No 'easy' button: Success in real estate takes time, effort, money 

No one should go into real estate expecting a quick payoff, but hard work and a commitment to learn increase the odds of success.

October 23, 2022
4 minutes

Key points:

  • More than half of agents with less than 2 years’ experience earned under $10,000 in 2021.
  • Classes and mentorship programs can help bring new agents up to speed.
  • New agents should look for a collaborative – not competitive – brokerage or team culture. 

Success doesn’t come easy – especially in real estate. Despite the hot market and rising home prices over the past several years, new agents shouldn’t expect to cash in, at least not right away. According to a NAR report, 57% of real estate agents with less than two years of experience earned under $10,000 in 2021.

“I definitely know people who came into the business when I did and they did not last,” says Marian Chesbrough, a Berkshire Hathaway agent based in Alpharetta, Georgia. “I think a lot of people underestimate how hard it is and what a long, slow build it can be.”

Chesbrough got her license in 2012, but her children were still young so she took things slowly, working part time at first. She had her first closing in March 2013. “That gave me some confidence,” she recalls. “The sale was a referral from an acquaintance and that client referred me to a friend of theirs. That’s when I first thought, ‘OK, I am going to be successful.’”

Darcy Richardes is an agent with the Boyenga Team/Compass in Los Altos, California. She attributes her success to “taking baby steps” in the beginning. She worked as an agent’s assistant before getting her real estate license. From there, she got a job in new home sales. “It’s the job no one wants because you work every Saturday and Sunday, but you get a salary and I was recently divorced, so that was important to me. Plus, I learned a lot about contracts through that position.”

Richardes took on another job as an agent’s assistant and then ran the Boyenga Team’s CRM. “I learned how to talk about properties and I learned how to talk to clients,” she says. “Eventually I started working with buyers, but I never did any listings my first five years. It was baby steps, but I learned something important every step of the way.”

In addition to having patience, Chesbrough and Richardes said many new agents don’t realize the financial investment they’ll need to make.

“You’ve got to spend money on office space, insurance, MLS fees, advertising – and that’s all before you’re making any money at all,” says Chesbrough.

Agents should also consider carving out time for education. Identifying – and filling – gaps in market or industry knowledge can give new agents a leg up. “Especially when you’re building your business and you have the time, it’s important to take classes on inspections or marketing or staging. Talk to inspectors. Learn about permitting and disclosures – whatever you need to round out your knowledge,” says Richardes. She adds that it’s smart to use those early months to build your network of contractors, plumbers, electricians, inspectors and repair people. 

“When you let people know that you have those resources, people will start seeing you as a professional. If you have the attitude that you’re there to help, people will remember that when they need an agent.”

Both Chesbrough and Richardes agree that working with a mentor or team that provides support is vital. Everyone needs a sounding board or person to turn to for advice.

“I joined a mentorship program, and my mentor helped me through my first transaction,” says Chesbrough. “It wasn’t required, but there are just so many things you don’t even know you don’t know at that point. If it’s not a formal program, look for a brokerage that’s good about sharing information. You don’t want to end up somewhere agents view each other as competition. There really is business out there for everyone.”

Real estate is rarely a get-rich-fast endeavor, at least as far as agents are concerned. For most, success requires time, hard work and consistency.

“I see agents who think they’re going to sell a million-dollar house right after they get their license,” says Richardes. “That might happen for some people, but it’s the exception. It really is a good career, but it’s simply not as easy as many people wish it was.”

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