Similar Titles

Broker, Broker Associate, Designated Broker, Managing Broker, Real Estate Associate, Real Estate Broker, Real Estate Sales Associate, Realtor, Real Estate Agent, Real Estate Salesperson, Realtor, Realtor Associate, Sales Agent

Job Description

Real estate brokers and sales agents help clients buy, sell, and rent properties, both residential and commercial. Brokers and agents do the same type of work, but brokers are licensed to manage their own real estate businesses. Sales agents must work under a broker.

Difference between a broker and an agent


  • Has a high level of industry knowledge and competence, must pass the broker’s exam.
  • Is legally able to open a brokerage (“real estate agency”).
  • Takes on nearly all liability for the real estate transactions.
  • Bears the additional operating expenses like insurance and legal services.
  • Commission check goes directly to the broker and broker pays the salesperson their share of the commission. It is usually around 50% of the commission after expenses. This varies per brokerage.

Salesperson (aka sales agent)

  • Meets the minimal standards of industry knowledge, must pass the salesperson’s exam.
  • Must work for a licensed broker.
  • Has fewer responsibilities and accept fewer liabilities.
  • Receives after-expense commission splits from brokers.
Different between residential and commercial real estate


  • Single-family houses
  • Primarily used for housing and not to generate a profit.
  • Titles: Real Estate Agent, Sales Agent, Real Estate Salesperson, Realtor


  • Buildings or land intended to generate a profit.
  • Different types of commercial real estate:
    • Office Buildings: Includes single-tenant properties, small professional office buildings, downtown skyscrapers, and everything in between.
    • Industrial
    • Retail/Restaurant
    •  Multifamily: Includes apartment complexes or high-rise apartment buildings. Generally, a fourplex or more.
    • Land
    • Miscellaneous: A catch-all category that includes any other nonresidential properties such as hotel, hospitality, medical, and self-storage developments.
  • Titles: Real Estate Sales Associate, Broker, Real Estate Broker, Associate Broker, Broker Associate, Investment Associate
  • Point of confusion: Sometimes, commercial real estate agents are called real estate brokers (even if they don’t have their broker’s license and can’t manage an office). I know, it’s confusing!
Rewarding Aspects of Career
  • Autonomy and control: You control your schedule, work effort, marketing. You get what you put in.
  • “Feels good to find a family’s first home!” (Residential)
  • Help people build wealth (commercial)
  • “I get to learn about real estate!”: Most people tell you that regardless of your profession, it is important to know about real estate investing.
  • Lucrative: You can make a lot of money if you work hard and are good at it.
The Inside Scoop
Commercial versus Residential Transactions


  • More business and investment focused. It involves property that is sold, leased, or used to achieve a predetermined business objective. It's used as an investment to achieve an anticipated rate of return on the funds invested.
  • Considers the internal rates of return, capitalization rates, gross rent multipliers and other analytics.
  • It is cut and dry and it is not an emotional decision.
  • Clients are typically educated, well-informed, successful individuals and companies who expect their agents to be armed with the latest news and market analysis to help them make the best business decisions.
  • Closing a deal takes longer than residential. A lease could take 6 months to close and you to get paid. On the other hand, the transaction size is usually much larger in commercial real estate so the commission paid out is much larger.
  • Different specialties:
    • Leasing (tenant side): Represents tenants or lessees by finding, selecting, and negotiating new space for clients’ businesses.
    • Leasing (owner side): Represents building owners or lessors by working to lease out building space for the highest possible price and with the most favorable terms.
    • Sales: Represents investors who want to buy and sell commercial property by finding opportunities that offer the lowest risk to the client, the best return on investment, and the best capitalization rate, which is the net operating income of the property divided by the sales price or value of the property.


