Yes, people are still buying and selling homes during coronavirus. Here’s how. COVID-19 requires a new playbook — and even more patience than usual.
Not long ago, Molly Lynch and her husband found their dream house in Medfield. And with that, they put their current home — a charming, four-bedroom Colonial in Dover — up for sale. After all, it’s been harder to buy a house than to sell one in Greater Boston for the past few years, so it seemed like they had already cleared the biggest hurdle. That was on Thursday, March 12.
Lynch and her family began social distancing the next day; by that Sunday, Governor Charlie Baker had issued an emergency order shutting down schools statewide and limiting restaurants to takeout service. “The timing for this sale was truly terrible,” says Lynch, who’s the director of marketing and partnerships at Erin Gates Design in Newton. “[But] because we are already under contract for the new house — which we love, love, love — we decided to keep our house on [the market] and hope for the best.”
Selling their house in the midst of a pandemic has meant leaning heavily on FaceTime showings, Lynch says. To minimize the need for physical tours, she’s also posted videos on YouTube where she walks through the house and explains how her family of four uses the space, trying to anticipate questions buyers might pose: The kitchen counters are quartz; yes, the fireplaces work. She’s hoping that will help whittle down the field to serious buyers.
When it’s time for an in-person showing, the whole family goes for a car ride — after Lynch does a quick cleanup. (Imagine keeping your house staged to sell when your 3-year-old and 10-month-old are at home 24/7.) “If someone really wants to come see for themselves, we’re asking them not to touch anything, and I wipe everything down before and after,” Lynch says.
Meanwhile, house hunters Karen Galbraith and her husband, Byron, haven’t viewed a house in person since the outbreak — but that’s partly because their search is taking place several states away. They’ve been renting in Brookline since 2016, and had been fruitlessly house hunting nearby for much of that time. Recalling one would-be home lost to a bidding war, Galbraith says, “Even though we offered $50,000 over asking and waived the inspection, we were outbid by over $200,000.”
So they decided they’d relocate and buy in Pittsburgh instead. The “up-and-coming tech hub” is closer to both of their families, Galbraith says, and offers better odds of finding the bigger house and private yard they want at a price they can manage. “We’re both 39 and have never owned a house, and I personally am eager to have something I can put my stamp on — where I can put in a play set and put holes in the walls,” she says.
After taking a three-week scouting trip to Pittsburgh with their three young children last August, Galbraith and her husband returned a couple more times before partnering with a realtor there in February. Subsequent house-hunting trips, however, were foiled by COVID-19. And while they’ve done some Zoom video tours, new listings seem to have dwindled to a trickle, Galbraith says.
Their original plan was to close on a property by May, but Galbraith says they’re now constantly reevaluating their expectations and timeline. “We made a decision last summer not to renew our lease and to move no matter what—of course, never imagining this particular ‘what,’ ” she says. At this point, she’s not even sure how they’ll go forward if they do find a home they’re interested in. “Neither of us is comfortable buying something sight unseen.”
That’s not to say it can’t be done. When Kristina Arsenault moved her family back to her native Massachusetts from the Pacific Northwest three years ago, she bought an updated Marblehead ranch without ever stepping foot in it. Now, she’s turning to video tours as a seller, having just listed the house for sale in early April. Arsenault had already accepted a job offer back in the Pacific Northwest before the COVID-19 outbreak exploded in the US.
Having bought a home from over 3,000 miles away once before, Arsenault is optimistic about the potential of virtual tours. “It gives buyers the opportunity to ask questions one-on-one in a private session with their agent, and have that interaction in real time,” she says. “You can get the feel of the place. . . . It’s not exactly the same, but you have the ability to talk to your realtor and drill down into anything you want to ask them about.”
Arsenault had some light painting and staging work done on the house in preparation for the sale, but says she did quite a bit of the work herself because of social distancing requirements. One of the hardest parts, she notes, was finding a home for unwanted stuff in good condition, such as the children’s furniture her kids have outgrown. Many donation centers are closed or not accepting items, but her staging team helped locate someone willing to pick up items while taking plenty of precautions. “We all kind of did it in this orchestrated dance, where none of us got close to each other,” she says.
The entire real estate industry has had to react quickly to keep people safe while ensuring sales can still make it to closing, says Matt Dolan, broker with Team Harborside at Sagan Harborside Sotheby’s International Realty in Marblehead. “Everyone is doing their part to minimize face-to-face interactions,” Dolan says. “There have been some delays on financing and paperwork, but, ultimately, deals are still getting done with some tweaks.”
It’s still possible to get a home inspection and to hire movers, Dolan notes, as those services have been deemed essential, “but there have been safety precautions put in place.” Other players in the process are adapting, or trying to. “Many lenders will now consider a drive-by appraisal to be good enough,” says Adam Rosenbaum, a realtor at Century 21 Adams in Arlington. “I had a closing last week that no one attended, but was delayed a couple of days because FedEx was not delivering. So, there are bottlenecks that appear and disappear.”
However, plenty of buyers and sellers have simply stepped to the sidelines to wait things out. By the last week of March, the number of homes pulled off the market nationwide had increased 148 percent from the previous year, according to real estate brokerage Redfin, and new listings were down 33 percent.
“I’ve got two elderly sellers who didn’t want strangers in their Cambridge condos, so I withdrew the listings until it is safer,” Rosenbaum says, with a pause. “Whenever that is.”
The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing real estate agents to change the way they operate, and many are turning to new techniques such as virtual tours to keep business going.
But while virtual tours are proving to be an important sales tool in the current crisis, they aren’t just a passing fad. Even before stay-at-home orders and social distancing swept the country, a survey by Zillow found that 79 percent of buyers shop for homes online, and one-third of buyers reported virtual tours were extremely or very important to their home shopping.
