A real estate agent is a licensed professional who arranges real estate transactions, putting buyers and sellers together and acting as their representative in negotiations. Real estate agents usually are compensated completely by a commission—a percentage of the property’s purchase price—so their income depends on their ability to close a deal. In almost every state a real estate agent must work for or be affiliated with a real estate broker (an individual or a brokerage firm), who is more experienced and licensed to a higher degree.
A real estate broker is a step up the professional food chain. Brokers have additional training and education that have qualified them to pass a higher licensing exam; most states also require them to have a certain amount of recent experience as an active real estate agent. Brokers handle the technical aspects of the real estate transaction. A client signs a contract with a brokerage, not the individual agent. In many states brokers' additional certification authorizes them to handle other legal and financial aspects of a deal, such as handling the earnest money deposit and establishing the escrow account.
Revisit your state real estate commission's website for instructions on how to sign up to take the licensing exam. (Most states outsource administration of the exams to third-party testing centers.) Exams are typically divided into two portions: one on federal real estate laws and general real estate principles, the second on state-specific laws. Both typically consist of 60 to 100 multiple-choice questions, including math questions that require you to use a calculator (e.g., prorating taxes for a specific property). Most pre-licensing courses provide students with sample tests, and many real estate commissions publish sample questions online.
It’s important for consumers to understand whether a real estate agent represents the buyer, the seller, or both parties; obviously, the agent’s loyalty can greatly affect several details of the transaction, including the final price. State laws regulate whether an agent can represent both parties in a real estate transaction, technically known as “dual agency.” Agents must disclose their representation, so that buyers and sellers are aware of any conflicts of interest.
Wouldn’t it be great if you could sit down with a room full of successful real estate professionals and ask them for career advice? We asked several accomplished real estate professionals what they wish they knew before they earned their license and started their career, and what they thought all aspiring real estate professionals should know. We put all of their advice into a value-packed eBook.
A real estate broker is a step up the professional food chain. Brokers have additional training and education that have qualified them to pass a higher licensing exam; most states also require them to have a certain amount of recent experience as an active real estate agent. Brokers handle the technical aspects of the real estate transaction. A client signs a contract with a brokerage, not the individual agent. In many states brokers' additional certification authorizes them to handle other legal and financial aspects of a deal, such as handling the earnest money deposit and establishing the escrow account.
Pay for membership to the local multiple listing service. Membership in your local MLS is essential, since you must use the system to list properties, which are then dispersed to websites like realtor.com®. The service also enables you to easily pull a property's tax information, analyze market trends, and see listings before they go on the market. Costs vary greatly: Membership for Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, DC, agents to the Metropolitan Regional Information Systems, for example, costs $1,136 per year; while on the low end are areas like California's Southwest Riverside County, which charges MLS dues of $220 per year.
Real estate agents usually specialize in either commercial or residential real estate. Either way, they perform different duties, depending on whether they work for the buyer or the seller. Agents who work for the seller, also known as listing agents, advise clients on how to price the property and prepare it for a sale, including providing tips on last-minute improvements that can boost the price or encourage speedy offers. Seller agents market the property through listing services, networking, and advertisements.
Each state’s real estate licensing requirements are different. Your state’s real estate commission website will list the official prelicensing requirements. Kaplan Real Estate Education offers a couple pages that narrow this knowledge gap down. The Steps to Licensing page is designed to show, in simple steps, what it takes to become licensed in each state. In addition, Kaplan offers a page dedicated to each state’s real estate licensing and continuing education requirements. See the link below for your state’s pages.
The course will teach you real estate principles (terms like "lien," "escrow," and "encumbrance"), real estate practices (like how to determine a property's value), and the legal aspects of the business. Go to your state real estate commission's website to find information on licensing requirements and a list of accredited pre-licensing institutions.
Brokers typically own a firm or a franchise. They can be solo practitioners, but they must attain another higher-level license if they want to hire agents or other brokers to work under them. As mentioned earlier, a real estate agent usually cannot work alone but instead must operate through a real estate broker; the exception is in states such as Colorado and New Mexico, which mandate that every real estate professional be licensed as a broker.  Usually, though, agents work for brokers and split commissions with them.
The first step in this process is making sure that real estate is right for you. As a real estate salesperson, each day is spent working for you. This means handling your own office management, paperwork, prospecting leads, developing relationships, managing contacts, and dealing with buyers and sellers. Reach out to local real estate agents and brokers and ask them questions about what the day-to-day work is like. Ask questions about real estate as a long-term career. Starting a full-time career as a real estate agent can’t be treated like a hobby. It requires a full commitment. Make sure real estate is the right path for you.
The process of buying a home or selling a home is very complex and the help of a real estate agent will prove invaluable in the end. Real estate transactions are far more complicated than an online purchase. A lot of paperwork is involved, so when property changes hands, you must have a real estate agent by your side. And the best place to find one is by using our agent directory!
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