Housing is an important part of modern life, and real estate brokers and agents can make a pretty good living helping people find homes that are just right for them. Fortunately, traditional as well as online real estate schools have programs that can teach you how to become a realtor or real estate agent without having to learn the business on your own.
We'll go into the nuts and bolts of becoming a real estate agent, education requirements for the profession, what to expect from real estate school and more on this page. If you've ever thought about making a living in property, read on to find out what it takes to get your license and start selling.
What do real estate agents do?
Real estate agents may take on a number of different roles in the property business, but they mostly work in either sales or brokerage. Brokers can manage their own businesses while sales agents must work under the supervision of a broker, usually on a contract basis.
Here's a quick rundown of the day-to-day duties that real estate agents might perform on a typical day:
- Compiling lists of properties for sale and their locations and features
- Analyzing properties and market forces to determine competitive sales prices
- Recruiting potential clients and taking them through available properties
- Assisting with the negotiation process between buyer and seller
- Preparing purchase agreements, deeds and other essential documents
Many real estate brokers and agents work in typical office environments, but some operate out of their homes. Around 56 percent of active agents and brokers in 2016 were listed by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) as self-employed.
How to Become a Real Estate Agent
The requirements for becoming a real estate agent can vary from one state to another. Some states require that aspiring agents take state-approved courses before they can get their license, while others may accept training from any accredited college, university or vocational school.
Here's a list of steps that many real estate professionals take as they're gearing up to enter the workforce:
- Earn your high school diploma or equivalency degree
- Enroll in a real estate training program that meets your state requirements
- Complete courses in real estate, finance, business administration and law
- Take and pass the appropriate state licensing exam
The specific set of subjects you'll study depends on the curriculum of your individual school, but there are several concepts that many formal real estate programs have in common. Here's a partial list of courses you're likely to see on your schedule while you're training:
- Principles of real estate
- Listing and selling tools
- Real estate finance
- Real estate law
- Property management
- Real estate appraisal
- Legal aspects of real estate
Real estate degree and certificate programs
Aspiring real estate agents and brokers may choose any one of several different types of training program, depending on their level of commitment and the licensing requirements enforced by their state. We'll give you a quick explanation of three of the most popular types of program to help you make an informed decision for your own career:
- Undergraduate certificate. Real estate certificates tend to require a fairly short time commitment -- usually less than a year, or even a single semester in some cases -- and provide a basic introduction to the real estate business. These programs can be a great starting point if you know you'll be able to receive additional training on the job.
- Associate degree. These career-focused degrees can typically be completed in roughly two years of full time study and often go into greater detail about the finer points of the business than certificate plans do. Associate degree plans also have the advantage of including general education courses, which usually lead to transfer credits if you decide to go back to school for more education.
- Bachelor's degree. Full bachelor's degrees in real estate are also available, although many such plans are pursued as secondary majors for general business administration students. If you're hoping to start your real estate career without spending four or more years in school, a certificate or associate degree may align more closely with your goals.
Some universities may offer advanced real estate degrees, such as a Master of Professional Studies (M.P.S.) in real estate or a Master of Science (M.S.) in real estate development. These degrees are usually aimed at established real estate professionals hoping to advance their careers, rather than aspiring agents and brokers without any real-world work experience.
Online real estate schools
Thanks to advancements in distance education, it's possible to train for your new real estate career without too much disruption to your existing schedule. Online real estate schools offer all of the types of degree discussed above and tend to understand the flexibility needs of non-traditional students, making it easier than ever to learn the skills you need to succeed.
Requirements for online real estate programs can vary, but most ask that you at least have access to a reasonably fast and stable internet connection. If you think online school might be right for you, reach out to an online admissions counselor at a nearby institution and find out what it takes to enroll.
Real estate certifications and licensure
All real estate brokers and agents must be licensed before they can officially begin work. Licensing guidelines vary by state, but most states require that prospective sales agents be at least 18 years old, complete a specific set of real estate courses and pass a state-approved exam. Some states may also expect candidates to submit to a criminal background check or fulfill other additional requirements.
Brokerage licenses tend to have additional guidelines, often including a work experience requirement of up to three years as a licensed sales agent. Some states may waive the work experience requirement for candidates who hold a bachelor's degree in real estate or a related field.
The National Association of REALTORS ® (NAR) also offers a range of optional certifications that real estate pros can pursue to strengthen their expertise in a particular segment of the business. Here's a short list of some of the NAR credentials available:
- Certified Property Manager (CPM)
- Certified Real Estate Brokerage Manager (CRB)
- Certified Residential Specialist (CRS)
- Accredited Buyer's Representative (ABR)
- Seller Representative Specialist (SRS)
- Residential Accredited Appraiser (RAA)
- Real Estate Negotiation Expert (RENE)
You may be wondering about the difference between a real estate agent and a realtor, which is also a matter of certification. The NAR trademarked the word REALTOR -- styled in all capital letters throughout their literature -- to designate real estate pros who hold membership in their association.