As online sales take center stage for a new generation of home buyers, so will the need for virtual tours. In this article, learn how to create virtual tours for real estate that are just as effective as in-person showings.
How to create a virtual tour for real estate
Choose your equipment
Plan your shoot
Set the scene
Create and share your virtual tour
A virtual tour allows buyers to view a home for sale digitally with an interactive 3D virtual walkthrough.
Virtual tours vary in the level of detail, interactivity, and complexity they offer, but they typically involve taking still photos and/or video, and using proprietary software to transform those images into a 360-degree interactive experience. (For the online buyer, it’s like using Street View in Google Maps but inside a home.)
Here’s how to create your own virtual tour of a property for sale.
1) Choose your equipment
To create a virtual tour, you need a camera and software. The most realistic images will come from a 360-degree camera such as the Ricoh Theta V, Ricoh Theta Z1, or the Insta360 ONEX. However, you can also use a DSLR camera or even your smartphone.
You also need software that can combine your photos into the final product: a 3D immersive digital experience.
Matterport is the leading software for creating 3D virtual tours, offering a cloud-based platform with plans ranging from $9.99 to $309 per month. If you’re using a 360-degree camera, you can upload your images directly to Matterport; for DSLR camera and smartphone images, you’ll need to use the Matterport app on iPhone.
There are a number of other virtual tour software options, such as EyeSpy360, VPiX, Kuula, My360, Roundme, and more. For a free and easy option, the Zillow 3D Home app allows agents to create virtual tours from their smartphones (or a Ricoh Theta camera) for free.
2) Plan your shoot
Before your shoot, make a list of everything you want to include in your virtual tour. This includes a list of rooms and areas inside the home, as well as any outdoor features such as the front yard or building entrance, backyard, natural features like a trail or pond, and any community amenities. Your list should include the most visually attractive aspects of the property.
Next, determine the path that a person walking through the home would naturally take, and try to mimic that with the tour. Consider any details they’d want to take a closer look at, and incorporate those as appropriate.
Finally, walk through the property and identify the best locations to set up various camera shots. Test different angles and heights to see how they affect lighting, and which vantage points best show off the home. Make note of these locations either with a simple list or by marking them on a floor plan or on the floor with tape.
Keep in mind how the time of day impacts the lighting to make sure you shoot during optimal hours.
3) Set the scene
Prepare the home. Prepare for your shoot as you would for an actual showing. Make sure you’ve already completed all pre-listing updates such as cleaning, repairs, landscaping, and painting. Finish staging with new decor and furnishings to make the space look livable and welcoming so buyers can easily imagine themselves there.
Be sure the home is neat and decluttered, with all high-value features easily visible, and move any overflow items offsite to ensure as clean a view as possible for the shoot. The clearer the view, the better the final tour will look.
Right before the shoot, do a quick sweep of the property. Hide any unnecessary items such as cleaning supplies, appliance cables, or trash cans; open all interior doors to avoid interruptions in room-to-room navigation; and open the blinds to maximize natural light.
Prepare the camera. For best results, use a tripod. (If you’re using a smartphone camera, make sure the tripod has a rotating head and phone mount.) To ensure images are uniform, check that your tripod is level. If your tripod doesn’t have a built-in level, purchase a pocket level and adjust the legs until the bubble is centered between the level lines.
Wipe the camera lens, and start with some test shots to confirm the camera is functioning properly.
4) Take photos
With the home and the camera ready, it’s time to shoot. Here are some tips for taking photos:
Follow the plan you set earlier, keeping some distance from any objects and staying in the middle of the room.
Move the camera slowly and steadily, and minimize camera tilt, as this can distort certain images such as vertical lines.
Stay aware of and avoid any reflections, mirrors, shadows on the floor, and silhouettes on windows or reflective surfaces, as these will detract from the professionalism of the final product.
Reshoot any areas where the camera isn’t steady or transitions between rooms appear choppy.
5) Create and share your virtual tour
No matter how careful you are, your photos will likely need some touching up. Use photo-editing software to tone down overly bright areas, balance colors, and cut out any mistakes.
Then, upload the photos to your chosen software to create the virtual tour. Depending on the software you use, you may have the option to add clickable areas, music, or text.
With your finished product ready, your software or virtual tour provider will provide a link or embed code so you can publish the tour on the internet. Happy selling!
There is sure a clear distinction between a real estate broker and a real estate agent. Most important point is: Agents can sell and list homes, but they are not licensed to operate independently. They must work under a broker, as brokers are expected to have a deeper knowledge of state and federal laws. Most states also mandate a few years of work as an agent before someone can become a broker.
In some cases, states will hold off on full licensure until someone can confirm they’re working with a broker. Preparing for your test isn’t the only thing you need to think about as you work toward your license. You also need to network and look for a broker, either by finding an agency that is looking for new sales agents or an independent broker willing to work with agents.
How a broker actually helps
Some of the distinctions between a broker and an agent can be really small. The exam for each is similar, but the differences between them highlight the expertise that a broker brings to the table. To unpack this, let’s go back to that outline of the Massachusetts state real estate licensing exam we used earlier.
Here are a few highlights that emphasize what makes brokers unique.
Property ownership law. The test for brokers will typically include more questions in this section than the one for agents. What’s more, brokers are expected to understand how to manage situations in which the property ownership is held in trust, something that isn’t expected of agents.
Leasing and property management. For this part of the exam, brokers are expected to demonstrate an understanding of best practices in setting rents and lease rates. The broker exam will also usually emphasize this category more than agent exam does, as it makes up 5 percent of the broker test and just 3 percent of the agent assessment.