  • Revolves around the wants and needs of a homeowner. It involves property purchased for individual use, most often to provide housing for families.
  • It is more of an emotional decision and the house must “fit” the homeowner’s liking.
  • Clients are usually a husband and wife looking to buy a home.
  • Closing a deal takes from 1-2 months. The transaction size is smaller than a commercial real estate transaction so residential real estate agents usually close more deals in a year.
  • Different types of transactions:
    • Primary home: You are helping a homeowner either buy or sell their primary house (the one they live in).
    • Secondary home: You are helping a homeowner either buy or sell their secondary house which includes an investment property (a house they rent out) or a second “home away from home” house.
    • On-site agent for builder: You are selling exclusively for a builder/developer (i.e. selling units in an apartment complex).
    • Investment Properties: You will represent real estate investors buying or selling small multi-unit investment properties like duplex, triplex or a fourplex.
Skills Needed on the Job
  • Communication skills
  • Computer skills: Microsoft Office, CRM (some kind of customer relationship management software), MLS (multiple listing service)
  • Marketing skills
  • Customer service
  • Computational and math skills (especially for commercial)
  • Knowledge of real estate laws, can read a real estate contract: be detail-oriented
  • Understanding of finance: will help you client get a mortgage (residential), understanding how to read a spreadsheet and compute things like capitalization rate (commercial)
  • Critical thinking and problem-solving: during escrow, there are always problems that arise and you must be able to solve them in a calm, orderly and swift fashion.
  • Sales, cold-calling and pitching skills: you can not be scared of talking to new people and selling them on your services, a house, a building…etc.
Work Environment


  • Corporate environment: suit and tie.
  • Cutthroat, highly competitive
  • Full-time, not part-time profession
  • Different types of commercial real estate attract different personalities:
    • Retail: Usually dealing with landlords who own strip malls and their tenants are mom and pop stores and major retail chains alike. More salesman like.
    • Industrial: Usually more down to earth and blue collar, the type to wear button down collars and boots with their suits as they’ll be walking through warehouses and industrial plants all day.
    • Office: Usually corporate, business-like. Mostly resembles the stereotype of a “banker”.


