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Real estate brokers and sales agents

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Real estate brokers and sales agents help people purchase or sell their home or investment property, which can be one of the most complex and important financial events in a person's life. Brokers and agents have a thorough knowledge of the real estate market. They know which neighborhoods will best fit clients' needs and budgets. They are familiar with local zoning and tax laws and know where to obtain financing. Agents and brokers also act as an intermediary in price negotiations between buyers and sellers.

Real estate agents usually are independent sales workers who provide their services to a licensed real estate broker on a contract basis. In return, the broker pays the agent a portion of the commission earned from the agent's sale of the property. Brokers are independent business people who sell real estate owned by others; they also may rent and manage properties for a fee. When selling real estate, brokers arrange for title searches and for meetings between buyers and sellers. Once both parties have signed contract to buy or sell a property, the real estate broker or agent must see to it that all special terms of the contract — such as home inspections and repairs — are met before the closing date. A broker may help to arrange favorable financing from a lender for the prospective buyer, which often makes the difference between success and failure in closing a sale. Brokers supervise agents who may have many of the same job duties.

Brokers manage their own offices, advertise properties and handle other business matters. Some combine other types of work, such as selling insurance or practicing law, with their real estate business.

Brokers also must have properties to sell. Consequently, they spend a significant amount of time obtaining listings — owner agreements to place properties for sale with the firm.

Most real estate brokers and sales agents sell residential property. A small number, usually employed in large or specialized firms, sell commercial, industrial, agricultural or other types of real estate.

Agents and brokers often work more than a standard 40-hour week. Although the hours are long and often irregular, most agents and brokers also have the freedom to determine their own schedule.

Training and qualifications

In every state and the District of Columbia, real estate brokers and sales agents must be licensed. Prospective agents must be a high school graduate, at least 18 years old and pass a written test. The examination — more comprehensive for brokers than for agents — includes questions on basic real estate transactions and laws affecting the sale of property. Most states require candidates for the general sales license to complete between 30 and 90 hours of classroom instruction. Those seeking a broker's license need between 60 and 90 hours of formal training and a specific amount of experience selling real estate, usually one to three years.

State licenses typically must be renewed every one or two years, usually without examination. However, many states require continuing education for license renewal.

Personality traits are equally as important as academic background. Brokers look for applicants who possess a pleasant personality, honesty and a neat appearance. Maturity, tact, trustworthiness and enthusiasm for the job are required in order to motivate prospective customers in this highly competitive field. Agents should be well organized, detail oriented and have a good memory for names, faces and business details.

Job outlook

Employment of real estate brokers and sales agents is expected to grow more slowly than the average for all occupations through the year 2010. A large number of job openings will arise each year from the need to replace workers who transfer to other occupations or leave the labor force. In this highly competitive field, well-trained, ambitious people who enjoy selling should have the best chance for success.

Increasing use of electronic information technology will continue to increase the productivity of agents and brokers, thus limiting job growth. Another limiting factor is the increasing ability of prospective customers to conduct their own searches for properties that meet their criteria by accessing real estate information on the Internet.


In 2000, real estate brokers held about 93,000 jobs; real estate sales agents held 339,000 jobs. Median annual earnings of salaried real estate brokers, including commission, were $47,690 in 2000. The median annual earnings of salaried real estate agents, including commission, were $27,640 in 2000. Median annual earnings in the industries employing the largest number of salaried real estate agents in 2000 were as follows:

Residential building construction $44,940
Subdividers and developers 32,030
Real estate agents and managers 27,770
Real estate operators and lessors 20,770

Related links

For information about opportunities in real estate:

National Association of Realtors, 700 11th St. NW, Washington, DC 20001.

Adapted from the Labor Department's Occupational Outlook Handbook.