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Realtor Career Guide

What is a realtor?

A realtor, also known as a real estate agent, is a licensed professional who assists individuals in buying, selling, or renting properties, primarily residential homes. They are members of the National Association of Realtors (NAR), a real estate trade association in the U.S., and are dedicated to adhering to a strict code of ethics and standards of practice. These professionals play a vital role in the real estate industry by acting as intermediaries between buyers and sellers, bringing deals to closure, and contributing to the community by promoting homeownership and property investment.

Duties and responsibilities

Real estate agents are responsible for several tasks throughout the property transaction process. They list properties for sale and advertise them via various channels, including online platforms, open houses, and direct mailings. The role also involves conducting market analysis to determine fair property prices and advising clients based on this research.

Realtors assist buyers in searching for properties that meet their criteria, arrange property showings, and negotiate contract terms. They also facilitate the closing process by coordinating with escrow companies, lenders, home inspectors, and other professionals involved in the transaction.

Work environment

Realtors operate in a fast-paced, dynamic work environment that requires spending significant time outside the office. They frequently travel to various properties for showings, inspections, open houses, and client meetings. While real estate brokerages employ some real estate agents, many are self-employed and can set their own work schedules. However, this flexibility often includes working evenings, weekends, and holidays to accommodate clients’ availability and stay competitive in the real estate marketplace.

Typical work hours

Realtors typically have irregular work hours that extend beyond a 9-to-5 schedule. Their hours are client-driven, with evenings and weekends often necessary to accommodate showings, meetings, and networking events. This schedule can have a high degree of variability, with some days bringing long hours and others being relatively relaxed. Additionally, since real estate is often a time-sensitive business, success in this role also involves availability during peak seasons like spring and early summer, when most home buying and selling activities occur.

How to become a realtor

This career guide section outlines how to become a real estate agent. A career in real estate requires specialized coursework, licensing and preparation for an environment where initiative and hard work is rewarded.

Step 1: Obtain a high school diploma or equivalent

In the United States, you must first complete your high school education or its equivalent before proceeding to a career as a realtor. This foundational step is necessary before enrolling in any pre-licensing courses.

Step 2: Enroll in a pre-licensing course

Real estate agents must obtain a license to practice in their state. This requires completing a pre-licensing course provided by an accredited institution. These courses cover property ownership, real estate law, and contracts, preparing you for the licensing exam.

Step 3: Pass the real estate licensing exam

After completing the pre-licensing course, you will take a state-administered exam. The exam generally consists of two distinct sections, one on federal real estate laws and the other on state-specific laws. Passing this exam demonstrates your knowledge of relevant laws and practices.

Step 4: Apply for the real estate salesperson license

With a passing score on the licensing exam, you can now apply for a real estate salesperson license from your state’s real estate commission. This process will typically include paperwork and a fee. You may also need to provide proof of residency and the absence of criminal records.

Step 5: Join a real estate brokerage

Although you’re licensed, you won’t yet be able to practice real estate independently. You must first join a real estate brokerage. Brokers are experienced realtors who can guide new agents, provide them with workspaces, and offer unique insights from years of experience.

Step 6: Become a member of the National Association of Realtors

To use the title ‘Realtor’, you must become a member of the National Association of Realtors. NAR is the largest real estate trade association in the United States, offering numerous resources for its members, including access to comprehensive databases and networking events.

Step 7: Build your professional network and portfolio

After becoming a member of NAR, work to build your professional network and portfolio. Attend networking events, build relationships with fellow realtors, and start helping clients buy or sell properties. Experience is key in the real estate industry and will pave the way to a prosperous career.

How much do realtors make?

Realtor salaries vary greatly by experience, location, and organization. The number of transactions a real estate agent completes and their chosen real estate market specialization are the most significant factors influencing their total gross income. Please note, the numbers below do not represent commissions, which account for the majority of their income.

Highest paying states

  • Hawaii – $94,890
  • Connecticut – $91,360
  • New York – $89,800
  • Virginia – $87,860
  • Alaska – $85,640

Browse realtor salary data by market

Types of realtors

This career guide section highlights the various career types and areas of specialization for real estate agents. Below, we highlight the unique attributes and responsibilities of each job title.

Residential real estate agent

Those looking to work closely with families or individuals might consider a role as a residential real estate agent. These agents help clients buy, sell, or rent properties. Decoding the local housing market, arranging viewings, and carrying out negotiations are among their primary duties.