Practice of real estate. The part of the exam that focuses on day-to-day operations in the industry asks brokers and agents a largely similar set of questions. However, brokers need to deal with questions pertaining to supervisory responsibilities in an agency setting and demonstrate knowledge of how to manage both licensed agents and personnel in roles that don’t require licensure.
Real estate calculations. Both brokers and agents are expected to have a basic understanding of math concepts and transaction calculations associated with real estate practice. However, brokers also need to have expertise in calculations pertaining to valuations and rate of return for properties.
Requirements governing licensees. This last part of the exam includes material that is exclusive to brokers. Since part of their job is overseeing agents, brokers are expected to understand best practices for keeping records related to licensing.
There are small distinctions in the subjects emphasized in the broker exam versus the agent exam. Both agents and brokers need foundational knowledge about major industry issues, but brokers are trained to handle some of the most legally complex, nuanced aspects of real estate operations. You’re going to want a broker who is ready to answer your questions and help you navigate complex situations.
Joining a firm
In many ways, finding a real estate broker is kind of like finding a job. You need to search industry listings for brokers who are open to taking on a new agent, interview with the broker to determine if there’s a personality fit, and then decide whether the logistics work for you.
This last point is where things get really tricky. A real estate agent looking for a broker can end up feeling like a traditional employee looking for an employer, but a report from The Balance emphasized that some agents think of themselves as their own bosses and consider the broker relationship as more of a formality.
Whether you want the organizational structure of a supervisory broker or are hoping to find somebody who is more of a hands-off consultant, you really need to think about what you need from the relationship.
The Balance article explained that many agents get caught up in the commission split between themselves and the broker. It’s understandable; the way revenue is divided has a huge impact on how much money you make. Yet this isn’t the only factor that’s important. It’s not even the only issue that affects your bottom line.
Many brokers offer services, from helping agents generate leads to providing access to digital resources. If you have to build and manage your own website, that’s going to cost a lot of money. If your broker provides that service, and you just need to customize what they give you for your own needs, you’re going to save money.
It’s important to evaluate the full scope of what a broker is offering so you can identify the value of working with that individual. If your broker has a huge pool of leads to which they can connect you, but requires more of the commission than another broker, you still may find more value with a lower split because you’ll have the leads you need to drive more sales.
As you think about what you need from a brokerage firm, make sure you take some time for self-reflection. Revisit your goals and expectations now that you’ve gone through more of the licensure process.
Does anything you’ve learned change what you initially wanted from the job? Do you feel confident operating with minimal support, or do you want a mentor to help you get going? These are questions that can help you find the right broker.
On top of all this, a report from PrepAgent, an online real estate agent training school, spotlighted some practical issues to consider. One of those was to think about whether or not you want to be part of a team.
In some broker firms, agents work together under a team leader to complete sales, with the commission split based on individuals’ roles. This can be a great way to avoid feeling lonely on the job and to learn from more experienced agents, but it can also cut into your revenue.
Area of specialization was another key consideration highlighted by PrepAgent. Some agents really want to get into commercial sales. Others may dream of selling luxury mansions. Different agencies and brokers may specialize in certain fields, and connecting with them can help you get experience and make contacts in the area where you’re most interested in working.
PrepAgent also highlighted administrative support as a key issue to think about when you select a broker. Let’s face it; even in the era of digital transformation, real estate agents have a lot of documents, files, and even paperwork to tackle.
You’ll often need to connect with a wide range of stakeholders when managing a sale. The resulting clerical work of nailing down schedules, making photocopies, emailing photos to people, and otherwise managing projects can take time away from more sales-focused work.
Seeking a brokerage that offers solid administrative support, possibly even a full-time employee focused on clerical work, can be invaluable in saving you from background tasks that are critical to your business but not how you want to spend your time.
This brings us back to our analogy of searching for a job. Someone looking to get hired wants to know they’ll make a salary that’ll match their goals, be in an organization where they fit in, and have the support they’ll need to work at their best.
Whether you’re seeking a one-on-one type of relationship with a broker or looking to join a larger firm, these are all issues you’ll need to think about. It’s vital that you find the right match, or you risk creating a negative situation that hurts your long-term relationship with a potentially powerful person in your local real estate market.
Ultimately, it’s in both your and the broker’s best interest to find a good fit. Working with a broker may be mandatory, but brokers are incentivized to help agents because their ability to collect a commission from sales is dependent on whether or not the agents they supervise are actually making sales in the first place.
So you’re thinking about becoming a real estate agent? We get the excitement. Spending your time helping people find their dream homes can be rewarding. And getting the commissions that come with selling expensive properties, holding elaborate parties to drive sales, and playing a key part in developing neighborhoods all add to the allure.
But it isn’t all glamor and beautiful houses. Real estate agents have to do a lot of legwork to get to the more attractive parts of the job, and the work comes with its fair share of responsibilities, including
- Handling sensitive personal and financing data
- Brokering deals worth hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of dollars
- Negotiating zoning and financial services regulations to ensure compliance
- Navigating complex negotiations between buyers and sellers
- Analyzing local and regional housing markets to help individuals understand their investments
- Engaging in marketing and promotional activities to create excitement around properties and your personal or agency brand
Real estate agents and brokers wear lots of hats, taking on responsibilities that require a rare blend of sales, marketing, relationship-building, financial management, investment, and process management skills. It takes a lot to be a good real estate agent, but the benefits are real.
The Labor Statistics found that the mean annual salary for real estate sales agents was $48,690 as of May 2018. Data from the same time period indicates that the mean annual wage for real estate brokers was $58,210.
Brokers tend to generate more income, as they are not only licensed to list and sell properties, but also to run their own agency, operating independently. Sales agents, on the other hand, are only authorized to sell properties and typically need to work under a broker or larger real estate agency.
On top of the solid pay, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that jobs are being created at a rate of 6 percent for brokers and agents, meaning demand for new workers in the sector is growing approximately as fast as the national average for all occupations.
