees, however, and some colleges even offer courses in real estate. These may be helpful, as would other business courses, but most of the learning takes place after you’ve entered the field. In fact many real estate agents come to the field from other, unrelated careers, attracted by the flexible hours or the potential for part-time work.
Before you can use the title “Realtor” or become a member of the National Association of Realtors you must have a real estate license. Every state requires that a broker or agent undergo a series of examinations and log some experience before she is granted this license. Many real estate boards offer preparatory classes. Once you have the license, it’s usually renewed yearly without your having to repeat the tests. But each state has its own test, so if you want to work in a different state you’ve got to pass their exam.
Careers associated with real estate often involve working with realtors. On the mortgage end, loan officers arrange the conditions for financing home purchases and act as liaisons between buyers and banks. Another possibility is the field of real estate law, which requires going to law school. Agents seeking further opportunities within the field have a few options, most of which involve setting up shop independently of brokers. Appraisers, for example, assess the fair market values of properties. Real estate counselors, likewise, are independent advisors who offer advice to buyers about the suitability of properties they are interested in.