Commercial real estate agent

If you want to work with business properties, an opportunity as a commercial real estate agent might suit you. They facilitate the selling, leasing, or purchasing commercial properties, working primarily with business clients. They also consult clients on market conditions, property prices, and legal requirements.

Real estate broker

Another specialization is the role of a real estate broker. They often manage their own real estate businesses, and unlike agents, they can work independently. Brokers supervise real estate transactions, manage agents, and take on higher-level tasks such as business development and marketing for their agency.

Property manager

For those who prefer a more operational role in real estate, becoming a property manager might be a viable option. Property managers maintain real estate properties and ensure they meet the specific needs of tenants. Their responsibilities include collecting rent, addressing tenant concerns, and coordinating property maintenance and repairs.

Real estate appraiser

A job as a real estate appraiser might appeal to those with strong analytical skills. These professionals establish the value of properties through a careful evaluation process, considering the property’s features and condition along with market trends. Appraisers contribute to key property sales, taxation, and lending decisions.

Top skills for realtors

This section outlines the primary skills and traits needed for career success as a real estate agent. A well-rounded skill set is indispensable for navigating the dynamic landscape of real estate.

Understanding market value

A comprehensive knowledge of the real estate market, including up-to-date property laws and current market prices, is key. This knowledge enables you to provide valuable advice to your clients and negotiate the best outcomes.


In the real estate industry, versatility is essential as you must adapt to the diverse needs of each client. This flexibility allows you to work effectively with different property types and adjust your approach to meet various client expectations.

Outstanding communication skills

Communicating effectively with clients is a pivotal aspect of being a realtor. Whether explaining complex property laws, discussing markets trends, or negotiating deals, clarity and effectiveness are key.

Problem-solving abilities

Real estate deals often present difficulties that require swift and efficient solutions. Having a problem-solving mindset lets you address complications proactively, thereby ensuring smooth transactions and satisfied customers.

Networking skills

To succeed in the real estate industry, having a strong professional network is advantageous. Forming associations with other real estate agents, builders, and potential clients can help obtain valuable leads and partnerships.

Professional integrity

Trust and transparency are fundamental in real estate transactions. Therefore, maintaining professional integrity at all times – by being honest, transparent, and respectful – significantly enhances your reputation, client trust, and ultimately, your success in the industry.

Realtor career path

As a realtor, there’s a broad spectrum of specialties and career progression opportunities. One might opt to specialize in residential, commercial, or industrial properties. Another path could be toward property management, where realtors oversee the operation of properties on behalf of their owners.

Becoming a real estate broker is an attractive choice for ambitious professionals. Brokers have similar duties but are licensed to manage their own real estate businesses or take managerial roles in larger firms. This advancement often leads to increased income potential.

Some individuals may also decide to venture into real estate development or become a consultant, offering their expertise to others looking to invest in the property market. Such a path can be rewarding but may require additional education and certification.

Lastly, if you have a strong interest in laws and regulations, you could consider studying to become a real estate attorney, helping clients navigate the legal aspects of real estate transactions. This path would require attending law school and passing the bar exam in your state.

The realtor profession is becoming increasingly data-driven as digital technologies advance. The emphasis is on utilizing digital platforms for marketing, tracking consumer behavior patterns, and leveraging virtual and augmented reality to provide virtual tours of properties. The rise in remote work has shifted housing needs, causing a drift toward suburban areas.

This is a time of robust growth for commercial real estate as businesses expand and relocate. Realtors must refine their strategies to respond effectively to these trends.

Employment projections

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, realtors can expect a 5 percent job growth through 2031, which is close to the average for all occupations. Market conditions will be primarily driven by economic conditions and financing rates.

Realtor career tips

Understand the market

Successful real estate agents are masters of their local market. They know the ins and outs of home values, neighborhood trends, and potential growth areas. Keeping a close eye on market fluctuations and understanding how different factors can influence home prices can make the difference between closing a sale or missing out on a great opportunity. Following real estate blogs, attending local planning meetings, and constantly researching new listings will help you stay ahead of the curve.

Develop proficiency with online marketing

Today, real estate is overwhelmingly digital. From online listings to social media promotions, a strong online presence is a must for any realtor. This includes having a well-designed and user-friendly website, maintaining active social media profiles, and understanding how to utilize online advertising to target potential clients. Hiring a professional to help you design and manage your online presence can be a worthwhile investment.