And real estate agents aren’t just in demand and making decent salaries; they also don’t need a college degree. Anybody with a high school diploma or equivalent can pursue their real estate license.
This guide will detail the process of becoming a Realtor so you can get your career as an agent or broker up and running. We’ll discuss everything from the skills and responsibilities required for the job to the licensure process and what to expect from your examination.
It’s important to note a central theme emerging in the sector: digital technologies. Gathering and communicating information through digital channels is changing the real estate industry, and using these digital channels is increasingly necessary to keep up with customer demands. This is a key trend to keep in mind as you consider how to become a real estate agent.
What is a real estate agent?
In the simplest terms, real estate agents and brokers facilitate the buying and selling of homes. If you want to be a Realtor, that’s going to be the central part of your job. But there’s more to it, with a great deal of background work involved along the way.
What you’ll do on the job
Some of the specifics of real estate work will vary based on sector. If you want to sell commercial property, you’ll deal with regulations and sales processes that vary from those involved in working with residential properties. If you become a broker, you may have the opportunity to engage in property management.
While these points of distinction are important (we’ll address them in more detail later), most real estate professionals will share many core responsibilities.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) provides a solid rundown of primary duties associated with work in real estate, and most of the specific tasks fall into one of three categories:
1. Preparing and marketing properties for sale
Imagine you’re selling a home. What’s the best way to put the home in the best light while maximizing the return on investment?
Sometimes, that may be to make a few key repairs and stage the property. Staging is the process of decorating a home with rented furniture to showcase the potential lifestyle options the house could provide and help potential buyers picture themselves living there.
In other cases, you could find the house is in such a poor state of repair that the costs of renovation, refurbishment, and staging would be so expensive that it wouldn’t deliver value. In that instance, you’ll want to be prepared to highlight the investment opportunity, put attractive architecture details under a spotlight, and make the property stand out for any advantages it does offer.
You could also find that the homeowner needs to live in the home through the sales process, limiting your ability to stage the property, but turning you into an advisor for any work needed to make the home stand out on the market. For example, some low-cost landscaping that improves curb appeal can be a valuable option.
These are just some of the ways you can prepare a property for sale. The BLS also highlights key tasks, such as doing market research to help clients set the right price, promoting the property so home buyers are aware of its availability, and researching key details about the property’s location and unique features as part of this process.
Beyond all of this, you’ll need to think about hosting open houses, building relationships with prospective buyers, creating listings with third-party services, and similar key tasks.
2. Managing the sale
You’ve found a buyer for a home you’re listing. Now you get to be the person who walks your client through the negotiation process. You have to know the ins and outs of property inspections, closing the sale, escrow, and similar matters.
The BLS emphasizes the importance of effective mediation between parties and ensuring contract details are met.
3. Backend office work
Remember when we mentioned that this job isn’t all about the allure of beautiful houses and big sales? This is where the grit and grind come into play. According to the BLS, real estate pros spend time generating lists of properties for sale, preparing documents, and collecting records such as deeds.
Buying or selling a house comes with a lot of bureaucracy. It’s necessary for such a large transaction that involves so many stakeholders, and someone has to manage the entire thing. That’s what real estate professionals do, and it’s a task that comes with a lot of administrative work.
Be ready to go back and forth between government agencies and private citizens seeking information; spend your time pulling records from a variety of databases and file cabinets; and play your part in gathering, storing, and managing data relevant to properties and deals.
We’ll delve more into some of the specific day-to-day tasks of real estate professionals later on in this guide. But these three core areas of responsibility set the baseline for what you can expect in the industry. The more nuanced tasks can vary substantially depending on your job role and the sector you work in. Understanding those distinctions is key.
4 key distinctions dictating work in the sector
1. Agent vs broker
The first thing you should understand is the difference between a real estate agent and a real estate broker. If you have a vision of passing your real estate agent exam and going off to sell properties as an independent entity, working for yourself, you may want to rethink those plans. The terms “agent” and “broker” aren’t interchangeable.
Real estate agents are certified to manage the sale of properties. They can advise clients, post listings, oversee negotiations, and otherwise work to make a sale happen. But they can only do so with a broker overseeing them.
Some of the higher-level legal matters that go into managing a real estate business and overseeing transactions are, to put it bluntly, above the paygrade of an agent and require a higher degree of certification.
On a given day, a real estate broker may do much of the same work an agent does, but the broker has the freedom to run their own business and operate independently. In most cases, a broker will either be part of an agency that manages a variety of sales agents or will simply run a personal business selling properties.
The licensing requirements are slightly different for agents and brokers, so if your long-term goal is to be your own boss, you may want to get started as an agent but keep your education going so you can eventually become a broker.
2. Commercial vs residential
This distinction is relatively simple. A residential property is a home, multifamily dwelling, or similar property meant to be lived in. A commercial property is an office space, lab, factory, or other facility designed for people to work in.
A property doesn’t have to be used for for-profit work to count as commercial, although there are some gray areas when it comes to zoning laws for places of worship and similar nonprofits.
For the most part, the status of a building is determined by a local or municipal zoning commission, which determines which parts of the town qualify for different building types. Some lots may be exclusively commercial or residential, while others may have the flexibility to be used for either purpose.
This can get very complicated — for instance, if a healthcare professional offers services out of a home. In these cases, specific local laws or rules set forth by a group, like a homeowners association, will usually dictate what is considered appropriate.
Beyond zoning and similar formal guidelines, an agent also needs to understand some basics about architecture and dynamics in the market. Structures designed for commercial use are often very different from those meant for residential purposes. Everything from floor plans and electrical design to the materials used and connections to local roads vary between the two.
