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.
The exact definitions of and distinctions between a real estate agent and a real estate broker vary among states. Generally, however, anyone who earns a basic real estate license (which involves taking a certain number of accredited courses and passing an exam) can be called a real estate agent. A real estate agent is essentially a salesperson, qualified to help consumers buy or sell a property.
Don't expect to waltz in and collect an hourly salary: Most brokerages pay their agents only by commission. In other words, you get paid only when you complete a transaction, and you typically won't receive benefits. Due to this pay structure, brokerages are typically eager to welcome new agents, since it comes at no cost to the company. So be sure to find a brokerage you like, one that is open to taking you on so you can receive some on-the-job training.
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.
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.
Passing the real estate exam takes more than finishing the educational requirements—it takes preparation. Not everyone passes the exam the first time. Preparing yourself to pass the state exam takes additional study time. Kaplan highly recommends enrolling in an exam prep class. Because the ultimate goal is to help you pass the exam, most of Kaplan’s prelicensing packages include the comprehensive Exam Prep Course. Taking practice exams, measuring your strengths and weaknesses, and working through comprehensive topical review will sharpen your knowledge and prepare you for exam day.
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.
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.