Embrace continuous learning

The real estate industry is always evolving with new laws, technologies, and trends. You need to commit to lifelong learning, which may encompass attending real estate seminars, participating in training sessions and workshops, and routinely reading industry literature.

  • Real Estate Licensing Continuing Education
  • Certified Residential Specialist (CRS) Designation
  • Graduate, REALTOR Institute (GRI) Designation

Build a professional network

Networking is essential for real estate agents. Not only will a strong professional network provide you with potential customer referrals, but it also opens the door to collaborations, partnerships, and learning opportunities. Attending industry events and joining relevant professional associations are great ways to meet other realtors, real estate industry professionals, and potential clients.

  • National Association of Realtors
  • Council of Residential Specialists
  • Real Estate Buyer’s Agent Council
  • Women’s Council of Realtors

Where the realtor jobs are

Top employers

  • Keller Williams
  • Re/Max
  • Coldwell Banker
  • Berkshire Hathaway
  • Century 21

Top states

  • California
  • Florida
  • Texas
  • Arizona
  • North Carolina

Top job sites

  • zengig
  • Realtor.com
  • Indeed
  • LinkedIn
  • ZipRecruiter


What skills are necessary to succeed as a realtor?

Successful realtors typically possess strong interpersonal and communication skills, as it’s essential to establish and maintain client relationships. They’re detail-oriented, able to understand complex documents like housing regulations and contracts. Real estate agents should also possess excellent negotiation skills, as they often function as intermediaries between buyers and sellers. Technological savviness is also essential since many property listings and transactions occur online.

What kind of training do realtors need?

In the United States, becoming a realtor typically requires a high school diploma, completion of a pre-licensing course, and passing a state-administered licensing exam. Topics covered in the course often include real estate legal issues, ethics, real estate finance, contracts, taxation, and fundamentals of property management. Some real estate agents might also have additional training or degrees in business or finance.

Is there a difference between a real estate agent and a realtor?

Yes, there is a difference between a real estate agent and a realtor. Although both professions require state licensure to sell property, a realtor is a real estate professional who is also a member of the National Association of REALTORS®, a major trade organization. This membership obligates them to comply with the association’s strict Code of Ethics. Thus, all realtors are real estate agents, but not all real estate agents are realtors.

What are the common responsibilities of a realtor?

Realtors assist clients in buying, selling, and renting properties. They may also conduct market research, advertise properties, prepare documents like purchase agreements and leases, and negotiate on behalf of their clients. Additionally, they lead tours of properties for prospective buyers or renters. Real estate agents must also stay updated on local and national real estate markets and conditions.

What does the daily schedule for a realtor look like?

A realtor’s day will vary, often including evenings and weekends, to accommodate clients’ schedules. A typical day might consist of meeting with clients, showing properties, negotiating contracts, conducting market research, and advertising properties. They may also spend time handling administrative tasks, such as paperwork and customer relationship management. Flexible work hours are a common aspect of this profession.

How physically demanding is a realtor’s job?

The physical demands of a realtor’s job are generally minimal, but the job can involve a fair amount of walking or standing while showing properties. It’s also common to travel between different properties, offices, and meetings, so reliable transportation is necessary. Some light lifting of signs and literature may also be part of the job.

How does a realtor typically get paid?

Realtors typically work on commission, meaning they earn a percentage of the revenue from each transaction they broker. This commission is typically shared with the realtor representing the other party in the transaction. For example, if a real estate agent is aiding with the sale of a property, their commission might be a certain percentage of the sale price. The exact percentage can vary and must be negotiated between the realtor, their brokerage, and their clients.

What are some challenges a realtor may face in their career?

Realtors can face various challenges, including economic downturns, recessions, and local market conditions that can affect property values and sales volumes. Negotiation and problem-solving skills are key when dealing with these issues or when a sale hits a snag due to issues like inspection findings or financing problems. Additionally, because they are often self-employed, they must manage all aspects of their business, including marketing, customer relations, and administrative tasks, which can be demanding.

What types of properties does a realtor typically deal with?

Realtors can handle a wide range of properties, including residential, commercial, and rental properties. Some realtors specialize in specific types, like luxury homes, condominiums, or commercial spaces. Other real estate agents may focus on certain groups of buyers, such as first-time homebuyers or out-of-town investors. The types of properties they deal with can depend on their personal interests, skills, and the market conditions in their area.