Career Overview in Real Estate Service in USA - Part 2 of 2


(Reference: 1998-1999 Occupational Outlook Handbook, USA)


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Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement

In every State and in the District of Columbia, real estate agents and brokers must be licensed. All States require prospective agents to be a high school graduate, be at least 18 years old, and pass a written test. The examination—more comprehensive for brokers than for agents—includes questions on basic real estate transactions and laws affecting the sale of property. Most States require candidates for the general sales license to complete between 30 and 90 hours of classroom instruction, whereas those seeking the broker's license are required to complete between 60 and 90 hours of formal training in addition to a specified amount of experience in selling real estate (generally 1 to 3 years). Some States waive the experience requirements for the broker's license for applicants who have a bachelor's degree in real estate. State licenses generally must be renewed every 1 or 2 years, usually without reexamination. Many States, however, require continuing education for license renewal. Prospective agents and brokers should contact the real estate licensing commission of the State(s) in which they wish to work to verify exact licensing requirements.

Federal law requires appraisers of most types of real estate (all property being financed by a Federally regulated lender) to be State licensed or certified. In some States, appraisers who are not involved with Federally regulated institutions do not have to be certified. State certification requirements for appraisers must meet Federal standards, but States are free to set more stringent requirements. Formal courses, appraisal experience, and a satisfactory score on an examination are needed to be certified. Requirements for licensure vary by State, but are somewhat less stringent than for certification. In some States, college education may be substituted for a portion of the experience requirement for licensure.

Individuals enter real estate appraisal from a variety of backgrounds. Traditionally, persons enter from real estate sales, management, and finance positions. However, as real estate transactions have become more complex, involving complicated legal requirements, many firms have turned to college graduates to fill positions. A large number of agents, brokers, and appraisers have some college training, and the number of college graduates selling real estate has risen substantially in recent years. College courses in real estate, finance and business administration, statistics, computer science, economics, and English are helpful. Because many workers start their own company, business courses such as marketing and accounting may be as important as those in real estate or finance.

However, personality traits are equally as important as academic background. Brokers look for applicants who possess a pleasant personality, honesty, and a neat appearance. Maturity, tact, and enthusiasm for the job are required in order to motivate prospective customers in this highly competitive field. Agents should also be well organized and detail oriented, as well as have a good memory for names, faces, and business details, such as taxes, zoning codes, and local land-use regulations. Appraisers should have good judgment, writing, and math skills.

Persons interested in beginning jobs as real estate agents often apply in their own communities, where their knowledge of local neighborhoods is an advantage. A beginner usually learns the practical aspects of the job, including the use of computers to locate or list available properties or identify sources of financing, under the direction of an experienced agent.

Many firms offer formal training programs for both beginners and experienced agents. Larger firms generally offer more extensive programs than smaller firms. Over 1,000 universities, colleges, and junior colleges offer courses in real estate. At some, a student can earn an associate or bachelor's degree with a major in real estate; several offer advanced degrees. Many local real estate associations that are members of the National Association of Realtors sponsor courses covering the fundamentals and legal aspects of the field. Advanced courses in appraisal, mortgage financing, property development and management, and other subjects are also available through various affiliates of the National Association of Realtors.

Many real estate appraisers voluntarily earn professional designations, representing formal recognition of their professional competence and achievements. A number of appraisal organizations have programs that, through a combination of experience, professional education, and examinations, lead to the award of such designations. These professional designations are desirable because requirements for them are more stringent than State standards.

Advancement opportunities for agents often take the form of higher commission rates and more and bigger sales, both of which increase earnings. This occurs as agents gain knowledge and expertise and become more efficient in closing a greater number of transactions. Experienced agents can advance in many large firms to sales or general manager. Persons who have received their broker's license may open their own offices. Others with experience and training in estimating property value may become real estate appraisers, and people familiar with operating and maintaining rental properties may become property managers. (See the statement on property managers elsewhere in the Handbook). Agents, brokers, and appraisers who gain general experience in real estate and a thorough knowledge of business conditions and property values in their localities, may enter mortgage financing or real estate investment counseling.

