Testing the Waters vs. Diving Right In: Starting Your Real Estate Career

Many people just starting a Real Estate career (or just starting to think about a Real Estate career) wonder whether they should make a full-on career change right off the bat, or whether they should start by wading in slowly and testing the waters. Depending on your circumstances, either one could be the right answer. There are many factors to consider; let's look at a few.


Since most people in any occupation are at least partially doing it for the money, let's start here. Obviously you're not likely to make as much money working part time as full time, but how much can you expect? According to the 2020 NAR Member Profile :

  • 15% of members worked 20 hours per week or less, and earned a median gross income of $10,000 per year

  • Members working 40-59 hours per week earned a median gross income of $78,800 per year

  • The median business expenses were $6,290 in 2019

Statistics alone can give an incomplete picture; number of hours worked are a good, but not absolute predictor of income. For example, agents with more years of experience and a more developed clientele will generally earn more than newbies working the same number of hours.

Unfortunately, business expenses for a part-time agent may not be significantly less than for a full-time agent. A part-time agent may do less marketing, and may use their car less than a full-time agent, but expenses such as education, licensing, fees, and dues will be pretty much the same for either. Newer licensees still taking Postlicensing classes need to take those costs into account.

However, for a lot of new agents just starting out, keeping their "day job" and working in Real Estate part time is the only way to survive until they build up their business. It may take a considerable amount of time to nurture one lead into a sale. Experienced agents with a robust client base may have transactions in various stages at any one time; newer agents just starting out may go weeks or months without a commission check. Another source of income (or a large savings account) will be a necessity. Of course, there's a catch-22 here: the more time you can put into it, the faster you'll develop an income you can live on -- and the reverse is true as well.


As we've just seen, time is money, at least to an extent, but that's not the only consideration. In order to do business, an agent must be available to clients, as well as to other service providers. "Time is of the essence" in many aspects of a Real Estate

transaction, meaning things need to get done right away, and many activities can't be completed at night or put off until the weekend. A part-time agent with a full-time outside job may find herself in a conflict between the demands of the two. Add family or other commitments, and it becomes even more complicated. Nights and weekends are prime "client time" for agents, but service providers (appraisers, attorneys, etc.) generally work weekdays.

That said, it's complicated, but it's not impossible. If your regular job is also flexible, and your employer is understanding of your situation, it may be easier to balance the requirements of both. If your domestic partner is willing to take up your slack at home for awhile, you may be able to use time normally spent on those responsibilities for building your Real Estate business into a full-time concern -- or if you're single, child- and pet-less, and can "live to work" for awhile. But none of these arrangements will work out on a permanent basis; they're all temporary solutions to help make it possible to turn a part-time business into a full-time concern.

On the other hand, full-time Real Estate agents don't exactly sit around the pool all day. A full-time agent making a good living at Real Estate is generally a very busy person! The phrase, "live it, breathe it, eat it, and sleep it" applies here; successful agents are often working on multiple transactions in various stages at any given time, and are always looking for new leads. Even when they're "off", they're not really off -- so if you want a full-time career in Real Estate it will be important to love what you do, as well as to be proactive in making time for family and other activities that are important to you.

Many Real Estate agents team up with other agents and divide the work -- and the commission checks -- according to who's available to complete necessary tasks. Perhaps one handles weekend client appointments while another is available to deal with service providers during the week, and everybody chases down leads. Division of labor (and pay) vary from team to team, and teams are becoming more popular business models in the industry.


As is true in many vocations, someone committed to a full-time practice is often seen as more "professional" than someone working part time with another job. This perception is frequently shared by clients, colleagues, and potential brokers, and while not necessarily true, it can cause extra hurdles for the part-time agent to overcome.

While it is certainly true that someone who devotes 40 hours or more per week to Real Estate will gain knowledge and experience more quickly than someone who is involved 20 hours per week or less, that doesn't mean that full-time agents are automatically knowledgeable and professional, or that all part time agents are inexperienced or apathetic. In either case, those who put in the effort to learn their market area, stay current on industry trends, and behave in a professional manner will gain a reputation as knowledgeable and professional, and experience will follow.

However, the part-time agent will still need to combat the perception of being less serious about their business. Perhaps clients don't have to know you're part time, any more than they have to know you're brand new -- especially if you work with a team -- but brokers in charge of firms where you might want to affiliate will need to know. Some of them are more open to working with part-time agents than others. Part of a broker's job is to train and mentor new agents so they -- and the firm -- have the best chance of success. Some brokers see full-time agents as being a better investment of their time and financial resources. Others are happy to take on a part-timer as long as they know you're going to put in the effort to succeed. Brokers who take on part time agents often want to hear your strategy for moving your business into a full-time concern; if you don't have one, they may be less interested in working with you.


Your circumstances, your reasons for choosing a part-time or full-time career, will have an impact on your chances of success.

If you are serious about making Real Estate your career, get really excited thinking about participating in Real Estate activities, and have savings

or passive income to cover several months' living expenses, then a full-time business might be best for you. You'll gain experience faster, build up a client base, and start to earn a living in Real Estate much more quickly. You'll be able to devote the time necessary to advance quickly without being pulled in too many directions, and you'll have an easier time finding a broker to work with.

On the other hand, maybe you have the desire and intention, but you have to keep another job in order not to starve while getting started. If the other job can be fewer than 40 hours, or can be on a flexible schedule, you increase your chance of success in Real

Estate with less risk of burnout. You'll need to manage your time very well, and you may want to consider joining a team and working cooperatively with other agents. Put some thought into a three-year plan for going full-time in Real Estate, and work toward that goal.

Perhaps money isn't the issue; maybe you're retiring from a career that has left you with "enough" money, or you have a good source of passive income, but you'd like a new challenge, a way to stay busy, and a little more income without making a full-time commitment. You get excited about Real Estate and you want to work, just not all the time. You'll need to manage your time well also, to make sure you put in enough time to make this worth the investment, but not so much that you feel the need to retire all over again. Decide how much time you're willing to commit, and make that time count!

Finally, if you are considering Real Estate as a permanent "side hustle" for a little extra income on top of a full-time career, you may wish to reconsider. Real Estate is demanding, in terms of both time and money invested. If you can only give a little time on an occasional basis as a new agent, your chances of doing more than breaking even on your financial investment are far lower than your chances of burnout and disappointment.

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