  • More casual office environment
  • Some people work part-time and have another career.
Expectations/Sacrifices Necessary
  • Ability to handle the ups and downs of the real estate market: You can go several months or even a year without closing a deal. You must be flexible and know how to learn fast. When the market crashed, those who knew how to work on foreclosures and short sales profited from the downturn in the market.
  • Time Management: You need to know how to manage your time because after training, you will be in control of your own schedule.
  • Financial Management: You will not be paid every 2 weeks. You will usually only get paid when you close a deal. Can you go to work every day and know that if you don’t kill anything, you don’t eat? Can you deposit a 6-figure check and not blow it all because you might not be getting paid for the next 8 months?
  • Investment into marketing: Most agents have to spend their own money to market their services and properties (depends on the firm you work for).
2016 Employment
2026 Projected Employment
Education and Training Needed
  • Real Estate Agents need at least a high school diploma or GED. Agents and Brokers must also complete real estate training courses, then get licensed 
  • Real Estate Agents don’t need a college degree, but some employers prefer candidates with degrees
    • Commercial Real Estate Agents often go for a bachelor’s in real estate, business, finance, or economics
  • Brokers are more likely to need a degree. Per O*Net, 37% of Brokers have a bachelor’s
  • Numerous community colleges, real estate associations, online schools, and professional development institutions offer full training programs or ad hoc courses
    • Common course topics include real estate fundamentals, mortgage law, and real estate law
  • Prelicensing academic requirements may take 3 to 6 months, depending on course load
  • There’s no national licensure exam. Each state has its own test requirements based on its laws and regulations
    • Exams may feature a combination of general or national questions and state-specific questions
    • Licensure exams may be administered by the state or a third party, such as Pearson VUE and PSI Candidate Services
    • States require Agents and Brokers to be at least 18 years old
    • Some states require a background check during the licensure process
    • Most state licenses aren’t transferable
  • After getting a state license, Real Estate Agents generally need to be sponsored by a Real Estate Broker for at least 2 or 3 years
  • During this sponsorship, Agents will usually complete extra training related to the kind of real estate they’re involved with (e.g., commercial, residential, industrial, raw land, or special use)
  • Agents with enough licensed sales experience can apply for a Broker’s license but must either take additional training classes or hold a bachelor’s
  • Agents and Brokers must renew their licenses every 2-4 years, which involves taking continuing education courses to stay up-to-date
  • Optional certifications include the Accredited Buyer's Representative and Accredited Seller Representative certs, both awarded by the Real Estate Buyer's Agent Council of the National Association of REALTORS
Things to look for in a program
  • A college degree isn’t needed but students can take real estate classes at community colleges, real estate associations, online schools, and professional development institutions
  • Those pursuing a bachelor’s should ensure their school is accredited and features a reputable program in the chosen major (i.e., real estate, accounting, finances, etc.)
  • If attending in-person, look for programs that offer hands-on practical experience
  • Seek out school or program-related scholarships or tuition discounts
  • Check out admittance and graduation rates, diversity stats, and reviews from other students 
  • Look for professional and student organizations offering learning opportunities 
  • Ask schools and programs about career assistance such as job fairs, job placement, resume writing, interviewing, and other services
Things to do in High School and College
  • Most high schools won’t offer real estate courses, but you can still take math, accounting, writing, public speaking, and business classes
  • Make sure to study extra hard in real estate classes including finance, real estate law, appraisals, contract management, home inspections, fair housing laws, transfer of titles, environmental issues, and real estate ethics
  • Learn about houses by volunteering with Habitat for Humanity and taking part-time jobs or internships in construction to get an insider look at properties
  • Try working some part-time sales jobs to get experience dealing with and persuading customers
  • Start working on your resume early and add information about new skills, achievements, and relevant work experience as you get it
  • Decide if you want to be a Real Estate Agent, Broker, or Realtor. Realtors must be members of the National Association of REALTORS
  • Do your homework and learn about the communities where you want to work, including local zoning, building guidelines, traffic flows, and other practical matters that impact the market 
  • Study popular real estate sites like Zillow, Realtor, Trulia, Redfin, Movoto, Remax, Century21, and Homes
  • Pay attention to the photos and descriptions they use, as well as additional home details such as year built, heating/cooling, flooring, appliances, interior/exterior details, square footage, parking, tax history, finance options, home value, neighborhood details, etc.
  • Talk with working Real Estate Agents and Brokers and ask lots of questions 
    • Take notes and learn as much as you can about the wide range of property types out there!
  • Watch educational videos and take certification courses
  • Learn about state licensure requirements, if applicable
  • Become familiar with building owner and tenant rights
Education Stats
  • 14.8% with HS Diploma
  • 9.7% with Associate’s
  • 35% with Bachelor’s
  • 8.4% with Master’s
  • 1.9% with Professional
How to Land your 1st job


  • Finish all relevant prelicensing real estate courses before applying
  • Have a basic understanding of commercial real estate jargon: internal rates of return, capitalization rates, gross rent multipliers and other analytics.
  • Read relevant trade publications and news websites and know the trends in the local, national and global real estate market and economy.  
  • Ask your professors or anybody you know in commercial real estate for a lead or an informational interview.
  • Network at the events put on by local trade organizations (see list in Recommended Resources).
  • Apply to one of the big, well-know commercial real estate companies like Cushman & Wakefield, CBRE, Marcus & Milichap, Sperry Van Ness. In the commercial real estate world, name brands matter. Being trained at one of these big firms gives you credibility and the training programs at these companies are top knotch.
  • Remember, to be a Broker, you may first need a bachelor’s plus a few years of Agent experience
  • For the interview:
    • Prepare: Research the company, the specific people you will be interviewing with and the top management of the company. Visit the company’s website, review their annual reports and recent press releases and do research on their company online. What makes them different? Know about their training program. Any big deals they worked on.
    • Show energy in the interview: The job is competitive and cutthroat. Only the strong will survive.
    • Listen well.
    • Dress professionally and conservatively.
    • Follow up with a thank you letter.


