Experienced Realtor Sarah Davis answers common questions from people wanting to become a real estate agent. How do you break into the business? How much do Realtors earn? Is it practical to sell real estate part-time?

If you’ve been considering a new career or starting a side hustle to earn extra money, you’ve probably thought about becoming a real estate agent.

Being a realtor is great if you like houses and enjoy working with people, but it’s not always the dream job some imagine it to be. It’s a common misconception that real estate agents earn a ton of money for doing practically nothing.

Selling real estate is more work that you might imagine and, although there are some very successful real estate agents, there are many who struggle just to make ends meet.

From somebody in the business, here’s what it takes to become a real estate agent — and what you should consider before starting down the path to selling homes.

Do you have the time and cash to get licensed?

The first thing you have to do if you want to sell houses is get your real estate license. Go to the website for your state’s Department of Real Estate or Bureau of Real Estate and find a list of approved online or in-person real estate courses. Some people prefer the flexibility of online classes where others focus better out of the house in a classroom. Either way, you can count on studying for at least several months and up to year.

Once you’ve finished the classes you can take the state’s official test to become a licensed real estate salesperson. The test isn’t cheap, so be sure to study hard before signing up (in California, for example, it’s $60 for the test and $245 for the license).

Before you invest significant time and money on a Realtor course, you might take an introductory course on Udemy on selling or investing in real estate. Courses range from free to about $35. They won’t count towards licensure, but are an inexpensive way to test the waters.

Where will you work?

New real estate agents almost always work under the supervision of a broker. Real estate brokers offer agents marketing support and legal protections. When deciding where to hang your hat, interview at at least three different brokerages in order to get a feeling of how they work.

Some agents prefer big brokerages because the well-known company names help give them credibility. Other agents like the mom-and-pop shops because they’re more flexible about working from home and choosing your own vendors.

Can you afford the start-up expenses?

Even though you’ll be working under the umbrella of a broker, real estate agents are independent contractors. You may put Coldwell Banker or RE/Max on your business card, but you have to buy those business cards yourselves. Other common expenses include sale signs, open house signs, and a basic website.

Budget about $1,000 for these advertising start-up expenses, and as you grow in business you can advertise more. Plan for annual real estate association and board dues as well as membership fees to be part of the local Multiple Listing Service (MLS). Most new agents start working with buyers rather than taking listings. All that house-hunting will mean a lot of gas burned driving across town.

How are your boundaries?

It can be tough to manage time as a new real estate agent, especially if you have another job or small children.

Showing houses is largely done in the evenings and on weekends, so unusual hours go with the territory. That makes real estate appealing as a side hustle or for working parents, but remember that it’s not uncommon for buyers to call up asking to see a property on a few hours’ notice.

I recommend setting boundaries. You can record an answering message on your cell phone that says something like,

“Hi, This is Sarah Davis. If you’re calling on a Monday through Saturday from 8am to 6pm, I’m on the other line and will call you back as soon as possible. If you’re calling on a Sunday or an evening I will return your call the next business day.”

Even then, you may have to make exceptions during negotiations. Be prepared.

Okay, so how much can I earn as a real estate agent?

Real estate is a commission-only business. And commission-based based jobs are feast or famine.

You can — and will — go months without getting a paycheck. You’ll need to learn how to budget for variable income.

Related: Variable income: How to manage money when you don’t earn a steady paycheck

But unlike W-2 jobs, a commission-based job like real estate agent or broker has limitless income potential. Some agents make over a million dollars a year. You get back in income what you put into it in effort and time. So how much can you really make? Commissions are typically paid by the property sellers and are negotiable by law. Some listing agents get 2.5% of the contract purchase price and offer out the same to buyers’ agents, but it varies. For example purposes, we’ll use 2.5%.

If you sell a $300,000 home, 2.5% of the purchase price is $7,500.

Then you’ll have your brokerage split (this is how the broker makes their money for letting you use their offices and branding). New agents typically have to give more to their brokers because they require more training. Let’s say you have a 70/30 split with your brokerage. That leaves you with $5,250.

$5,250 for one house, you’re thinking. Not bad. But don’t forget how long it took to earn that money. Escrows are typically 30 days and, assuming you represent the buyer, you may have spent weeks driving them around all day to look at properties. If you want to earn a modest $60,000 a year, you’ll need to sell an average of one $300,000 house every month.

Can I really sell real estate part-time?

Yes. In fact, I recommend everyone start this way.

The hardest part of building your real estate business is developing clients. It takes a long time. If you dive into real estate full-time — putting up all the money for training and start-up necessities — you may find it takes six months to sell your first house.

Being a real estate salesperson can also be a great career for mothers of young children because it’s somewhat flexible. You can work from home part of the time (doing emails, making calls, performing online marketing, and other tasks), then have your spouse or a babysitter watch the kids while you go out to showings.

Finally, some people maintain their real estate agent’s license simply so they can buy and sell their own properties and represent a family member every now and then.


Selling real estate part-time is a good way to get into the business without going broke while also supplementing your income.

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About the author

Total Articles: 37
Sarah Davis is a real estate broker in San Diego, Calif. She enjoys helping both buyers and sellers and was voted one of the top 10 best real estate agents in San Diego in 2013 by Union Tribune readers. In her spare time she talks about real estate on a local radio show and manages her website RealtorSD.com.