What’s more, purchasers generally look for very different traits in each building type. For example, a residential buyer seeking a single-family home will want to know if the property is a good fit for both their immediate needs and a solid long-term investment. A person looking for a commercial property may be much more focused on how many tenants it can host, what types of businesses it can support, and similar attributes.
Whereas being an agent vs being a broker depends on distinct industry certifications and guidelines, working as a commercial real estate agent vs a residential real estate agent is often simply a matter of understanding a different customer base and having the relevant skill sets to reach that group.
3. Buyer vs seller
Don’t worry — we know you already understand the difference between a buyer and a seller. But real estate professionals need to be prepared to support both. Sellers will hire an agent to manage the sale of their home, asking the agent or broker to do everything from creating the listing and marketing the property to negotiating the contract and closing the sale.
Buyers will go to the real estate professional seeking information on properties currently on the market. From there, the agent or broker may provide tours, invite someone to an open house, and provide guidance during the purchasing process.
4. Realtor vs real estate agent
In terms of job responsibilities and skills, a Realtor and a real estate agent are the same. So why are there two terms? It’s a matter of official certification. A person who is recognized as a Realtor has been certified as a member of the National Association of Realtors (NAR). A real estate agent may have licensure and the same skill set but hasn’t gone through the certification process.
These distinctions shed light on how the work can vary depending on your specific role, but some of the same core skills remain. Both agents and brokers need to be able to manage complex clerical work, provide personable advice and guidance to a variety of stakeholders, create a network of contacts to help promote sales, and bring authentic sales and marketing expertise to the table. It’s a job with a lot of demands, but the entry point can be fairly accessible.
The requirements to become a real estate agent
In the simplest terms, real estate license requirements boil down to four steps:
- Take an exam/licensure prep course.
- Pass your exam.
- Register with your jurisdiction (usually a state in the U.S.).
- Find a broker to work under.
While each of these steps is fairly straightforward, a Realtor.com report offered a more detailed rundown of what to think about during each step of the process.
When it comes to taking a prep course, don’t take it lightly. If you think you can study for the exam on your own, learn what you need to know, and go take the test, think again.
The Realtor.com article explains that the pre-licensing prep course is mandatory in most states and serves as a way to provide key training in best practices to position individuals for success not only on their exams, but in their careers.
Licensing details can vary from state to state, but most center on passing a single exam. According to Realtor.com, about half of the exam covers federal or general industry issues, while the other half focuses on state-level matters.
Most states let you take the exam as many times as you’d like but will usually require you to retake the pre-licensure course if you haven’t passed the exam within two years of completing the course.
If you’ve passed your exam, congratulations! Now it’s time to get registered with your state real estate commission and your local multiple listing service. The Realtor.com report emphasized this last point, as the local multi-listing system is often where properties are distributed to various listing sites. If you’re not in the service, you can’t engage with local listings.
The article also recommended getting certified as a Realtor with the National Association of Realtors to take advantage of benefits associated with joining the industry group.
The final step is joining a broker. We discussed this in more detail earlier in this guide, so go back if you’ve skipped ahead.
Here’s a brief rundown: A broker is certified to oversee transactions and maintain compliance with industry standards. Agents must work under brokers who are trained to deal with more complex, nuanced issues associated with a home sale. Agents have some responsibility for compliance, but brokers effectively serve as supervisors in the industry.
Key details about licensure
Here are a few quick details you’ll want to keep in mind when pursuing a license:
- The process doesn’t necessarily take that long. While the length of the pre-licensing course can vary from state to state, it’s not uncommon for the course to come to a total of less than 150 hours. In some states, that total is as low as 40 hours. A Frequently Asked Question post from Real Estate Express, an online exam prep service, mentioned that it typically takes students between four and 10 weeks.
- The pre-licensure course can be taken online or in person.
- Exams occur frequently throughout the year.
- You can get licensed in less than a year.
- In the U.S., licensure happens on the state level, but the NAR explained that some states will reciprocate licenses from other states. The specifics can vary substantially, however, from states entirely rejecting out-of-state licenses to adjusting the licensure process in light of existing knowledge or even transferring the license outright.
Beyond licensure: Getting your career started
Naturally, following the necessary steps to get a real estate license doesn’t ensure you’ll have a successful career.
The National Association of Realtors recommends that those who are newly licensed continue learning about the industry and pursue growth, because the learning curve can be steep. The industry organization offers a Rookie Tool Kit and other benefits to help individuals get off the ground.
Whether you choose to get certified with a group like the NAR or go it alone, networking with experienced professionals and getting help to launch your career can be invaluable.
It can be tempting to focus so much on licensure that you don’t think about the hard work of getting an initial job in the industry. You’ll need to work with a broker, so you’ll have to ask yourself if you’d like to find an independent real estate broker who is looking for an agent to partner with or join an existing agency.
You’ll also need to plan for the economic realities of working on commission, creating space in your life for a highly variable schedule, and preparing for the general disruption that comes with starting a new career.
Becoming a real estate agent can be a quick, accessible way to launch into a new profession. The flexibility of the pre-licensure course and exam make it easier to work on your own schedule, and the lack of formal degree requirements lets you start fresh. But the work doesn’t end at licensure. That’s where it starts.
Real estate exam prep guide
If you’re thinking about licensure but wondering how to pass the real estate exam, this section is for you. We won’t go into much detail on the test itself (we’ll do that in the next section), but we will provide some general advice and focus on study tips and exam-day guidance to help you prepare.
Bare-bones basics of the exam
At this stage of our guide, what you really need to know is that the real estate exam will vary substantially from state to state. Each state has its own laws, best practices, and unique market dynamics. As such, every state has different content for the exam. It’s vital to keep this in mind so you avoid falling into the trap of focusing on industry-wide best practices and ideas only to neglect the nuanced issues specific to the state where you’re seeking licensure.