  • Finish all relevant prelicensing real estate courses before applying
  • When you are applying and interviewing for residential real estate agencies, you are interviewing them just as much as they are interviewing you. Why? Because if you work for a real estate agency, you are not getting paid a salary. You are working on commission. So an agency is only as good as its agents. It’s a two-way relationship. You need to figure out what kind of set up works for you. Some agents want no support, no supervision and high commission split (which means the agent keeps more of the commission). Others want more support from their agency and don’t mind the broker taking more of the commission in exchange for their support. It really depends on you. Do your research.
  • Make a list of agencies you want to talk with. This means figuring out what kind of agency do you think you will strive in. High-end? A certain part of town? A certain brand of agency? This will be easy to do because most real estate agencies have ads all around town and television and radio advertising.
  • Make appointments with the broker-in-charge. The larger agencies have recruiting managers.
  • Ask what type of real estate training the firm provides and how much it will cost?
  • Ask what their turnover rate is. This is a good indication of how much support and training the agency gives their agents. Support comes in many ways: training, leads, marketing and advertising supports.
  • Ask how leads are distributed.
  • Decide if you want to specialize in high-end properties or focus on specific parts of town
  • Ask the broker for a list of start-up expenses. Are you required to join professional organizations? Pay for your own MLS? Are there membership fees? Do they pay for advertising expenses? Office-related expenses? Does the firm provide office space?
  • Ask about the commission split structure.
  • Remember, to be a Broker, you may first need a bachelor’s plus a few years of Agent experience
What it really takes to make it and succeed
  • Passion and pride: Those who can weather storms of the real estate market are those who love real estate and are passionate about it.
  • Persistence, grit: Lots of rejections and cold calls, can you handle that?
  • Market yourself and create your own brand
  • Be proactive and a hardworker: You must be a go-getter. Deals don’t magically fall into your lap. YOU make things happen.
  • Specialization: Don’t try to be a jack of all trades.
  • Integrity
  • Networking
  • Read lots of books on sales and learn from other industries.
  • Be a “glass half full” kind of person.
  • The best way to move up is to make sales
  • Master the specialized skills needed to do the job before moving on to advanced training. It may be counterproductive to try and be a jack of all trades
  • Take advanced and specialized courses and get certifications to boost knowledge
  • Learn through reading books, networking with peers, and watching tutorials
  • Don’t just talk to people in your usual circle. Learn from successful Agents and Brokers outside your brokerage 
  • If you don’t have a bachelor’s, consider the benefits of earning one for your particular situation. It may or may not help with a promotion 
  • Be professional and diligent in all your dealings. Ensure your behavior is above reproach and ethical at all times
  • Cultivate strong community relations with owners, contractors, and property managers
  • Hustle and stay proactive to make deals happen. Do your research on properties and go in knowing details that buyers can’t just read themselves
  • Always be on time for showings and open houses
  • Participate in professional organizations, write articles, and make a name for yourself as someone who is competent and knows their business inside and out
  • Be persistent and find ways to earn during lean markets
Recommended Tools/Resources


  • American Guild of Appraisers
  • American Real Estate Society
  • American Society of Appraisers
  • Association of Commercial Real Estate Professionals
  • Association of Independent Mortgage Experts 
  • International Council of Shopping Centers 
  • NAIOP, the Commercial Real Estate Development Association 
  • National Association of Appraisers
  • National Association of Broker Price Opinion Professionals
  • National Association of Mortgage Brokers 
  • National Association of Real Estate Advisors
  • National Association of REALTORS
  • National Association of Residential Property Managers


Plan B

Alternate careers: Mortgage Broker, Sales Associate, Investment Banker


Online Courses and Tools