Real Estate Career Guide (Roles, Skills, Degrees & Licensing)
The real estate industry is much more than well-dressed agents who show open houses. The field also includes a dynamic group of professionals who work on all aspects of developing, buying, selling, financing and maintaining property, whether commercial, residential or industrial.
Particularly when it comes to the many important decisions related to buying or selling real estate, people look to real estate professionals for guidance. In good and bad economic times, clients rely on the services of real estate professionals such as agents, brokers and appraisers to negotiate profitable deals and protect their investments.
Regardless of whether the housing market is thriving, real estate professionals with a high level of education and experience will always be in demand. Real estate careers flourish both in large metropolitan areas that offer a steady flow of work or in smaller towns that have the potential for growth. With the help of technological advancements, some real estate careers can offer flexible hours, the ability to work from home and the option of being self-employed.
Real Estate Careers to Choose From
The real estate industry is a multi-trillion dollar industry that creates or supports over 9 million jobs in this nation's economy. A real estate career encompasses an incredibly diverse range of job possibilities with great potential for advancement. Here are several real estate career options and their accompanying responsibilities:
Real Estate Developers
Real estate development is often considered the heart of the real estate industry because it fuels the transactional side of the profession. A developer must be a visionary, a politician, a business person and a seer, predicting trends and solving the unique set of problems that come with any development project. Real estate development covers several factors—not only the obvious planning, architectural design and construction aspects but also business-related fields such as entrepreneurship and finance.
Agents and Brokers
Real estate agents and brokers are primarily responsible for helping clients buy and sell property. They must understand property tax laws and financing options, and effectively market properties that need to be sold. Often working more than 40 hours a week, real estate agents spend much of their time on-site with clients.
Property managers are hired for their expertise in managing community or homeowners' associations, office buildings, apartment complexes or commercial properties. The responsibilities vary by specialty, but generally include dealing with the financial aspects of real estate management, collecting association dues and hiring individuals for services such as landscaping, janitorial duties or security.
Real Estate Appraisers and Assessors
The main task of real estate appraisers and assessors is to calculate the estimated value of a property. Assessors usually work for local governments and help to determine property values primarily for tax purposes, often assessing whole lots or neighborhoods at one time. Real estate appraisers typically handle property value estimates whenever any property is sold, mortgaged, insured or taxed. Appraisers can be hired by buyers, sellers or lenders.
Real Estate Finance
Besides the team of professionals who develop, sell, appraise and manage real estate, several key elements to any real estate deal rest in the financial area of real estate. Without underwriters, real estate analysts and loan officers, the planning, building, buying, selling, and managing of real estate simply wouldn't happen.
Corporate Real Estate
Additionally, there's the corporate realm of real estate to contend with as well. Corporations are among the largest owners and users of real estate in the United States, and corporate real estate professionals deal with the buying, selling and management of property for these companies. These professionals must manage their company's assets while keeping in mind how their work can benefit the company's core business, whether it is manufacturing, financial or high-tech.
Necessary Skills for Real Estate Professionals
Whichever area of real estate interests you, a successful real estate career requires tremendous drive and hard work. While the skill sets needed by the different career options are so diverse, helpful skills include analytical and organizational skills, mathematical aptitude, proficiency in computer and digital technology, and effective presentation skills. To make sure you refer clients to trustworthy specialists, real estate professionals must also be able to build a network that includes others in the industry as well as those in related professions, such as lawyers, mortgage lenders and insurance agents.
Overview of Education for Real Estate
People enter the real estate field with diverse educational backgrounds and varied career goals. Some are at the beginning of their careers while others are pursuing the challenge of a mid-life second career.
Whichever road you're on, your chances of success are directly related to your level of preparation and commitment. This is one career that really requires self-motivation, and you will be way ahead of the competition if you've got solid knowledge and education in your toolkit. Here are some important areas of education to consider.
Real Estate Degree Options
Whether you are interested in development, finance, property management or brokerage, a bachelor's degree is usually considered a crucial first step in a real estate career. While real estate agents and brokers are not required to have a bachelor's (a high school diploma is required), the financial transactions and responsibilities surrounding real estate sales have become increasingly complex and more companies are choosing to hire college graduates. And if you want to advance into other areas such as corporate real estate, a bachelor's degree becomes even more important.
