With a dizzying cluster of local and state property laws, the modern real estate agent has become an invaluable resource for those looking to find, evaluate and finance real estate. Often acting as a catalyst between the various parties involved, a real estate agent is required to be licensed for the state in which they operate, ensuring they're competent as well as trustworthy. And this process has evolved in recent years, now containing more rules and regulations to protect consumers.
Through experience and industry knowledge, a real estate agent has the ability to provide hundreds of different and often highly creative options that enable people to purchase a home, land, business space or commercial property. In an attempt to remain competitive, many also include additional services that range from negotiating the purchase price and arranging financing to referring home inspectors, assisting with property insurance, and helping navigate the logistics involved with transfer of title.

Although some agents are salaried through large corporate entities, many real estate agents are not employed by one particular company or financial institution and therefore have a working relationship with a broad range of companies that serve the general public. Through this extensive network, they're able to deliver a high degree of value and benefits to the end consumer.

But what's really involved in setting up shop?

It's All About Who (and What) You Know

According to Salary.com and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, real estate agents - also known in some states as real estate brokers - earn anywhere from $36,000 to $93,000 annually depending on the type of properties they sell. Though some of the success attained by high-earners can be attributed to revenue acquired through commercial property sales, few real estate agents at any level succeed without a solid network of buyers and sellers at their disposal. And the surest way of cultivating these relationships is by word-of-mouth - referrals that are often based on the agent's knowledge of state and local laws related to properties within the area and their willingness to provide some of the enhanced services mentioned above.
States vary wildly on almost every aspect of real estate licensing, including the level of education required to obtain a license, the type and breadth of the examinations, and whether continuing education courses will be required for license renewal once an agent becomes licensed. In the same way, fees also vary from state to state, as does the valuable potential of reciprocity for those looking to offer services in more than one state.

Each state has its own set of requirements for obtaining a real estate license. Depending on where you live, a Google search for the term "regulations real estate agent [state]" (with [state] personalized to reflect your state) will provide the appropriate licensing department.

In addition, many larger firms will be members of either the National Associate of Realtors (NAR) or the National Association of Real Estate Brokers (NAREB), and expect their agents to adhere to a strict code of ethics and standards of practice - another huge benefit to the consumer. Both organizations provide a wealth of information as well as continuing education courses to satisfy the annual requirements for maintaining a real estate license in certain states.

Another resource provided by RE/MAX, one of the most successful and iconic real estate firms in the United States, offers a collection of materials to benefit veterans, military spouses and family members of existing agents, enabling them to find successful careers in the real estate industry.

Before Jumping In...

For many, the attractions to real estate include working outside an office setting and the freedom often present in a career that allows you to pretty much set your own schedule. But for those just starting out, establishing a reputation can often be tough, no matter how much time you dedicate. So if you're seriously considering a career in real estate, you should first:
  • Get the word out. Working with people you know and are comfortable with is the easiest way to overcome the "green" stage of your career. So tap your existing network, including friends, family, colleagues and acquaintances to let them you know you'll be getting your real estate license. You should also inform the people involved in the businesses within your local neighborhood.
  • Study and learn. Research the brokerage models available in your local market, selecting the one that provides the best business plan and offers a mentor within the office to help teach you the ropes. A mentor is an invaluable resource when combined with outside knowledge gained from real estate, marketing and technology books as well as trade publications, enabling you to provide the absolute highest level of service to your clients.
  • Save up for a rainy day. Having a cash reserve is a must in real estate, especially when you first get going. You won't be bringing in money right away, as deals take time to close. This trend will continue throughout your career, with large chunks of money coming in sporadically. So it's best to have a coffer to ensure your bills get paid on time when you're between deals.