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Chris Brown says:

Hi Sarah,
I am currently a Middle School teacher in the State of Washington and I am considering getting my real estate license in order to work part time and more frequently this summer. I have been in education for the past 20 years, however, i feel I need to do something else to supplement my income (as I just received my doctorate from Creighton University and student loans will kick in this summer). My real goal is to continue to work part time in real estate for a number of years and possibly have the opportunity to retire early from the world of teaching and then going into real estate full time. What do you think about this plan?

Chris Brown

Silvestre Diaz III says:

Hi Sarah
I am turning 19 this year. My plans are to take the real estate courses while I work another job. My question is, does my age have an effect on my future client’s confidence in my ability to sell. My second question is, as of the year 2016, is it a good investment to take a career in real estate this year.

Debbie says:

Hi Sarah,

I received an email from a Real Estate Broker in Nashville, TN. He came across my resume online and wondered if I had ever considered becoming a Real Estate Agent. I have worked for three different title companies in the last 12 years. I served as the Administrative Assistant at each company and entered all new real estate contracts into our database, as well as set-up physical files for each.

Do you think 2016 is a good year to take a chance on starting a career in real estate?



Ervin says:

Hi Sarah,
Im looking to become an agent in your market, San Diego, with a well known agency. So, you estimate 6 months with no income? So, the start -up can be very bumpy. Any suggestions for me and my future in San Diego?

chelsea says:

Hi I was wondering what people that have children and do this part what do you suggest they do for summer break with their children? Also do you ever get to take vacations?

Lynnie Moussa says:

Im a high school student, and im looking in being a real esate agent in Atlanta, where I’m from. If i work part-time at first would I just be in the office and take calls or emails? or will i actually go and sell houses. And how much would i make? And if i were a full time agent? how would my life be like?

Patrick says:

How does competition within one brokerage work? Is it Cutthroat? Do agents work on a rotation when leads come in, or when someone walks directly into the realtor office?

Will Senior agents be responsive and helpful to New agents, or will they ask for some kind of consulting fee?

Thank you

Frank says:

Sarah, I have taken the license exam in my state (WA) and need to start a company through which I can work as an independent contractor for a big brokerage that I am in talks with. I am not sure what type of company I should open. LLC? Or are there other options to consider? Also I would love to hear suggestions on how to start the company? Is legalzoom the best option for starting and running the business?

Felipe says:

Great Article Sarah,

Can I just go directly into being a broker?

As a licensed agent, you represent someone else. As a Private Investor, there is just you, your computer, your phone and a seller.

It’s a much more accomplish able goal.

Amanda says:

Great article Sarah! It’s very reassuring to hear part time is the best way to start as this is exactly what I plan to do. Primarily because I have a full time job currently and children. Do agents find it difficult, however to find an agency willing to hire on a part time basis?

pedro pimentel says:

I”ve had my license for several years but have’nt done anything with it. I looking for a real estate company that can help me learn the business. I have a full time job and would like to do it part-time. I’m from Massachusetts. Any sugesstion?

Terryn Hemken says:

I’m double majoring at Wichita State University. I’m getting a Bachlors in entrepreneurship with an emphasis of real estate. Where would this degree get me in a real estate field and how would I do financially with this sort of degree? Is there any suggestions that you would give me on this degree or other areas that I could use it in.

Nancy says:

Some states will allow you to become a real estate broker if you get a BS in Real Estate, check your state to see if this applies to you. If it does, then all you would have to do is take the required classes necessary and the exam of course, but at least you will go directly to being a broker.

Shey Stewart says:

In California what would you recommend as one of the best school/schools?

If you decide to go to school online vs. class room setting does that make you look less desirable to potential employers?

Sarah Davis says:

Nancy, I agree. Many new agents start at 50/50 but only for a little while or until they reach a certain number of sales, then it tends to get more reasonable 😉

Sarah Davis says:

Hi Nick. Most agents and brokers use the local multiple listing service since it’s by far the most comprehensive, however its not free. We pay regular dues in order to have access.

Nancy says:

Maybe in California will a new agent get a 70/30 split. In Virginia, where I sold houses, and, I would say, in most states the new agent split is 50/50 or maybe 55/45 -agent/broker. Only until the new agent generates (better) sales numbers will the broker allow the split to change. And, generally, you have to threaten to leave to get it (better have a place to go if they call your play).

Nick says:

Hi Sarah,
Thanks for the article! This really painted a picture for the many questions I had about becoming a real estate agent on the side. What tools does an agent use to know what similar houses in the market have sold for and how long they have been listed?

Sarah Davis says:

Good question Kate. Theoretically you could do it without a car but you need reliable transportation. I typically meet my clients at the house and if they want to see more than one at a time they follow me there. This is better in my opinion for several reasons. The first is if you get in even a minor accident with clients in the car your liability is increased. The second is for my own personal safety and the third is that many of my clients have children and need to utilize their age-specific car seats.

Lucas says:

Thanks for the summary. I had always been curious about the broker/agent split. Will probably be looking into this more in the next year or so 🙂

Kate says:

Hi Sarah,
Do you have to have a car? In that so you meet clients at a specific residence or do you drive there together like we see on HGTV shows?


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