Exam study tips
There’s one study tip that stands above all else, whether you’re thinking about the best way to study for the real estate exam or preparing for any other test: Know yourself. Everybody learns a little differently, and you’re going to be more successful if you identify what works for you. Don’t get so caught up in a specific method of studying or some exam prep fad that you don’t reflect on your own needs and tendencies and adjust accordingly.
Of course, figuring out what works for you requires some experimentation. What’s more, even if you know your preferred study style, you may like to vary your routine so you don’t get bored. With this in mind, here are a few study techniques that can be particularly beneficial for your real estate exam:
Flash cards. Yes, flash cards are a pretty standard study tool, and you probably know all about them. But we’re highlighting them here anyway because they’re an especially good fit for this exam. The real estate exam is usually a multiple-choice test based on factual information and rules. Basically, you have to memorize a lot of details in order to succeed. Flash cards are great for that.
Role playing. Do you have friends or family who want to support your real estate licensure efforts? Are you getting bored reading through complex laws and guidelines? Try role playing.
Give a friend or relative your book and have them look at a couple of the issues you’re studying. Then have them pretend to be a buyer or seller who you’re supporting and make requests relevant to the issue you’re learning about.
From there, it’s up to you to point to the correct regulation and steer the conversation in the right direction. Sometimes, experience is the best teacher, and role play can be the best way to gain experience when you can’t actually work in the industry yet.
Exam guides. There’s a budding industry surrounding the real estate exam process. Publishers regularly release guidebooks to help prospective agents prep for the exam and get comfortable with the licensure process. These books can cover everything from the format of the exam to the specific information commonly covered on the test.
Sample tests. You can find online resources or books that contain sample questions formatted in the same style as state licensure exams so you can take a shot at a prebuilt exam that is likely similar to the actual test.
Exam-prep courses. The licensure prep course should help you get ready for your test. Beyond that, professional development and training centers in your area or online may provide courses that supplement the official required classroom hours and give you an extra boost i.
Study groups. Consider networking with other participants in your pre-licensure course. If you take your class online, think about joining forums on industry websites or using other channels to connect with other individuals who are preparing for the exam. You can use these relationships to form a study group or chat with other prospective real estate agents to get help, quiz one another on materials, and otherwise prepare for the exam.
State resources. Each state has its own government division devoted to real estate licensure. Be sure to check out your state’s website and take advantage of the materials offered there. While not everything available will be specific to the exam, you’re likely to find some information to help you prepare for the test and get more comfortable as you work toward licensure.
These are just a few ways to study for the real estate exam. We’ll discuss more about what to study for the exam in the next section. But before we get there, here’s some guidance on what to expect on exam day.
This concept is probably drilled into your brain by now, but it can’t be emphasized enough: Your specific experience in any part of the licensure process can vary substantially depending on the state. For the most part, though, state governments outsource the actual exam process to third-party test centers. These facilities typically provide a neutral location where test takers complete exams, usually on computers, at a preset time.
The advantage of the third-party test center model is that different organizations may offer the exam at different times. The test center in the next town over may have quarterly exams, while one a half-hour drive away does two exams per year. The flexibility in terms of timing and location means you’re more likely to find a test that fits your schedule and your ability to travel.
On test day, give yourself plenty of time to get to the exam site and get comfortable. Don’t let bad traffic make you arrive late and miss your chance to sit for the exam. Most test centers will have specific protocols and expectations they ask you to follow. These can include
- How early you’re expected to arrive for the exam
- If and when you’re allowed to take breaks
- If you’re allowed to bring food or beverages into the exam room
- Whether you need pencils, paper, pens, calculators, or other supplies
- How phones and other personal electronic devices are handled (i.e., do they simply need to be put away, or does the test center collect them to help prevent cheating?)
Rules like these will influence your exam-day experience, so make sure you take the time to read any information sent from the exam center you choose for your test and spend some time digging online to ensure you’re prepared.
While specific requirements will be different based on your situation, the importance of following the rules is constant across states and testing centers. These exams are meant for professional certification and are handled by neutral third parties that have no stake in seeing you pass. Don’t let an overly relaxed approach to exam day derail your licensure.
Our other advice about exam-day prep is to relax. As we mentioned earlier, you can take the exam as often as you need. Yes, it can be expensive to retake the test several times, but the fact that you can do so without hurting your professional standing can be a major relief if you tend to get nervous or even experience anxiety about exams. Study hard, make sure you know what to expect at the exam site, and don’t stress.
Now that you have a big-picture understanding of how to get ready for the exam, let’s look at the specifics of the test so you can get even more prepared for what’s ahead.
Real estate exam information
If you’re wondering how to take the real estate exam or are unsure about similar details behind the actual test for real estate agent licensure, this section is for you.
According to a Realtor.com report, the licensure exam is delivered in two sections, each with between 60 and 100 multiple-choice questions. One section will focus on federal requirements in the industry and the other will be specific to your state.
You should come ready to do some math, as you’ll be asked to calculate tax and perform similar computations that are common in the industry. Most exams are held at a third-party testing center, as states tend to favor that method over hosting the test themselves.
If you’ve read this far, you already know most of those details, but here’s a deeper look at the examination to help you get ready.
The exam format
As we’ve mentioned throughout this guide, just about everything in the licensure process can vary by state. That said, let’s look at examples from a few states to explore what the exam looks like. All advice is based on information available on various state government websites.
In California, the exam consists of 150 multiple-choice questions, and participants have three hours and 15 minutes to complete the test. There are four answer choices for each question, and there are no breaks.
In New York, the exam is multiple choice, you have 90 minutes to complete it (time starts after instructions are given), and the test is available in a variety of languages.