Colleges and universities offer several business options for potential real estate professionals, including:
- Real Estate
- Business Administration
In addition to the core finance and economics classes you'll take with these degree programs, you should seek out courses that cover real estate law topics, land-use planning, ethics and environmental issues. Marketing and finance courses are especially important if you are interested in managing or owning a real estate company. Other courses to consider include statistics and English.
Appraisers and assessors are not required to hold a real estate degree in order to practice but since 2008, all assessors and appraisers who need a license in order to practice will need to have their bachelor's degree or equivalent in credit hours. The most popular areas to earn a bachelor's degree are economics, finance or real estate. Experience is also mandatory in order to obtain a license or certification.
Property managers generally have a bachelor's degree and the current trend, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, suggests that employers are increasingly hiring college graduates with a bachelor's or master's degree in business administration, accounting, finance, real estate or public administration to fill these jobs.
Master of Business Administration (MBA)
Most employers look for real estate professionals who have a high level of expertise in handling the financial and legal complexities that accompany real estate transactions. For those who are interested in careers in real estate development or finance or in corporate real estate, earning an MBA will sharpen your business skills and provide you with the educational credentials that will increase your appeal to potential employers. For those looking to advance their careers into management, an MBA is a must. Career changers who may need to work full time while attending school will find that an online MBA degree program is a smart option due to its inherent flexibility.
Real Estate Licensing
For many real estate careers you will need to have a license issued by the state in which you intend to practice. This applies to brokers and agents, and in some cases appraisers and assessors. For real estate agents and brokers there's no getting around it—it's a mandatory requirement for every state in the U.S. as well as the District of Columbia.
Brokers and Real Estate Agents
Every state requires real estate agents and brokers to have a license. This license is obtained by passing a written examination—more comprehensive for a broker than agent–and must be renewed every one to two years by attending continuing education courses or seminars. A real estate broker's license also requires experience in the field (usually one to three years) and a minimum training program of 60 to 90 hours. Some states waive the field experience if the applicant has a bachelor's degree in real estate.
Many states prepare their own unique testing, while others use a nationally prepared exam. The tests for brokers and real estate agents are comprehensive, with a certain percentage of the questions requiring potential professionals to solve mathematical problems while another percentage of the test deals with state-specific real estate law, rules and regulations.
Appraisers and Assessors
Appraisers and assessors of real estate are required, by federal law, to be state-licensed or certified if they are involved in any federally related transactions with a loan amount of $250,000 or more. Appraisers are not required to have a license on loan amounts less than this, but many states require practicing appraisers to have a license, just as they do brokers and agents.
For real estate appraisers, licensing qualifications vary by state but must conform to the standards set by The Appraisal Foundation, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Property assessors must meet licensing criteria that have been determined by an assessor board at the local or state level. One type of state-issued appraiser license allows an appraiser to value any type of property, while another state-issued license, the state-certified residential real property appraiser license, allows an appraiser to value any residential unit of one to four families regardless of value.
An assessor's qualifications also vary by state but are very similar to the licensure and certification required by appraisers. In most states, the assessor board sets education and experience requirements that must be met in order to obtain certification to practice.
Property managers, who oversee the operation of commercial, industrial or residential real estate, are required by most states to hold either a property management license or a real estate agent license because part of their responsibilities involve collecting rent, negotiating leases and listing properties. There are a couple of exceptions; Idaho and Maine do not require a real estate agent license and the State of Washington only requires a property manager to be licensed if they don't own the property they are managing. Managers of federally subsidized public housing are required to be certified.
Real Estate Licensing and Education Options
Every state has a website that will allow you to log on and read licensing requirements and find approved educational programs in your area. These institutions may include an online class or traditional classroom training. Almost every community college—and many four-year colleges and universities—offer courses in real estate.
Students who are just starting school, and are in business programs with the intention of pursuing real estate careers, may find the traditional university or college classroom environment more stimulating, while already-employed professionals contemplating a career change may find the online option a better fit. Online programs allow you to continue working while taking the required courses for your new career at your own pace and on your schedule.
Another option for real estate license training is private real estate school, which is generally taught by educators, lawyers, brokers, finance professionals and real estate companies. These are private schools monitored closely by real estate regulatory agencies. In some states, real estate brokerages themselves run programs that will allow you to obtain your license. Whichever option seems best, the most important thing is to check the regulations and requirements for the state in which you intend to practice and find the information and training that will suit your needs and career goals.