Job Outlook

Employment of real estate agents, brokers, and appraisers is expected to grow more slowly than the average for all occupations through the year 2006. However, a large number of job openings will arise due to replacement needs. Each year, thousands of jobs will become available as workers transfer to other occupations or leave the labor force. Because turnover is high, real estate sales positions should continue to be relatively easy to obtain. Not everyone is successful in this highly competitive field; many beginners become discouraged by their inability to get listings and to close a sufficient number of sales. Lacking financial sustenance and motivation, they subsequently leave the occupation. Well-trained, ambitious people who enjoy selling should have the best chance for success.

Increasing use of electronic information technology may increase the productivity of agents, brokers, and appraisers as the use of computers, faxes, modems, and databases becomes more commonplace. Some real estate companies are using computer generated images to show houses to customers without even leaving the office. These devices enable one agent to serve a greater number of customers. Use of this technology may eliminate some of the more marginal agents such as those practicing real estate part time or between jobs. These workers will not be able to compete as easily with full-time agents who have invested in this technology.

Another factor expected to impact the need for agents and brokers is the ability for prospective customers to search for properties that meet their criteria themselves by accessing certain real estate sites on the Internet. While they won't be able to conduct the entire real estate transaction on-line, it does allow the prospective homebuyer the convenience of looking at properties, as well as the ability to find out about issues such as financing, from their own home.

Computer technology has also impacted the need for appraisers. For example, the length of time needed to do a residential appraisal has declined as access to electronic databases has increased, streamlining their work process. Furthermore, specialized computer software programs have allowed lending institutions to derive property values without as much input from appraisers.

Employment growth in this field will stem primarily from increased demand for home purchases and rental units. Shifts in the age distribution of the population over the next decade will result in a growing number of persons in the prime working ages (25-54 years old) with careers and family responsibilities. This is the most geographically mobile group in our society, and the one that traditionally makes most of the home purchases. As their incomes rise, they also may be expected to invest in additional real estate.

Employment of real estate agents, brokers, and appraisers is sensitive to swings in the economy. During periods of declining economic activity and tight credit, the volume of sales and the resulting demand for sales workers may decline. During these periods, the earnings of agents, brokers, and appraisers decline, and many work fewer hours or leave the occupation.


Commissions on sales are the main source of earnings of real estate agents and brokers—few receive a salary. The rate of commission varies according to the type of property and its value; the percentage paid on the sale of farm and commercial properties or unimproved land usually is higher than that paid for selling a home. Appraisers typically receive a flat fee.

Commissions may be divided among several agents and brokers. The broker and the agent in the firm who obtained the listing generally share their part of the commission when the property is sold; the broker and the agent in the firm who made the sale also generally share their part of the commission. Although an agent's share varies greatly from one firm to another, often it is about half of the total amount received by the firm. The agent who both lists and sells the property, maximizes his or her commission.

Real estate agents, brokers, and appraisers who usually worked full time had median annual earnings of $31,500 in 1996. The middle 50 percent earned between $20,500 and $49,700. The top 10 percent earned more than $75,400 and the lowest 10 percent earned less than $12,600.

Income usually increases as an agent gains experience, but individual ability, economic conditions, and the type and location of the property also affect earnings. Sales workers who are active in community organizations and local real estate associations can broaden their contacts and increase their earnings. A beginner's earnings are often irregular because a few weeks or even months may go by without a sale. Although some brokers allow an agent a drawing account against future earnings, this practice is not usual with new employees. The beginner, therefore, should have enough money to live on for about 6 months or until commissions increase.

Related Occupations

Selling expensive items such as homes requires maturity, tact, and a sense of responsibility. Other sales workers who find these character traits important in their work include motor vehicle sales workers, securities and financial services sales workers, insurance agents and brokers, and manufacturers' representatives. Other appraisers specialize in performing many types of appraisals besides real estate, including aircraft, antiques and fine arts, and business valuations.

Sources of Additional Information

Details on licensing requirements for real estate agents, brokers, and appraisers are available from most local real estate and appraiser organizations or from the State real estate commission or board.

For more information about opportunities in real estate, contact:
National Association of Realtors, Realtor Information Center, 430 North Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL 60611.

Information on careers, and licensing and certification requirements, in real estate appraising is available from: The Appraisal Foundation, 1029 Vermont Avenue NW, Suite 900, Washington, DC 20005-3517.


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