Some states, like Nevada, don’t provide as much detail about their exam online but do offer prospective candidates a full handbook they can use to prepare for the exam (up to date as of February 2020).
Massachusetts has a similar exam to those we’ve discussed so far, with a fairly large number of multiple-choice questions on topics covering general industry knowledge and state-specific matters.
The exact contents of the exam can change from year to year, as state government agencies revisit what they consider the most critical topics to cover in the exam. It’s key to use state resources early on in the licensure process so you don’t spend too much time on issues that aren’t relevant or particularly important.
Most state tests use a computer-based test solution in which you select answers to multiple-choice questions. You’ll usually be allowed to bring a calculator with you, but it will need to be a simple model that doesn’t connect to the internet as concerns about cheating run high at exam centers.
Most states detail the testing locations and any organizations they partner with for the exams on their real-estate licensure website.
The exam contents
As in many other parts of this guide, some of the best advice we can give you is to look to your state government for guidance. Most states publish handbooks, guides, or similar documents to help prospective agents understand what to expect on the test.
Some states take things to another level and make detailed information readily available online. Massachusetts is one of those states, and the outline it provides for its exam offers an overview of the kind of content you can expect on the test. Based on that outline, here’s a look at some of the major topics you’ll need to study when preparing:
Details of property ownership. Subject matter in this area covers key issues, such as how land characteristics are measured and documented in legal descriptions; distinctions between terms like “livable,” “rentable,” and “usable area”; and rights associated with the land, such as access to minerals, air, and water.
This category also features questions that cover the difference between real and personal property, various forms of encumbrance that can be applied to property ownership, and different types of ownership models.
Land controls and regulations. This category is fairly straightforward. The materials in this portion of the exam are meant to ensure agents understand inherent government rights for land and methods government and private entities use to apply controls over the land. This can range from zoning and building codes to homeowners association rules and conditions set forth in a deed.
Valuation and market analysis. Since understanding how to price properties relative to the market is key to the job, the exam includes questions meant to identify whether prospects understand how appraisals work, how to perform valuation through a variety of approaches, and how to perform market analysis.
Financing. This represents a major category for real estate agents, as much of their responsibility centers on facilitating sales. This portion of the exam covers types of loans, core concepts in the financing sector, and how the lending process functions.
General principles of agency. This part of the exam asks prospective agents about their knowledge of how agency and non-agency relationships function; what an agent is responsible for in relationships with clients; how agreements are handled across different listing contract types; issues of disclosure, integrity, and basic accounting; and even how the termination of agency process works.
Property disclosures, contracts, transfer of title, and real estate calculations. Each of these sections deals with highly specific elements of operating within the industry and features questions meant to ensure agents understand the legal requirements and have the practical skills, such as tabulating taxes, to carry out their responsibilities throughout the sales process.
Practice of real estate and leasing and property management. These portions of the assessment cover best practices for issues like fair housing, advertising, and use of technology, as well as rules about how to handle leasing processes and property management.
These aspects of the exam are far-reaching and feature a variety of nuanced subject areas that real estate agents need to understand to perform their jobs effectively. On top of that, for the Massachusetts exam, these topics cover only the general areas of information included in the exam. The test also has nine sections devoted to issues where specific state laws or regulations come into play. These include matters such as licensure, Massachusetts fair housing law, laws surrounding tenants and landlords, a state-specific contracts section, and a segment covering consumer protections.
This snapshot of the Massachusetts exam may not be a comprehensive look at how every state handles its assessment, but it should provide a good overview of the types of subjects covered on the test. Think of it as a general idea of the knowledge you’ll need so you can better decide if becoming an agent is something you want to pursue.
Anyone working to become a real estate agent has a lot to learn, and the process can seem daunting. That’s where the mandatory pre-licensing courses and myriad study resources really come in handy. With state governments and private entities all providing resources, you’ll have plenty of places to look if you need some help along the way.
From exam to licensure
If you pass your exam, you’ll need to supply the state where you want to work with your credentials — proof of completing necessary coursework, background checks, exam results, and similar details — to obtain a license. This process can be fairly quick as many of the documents need to be submitted prior to the exam and the shift toward digital, computer-based tests allows for rapid computation of grades.
Generally speaking, you don’t need more education beyond initial licensure to get started as an agent. However, further professional development is key in dealing with the question, “How long is a real estate license valid?” Specific rules can vary, but most states will require some form of continuing education every few years to ensure agents stay on top of changing industry regulations.
The more critical matter, at least for those seeking to become an agent, is the need to complete your exam relatively soon after finishing the pre-licensure course. Most states provide only a two-year window before you need to take the class again. Waiting until the last minute to take the licensure exam, failing the test by a few points, and having to go back to precertification is a much larger blow than simply going back and taking the test again.
Exploring a real estate agent’s duties
We already unpacked some of the primary responsibilities and duties of real estate agents, but we’ll dig deeper here, getting into the specifics of matters like lead management, hosting an open house, and dealing with other major tasks that are part of day-to-day real estate work.
Most duties fall under one of the three categories we highlighted earlier: preparing a property for sale and marketing it, managing the sales process, and performing backend work to support everyday operations.
Here’s a look at three key areas of emphasis within those categories that represent major parts of the job.
1. Managing seller and property information
This part of the job begins with obtaining and managing leads. A lead is simply an individual who could, if the circumstances come together properly, make a direct contribution to your bottom line. Typically, leads are thought of as buyers, because the person making a purchase is ultimately the source of revenue. But it isn’t that simple in the real estate industry.
Before you can find a buyer, you need a seller. A person interested in listing a property — either for sale or rent — is just as important a lead as the eventual buyer. After all, other agencies will want to list that property if it’s attractive, and you’ll need to convince the seller that you’re the right person to go with.