Career advancement options for real estate agents
The first step to career advancement for real estate agents is to earn the necessary experience or education to become a licensed broker. Brokers are legally permitted to operate their own businesses, allowing you to grow your real estate practice in ways that are unavailable to someone who's only licensed as a sales agent.
You can also branch out into related real estate careers, such as property management, asset management or another more administrative branch of the industry. Moving into the commercial or luxury real estate markets can be an avenue to advancement as well, since the deals done in those markets often come with higher price tags and larger commissions.
Skills and Abilities for Real Estate Agents
Certain skills and traits can make it easier to put your best foot forward once you complete your real estate agent education requirements, according to the Occupational Information Network (O*NET). Take a look at this list of top skills and abilities for real estate agents:
- Active listening makes it possible for you to give your full attention to clients when they're discussing their needs, allowing you to pinpoint the right properties for them
- Oral expression skills can help you effectively explain the advantages of a given property to your clients and provide satisfying answers to any questions they may have
- Negotiation is a big part of most real estate transactions, and knowing how to bring multiple parties to a mutual agreement can help when it's time to close the deal
- Written comprehension helps real estate agents fully understand property listings as they're written and retain relevant information for later use
- Time management is one of the most important skills in real estate and can help a great deal when you need to schedule multiple showings for multiple clients in the same day
Real Estate Earnings and Career Outlook
Here's a question that's probably on your mind -- How much do realtors make? The most accurate answer is that it depends on several factors, from the state where you live and the office where you work to your level of education or experience and the type of real estate you sell.
Knowing the national average income figures for real estate careers can give you a decent idea of what to expect when you hit the workforce. Here's a brief table of earnings and job outlook data compiled by the BLS:
|Career||Total Employment||Annual Mean Wage||Projected Job Growth Rate|
|Appraisers and Assessors of Real Estate||57,900||$61,870||14.4%|
|Property, Real Estate, and Community Association Managers||202,550||$71,730||10.7%|
|Real Estate Brokers||40,320||$78,940||5.4%|
|Real Estate Sales Agents||156,760||$61,720||6.2%|
Professional Resources for Real Estate Agents
Becoming a member of a professional association can help you stay on the leading edge of your career field while providing a variety of personal and professional benefits. Here's some info about a few such associations that you might choose to join:
- The National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) dedicates itself to giving its members the opportunities and resources necessary to sharpen their skills and maximize their earnings. NAR also engages in federal, state and local advocacy on behalf of the real estate profession.
- The American Real Estate Society (ARES) is a research-oriented association that offers five levels of membership: professional, academic, student, corporate and library. Membership in ARES comes with several industry journal subscriptions, access to the association's career center and an invitation to the ARES annual meeting.
- The Urban Land Institute (ULI) is the world's oldest and largest network of cross-disciplinary real estate and land use experts. Developers, investors, architects, planners, brokers and consultants can all join ULI and access the shared expertise of over 40,000 members across more than 80 countries.
- Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, accessed March 22-25, 2019: Real Estate Brokers and Sales Agents, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/sales/real-estate-brokers-and-sales-agents.htm; Property, Real Estate, and Community Association Managers, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/property-real-estate-and-community-association-managers.htm;
- School pages, accessed March 22-25, 2019: Real Estate Degree, Milwaukee Area Technical College, http://www.matc.edu/student/offerings/2018-2019/degrees/real_estate.cfm; Real Estate Degree + Certificate, Contra Costa College, https://www.contracosta.edu/classes/academic-departments/real-estate/real-estate-degree-certificate/; Associate of Arts - Real Estate Studies, American Public University System, https://catalog.apus.edu/undergraduate/academic-programs/associate/associate-arts-real-estate-studies/#requirementstext; Real Estate, Waukesha Country Technical College, https://www.wctc.edu/academics/programs-courses/programs/real-estate/index.php; Real Estate Studies, Western Kentucky University, https://www.wku.edu/sps/real_estate/associate_real_estate.php; Real Estate Degree, Ashford University, https://www.ashford.edu/online-degrees/business/bachelor-of-arts-real-estate-studies; Online Master's in Real Estate, Georgetown University, https://scsonline.georgetown.edu/programs/masters-real-estate; Master of Science in Real Estate Development, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, https://mitcre.mit.edu/masters-program/about-the-program;
- Occupational Information Network, accessed March 22-25, 2019: Real Estate Sales Agents, https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/41-9022.00; Real Estate Brokers, https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/41-9021.00;
- Professional association pages, accessed March 25, 2019: Designations and Certifications, National Association of REALTORS®, https://www.nar.realtor/education/designations-and-certifications; Membership, National Association of REALTORS®, https://www.nar.realtor/membership; About Us, American Real Estate Society, https://www.aresnet.org/page/AboutUs; Membership Options, American Real Estate Society, https://www.aresnet.org/page/MbrOptions; Member Benefits, American Real Estate Society, https://www.aresnet.org/page/Benefits; About ULI, Urban Land Institute, https://uli.org/about/; Join ULI, Urban Land Institute, https://uli.org/join/;