March 20, 2009

Reader Mailbag: Jobs in Real Estate

Every Thursday (oops, in this case … Friday), the JobMonkey blog answers reader questions about their job search. From how to write a cover letter or negotiate a salary offer to finding a summer job at Disney World and avoiding work at home scams, we’ve got you covered.

Dear JobMonkey,

I am looking for some advice on pursuing a career as a real estate agent. Until the end of last year, I worked as a travel agent, so I am used to working with people and the sales aspect of the job. Then I got laid off from that job in November and honestly, there are not a lot of travel agencies looking for new employers since leisure and business travel is down so much right now. In brainstorming for a new field, I came up with the idea of working in real estate, but I am worried this isn’t the best time for that either. Any advice for someone seeking to break into the field? Or, do you have any better suggestions?

Alyse in Kansas City

Dear Alyse,

Thank you so much for your letter. I’m sorry to hear about your layoff. It sounds like you are doing some really good work to figure out your next step, including assessing your current industry and exploring other options.

Beyond job security, though, you are right to think about other factors, too. A steady paycheck is key, of course, but if you hate your job — or have no skills for it whatsoever — then you probably won’t last there long anyway!

From a skills stand-point, it sounds like real estate could be a good fit for you. Keep in mind that the job likely would require you to be a bit more proactive than in your last career. Rather than clients coming to you, a big part a real estate agent’s job (especially in today’s economy) is to drum up business.

Bear in mind that while the housing slump has hit some areas of the country really hard, other areas are still much more stable. Prices are down across the board, but in Florida, Nevada, Michigan and California people are seeing a 30-60%+ cut in their home values. In places like Kansas City, however, the drop is probably closer to 10%.

Another difference between the travel and real estate industries is salary. As a real estate agent, your earnings will be strictly commission based. Your earning potential as an agent is likely higher than in your previous job, but you also have significantly less earning security.

Finally, keep in mind that some retraining will be required for a career in real estate. In addition to a real estate license, most states require you to complete some pre-licensing courses. A good place to learn about the licensing requirements in your state is the Mortgage News Daily. You might also want to check out their message boards for agents, to get a better sense of the real issues agents are facing right now.

As to whether or not this is the best time to become a real estate agent, I am of two minds. On the one hand, let’s be honest, it’s probably not the ideal time to make a move. In fact, many novice agents are getting out the field. During the housing boom (bubble), the field became rather over-saturated.

On the other hand, top-notch agents are still making money today, because even in this economy, they know how to sell houses. It’s in their blood. But is it in yours? Ultimately that’s the question. You don’t have give up on your dreams because of the recession. You may have to be more purposeful, creative or patient to make those dreams come true — but you don’t have to abandon them altogether.

The thing is, I’m not hearing you say that this is your dream. I’m hearing you say that you think this might be a good way to transfer your skills, talents and abilities. If your attraction to real estate is only that it seems like a logical lateral move, you may want to devote some more time to finding something that really sparks your interest.

In the meantime, if recession-proofed industries are a top priority for you, check out this post from a few weeks ago about some of the hottest, most secure job fields out there these days. Maybe your dream employer is on that list? Good luck!

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