For agents, much of the job comes down to transitioning from real estate lead generation to creating a listing. As such, you need to be ready to manage sensitive information early and often.
If a broker you’re working with gives you the personal details and contact information for 10 local residents who have mentioned that they’re thinking about selling or renting their homes, you’re going to need to manage that data effectively. Personally identifiable data can be extremely sensitive, and the potential pitfalls of letting that information get into the wrong hands can lead to regulatory and business challenges.
Once you’ve converted a seller lead into someone who wants to list a home, it’s time to dive deeper into the data. You’ll need to get details on when the home was built, the lot size, the livable/rentable space, the total square footage, the number of rooms, the status of basements and attics, zoning details for the property, and other specifics that are necessary to file the listing. And you’ll need to do all of this in a format that complies with industry best practices for creating transparency among all parties throughout the sale.
While all of this data gathering can seem overwhelming, it’s also one of the areas where digital technologies are making life much easier. Instead of having to get photographs of the home developed and printed, you can simply post them on a website.
What’s more, you can move past printing paper forms and working with clients to fill them out. You can use custom form creation tools, like JotForm, to build documents for sellers, buyers, and more.
You can create forms that use proper terminology and include data fields for the relevant information, then work over the phone and via email to fill them out with clients, home inspectors, and other stakeholders involved with the listing. You can then share the forms with a broker to confirm compliance and convert them to a format that allows data to be posted to listing sites.
2. Managing leads
Identifying and partnering with sellers is only one component of real estate lead management. You’ll need to keep in touch with those sellers to provide the kind of service they’re looking for and ensure they have a positive experience.
Long-term relationships are key. If you’re lucky, you could help a family sell a house only to have them come back to you a few years later when they’re looking to purchase a rental property, all because they trust you from your earlier work. The relationship building you did converted that seller into a buyer lead.
Generating leads in the form of buyers is critical once you have sellers listing homes with you. As with seller leads, this process requires a lot of networking and relationship building so people in your community will trust you as a person to come to when they’re looking for a home.
The key is to think about your lead management strategy as a funnel. At the top of the funnel are people who are beginning to search for a home or thinking about putting their home up for sale. You may be able to reach them through blog posts and community workshops that bring interested parties to you in organic ways.
In the middle of the funnel are those who have chosen to buy or sell and are now comparing agents. This is where meeting them in person and helping them understand what you bring to the table is important.
At the bottom of the funnel, you have to think a bit differently depending on whether someone is a buyer or a seller. For sellers, the bottom of the funnel is the person who has narrowed down their options to a few agents and is close to a final choice. For buyers, it’s people who are considering just a few homes, and one of them is your listing. These leads should get significant, personal attention to ensure you can get them on board.
Balancing constant relationship building with lead management throughout the funnel is vital to maintaining a strong sales pipeline as a real estate agent. Hosting open houses helps, as they can capture both curious parties at the middle or top of the funnel and those moving toward a purchase.
3. Running an open house
There’s a lot of detailed information available that tells real estate agents how to host an open house. You can find some great advice pretty easily, but the messaging tends to boil down to a few key points:
- Market the event thoroughly, but make sure you target your messaging to the types of buyers you’re looking for.
- Have clear expectations about how you’ll process and compare offers that stem from the event.
- Create a comfortable, attractive environment that will help people feel at home in the property.
Those are great tips, but how do you go from raising interest at an open house to driving sales? A common tactic is to use a one-sheet description of the property alongside an offer sheet or rental application that allows prospects to reach out. But as more people have transitioned to digital lifestyles, fewer want to carry around and mail paper forms.
This is another area where custom form creation solutions, like JotForm, pay off. You can craft a an online version of a one-sheet template that you populate with key details and use an open house form to collect lead info. From there, you can craft and distribute a custom offer or rental applications. With these electronic forms available, you can simplify the open house. You can make the forms available via web or mobile, creating flexibility that improves your open house.
These three key aspects of the real estate agent job — handling seller and listing data, managing leads, and hosting an open house — all point to the benefits of digital technologies in the industry. Whether you’re embracing online marketing to build your personal brand and generate leads or using custom forms to eliminate data management headaches, being comfortable with digital tools can pay off.
You’ve made it this far. Do you still want to be a real estate agent? If so, great! You have your work cut out for you, but hopefully you also have a better idea of what that work is and what your job will look like if you get your license.
While the amount of work ahead may be daunting, the good news is that the rewards are real. The real estate industry is growing, and modern technologies are changing how people work.
The days of printing huge packets of home listings into books you show prospective buyers are fading away as online listings are now mainstream. The need to create, store, print, mail, and manage documents is disappearing.
Instead of sending out a rental application in the mail and hoping for a timely response, you’re using tools like JotForm to create custom online forms and distribute them to customers through whatever means is most convenient for them.
The ability to create secure electronic documents is a real game changer for the real estate industry, and it’s one perk you have to look forward to if you become an agent. If the idea of using digital tools to boost your future real estate career sounds exciting, reach out. We’d love to hear from you and talk more about what our technology does and your options for deploying it in your business.
Real estate agents who embrace digital technologies can set themselves apart in the market. Consumers are demanding faster, more responsive experiences with the organizations they work with. They may be willing to tolerate some old-school practices in real estate, but the Realtors who give them convenience can stand apart from the rest of the field.
Whether you’re looking to mostly go it alone and have a minimal partnership with a broker, or you want to join an existing agency, being aware of the opportunities created by technology can give you an advantage.
In the end, no digital technology can guarantee your success in the industry. But real estate is competitive. It’s a space where every advantage you can get could make the difference between getting a listing and losing the sale. Creating convenient, customer-focused experiences is key to maximizing your potential, and tools like JotForm make that possible.
We wish you the best of luck on your journey toward licensure as a real estate agent.