How to Start a Real Estate Business: 14 Essential Tips
Starting a real estate business ain’t for the faint of heart. What other industry requires you to cold call dozens of leads every day — only to close approximately five deals in your first year (if you’re lucky)?
By most estimates, 87% of real estate agents fail within the first five years. But for those who have what it takes, starting your own real estate business can absolutely give you the seven-figure job of your dreams.
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Here’s a candid look at how to start a real estate business, plus our best advice for avoiding mistakes that hijack momentum as you grow.
Plan Like a Boss
You know the old adage about failing to plan, right?
The vast majority of real estate agents find it much easier to work in their business, as opposed to on it.
For many new agents, real estate is their second, third, or even fourth career. You loved the idea of “being your own boss” while making more than you did at your last job. But freedom has a very different meaning for an employee versus a business owner.
The question is, which are you?
The first thing you need to know about starting a real estate business is that, yes, this is a business. Whether you’re a solo agent or new to a team, if you have dreams of outperforming the average Realtor salary $45,990 per year or roughly $25 per hour at last check), you need to start thinking like a business owner — and that means planning.
How to Start a Real Estate Business
- Craft your ideal personal plan
- Align your business plan
- Build a consistent marketing plan
- Have a website
- Prospect consistently
- Nurture leads
- Get a CRM
- Have good time management
1. Craft your ideal personal plan
Before you set the right financial goals for your business, you need clear financial goals for your life.
Commissions are great but — let’s face it — we all came into this business wanting something bigger and better than what we have right now. Whether that’s the 187-foot yacht of your dreams or the ability to leave the office at 2:00 p.m. so you can pick up your kids from school, take time to think through what your ideal life would look like.
Questions to consider:
- What time do you want to start work?
- What time do you want to finish?
- How do you want to feel each day?
- How much money do you want to make?
Want to retire at 65? Pay your kids’ college in full? Figure out how much you need put aside every month in order to make that happen. It’s so much easier to keep picking up that phone when you know exactly where your profits and commissions are going.
2. Align your business plan
Now that you’ve put pen to paper to figure out exactly what your biggest, most anti-paycheck-to-paycheck life looks like, it’s time to talk business.
Start writing your business plan, paying special attention to the things that set you apart from the other real estate businesses in your area. Give it some real thought. This is where your personal and business identities can really come together to make profit-driving magic.
Questions to consider:
- How does selling real estate make a meaningful difference for you, your prospects, and even the world?
- What are the values and principles that drive your real estate business?
- How are those different from the real estate business next door?
- What are the three to five things you are going to own completely in the business?
- Who will take care of the rest?
Even if you’re just looking to take administrative work off your plate by hiring your first virtual assistant, it’s critical to create that big picture vision to keep your team inspired and avoid repeating unproductive patterns.
3. Build a Consistent Marketing Plan
In the beginning, it was all about passing your licensing exam, selecting your best-fit brokerage and building up your database without coming across as “salesy” to the friends and family in your Sphere of Influence (SOI).
But kicking back and coasting as soon as the referrals start rolling in is one of the biggest mistakes growing agents make. Whether your dream is to become the next Facebook ads guru or a master of Zillow conversions, the only thing you really need to know about marketing is that it’s the one part of your business that never sleeps.
Train your brain how to think strategically about what’s happening in your market and be ready to offer something of value to your leads, no matter where they come from.
Questions to consider:
- What does your unique approach and personality bring to the table for your prospects?
- What can you offer that no one else can?
- What are the latest buying, selling, and pricing trends in your market?
- What are some creative ways to discuss these trends (including the numbers) with prospects?
First, nail down your unique value proposition. This will drive all your future marketing.
4. Have a website
For 44% of all buyers, the very first step they take in their home search is to look online.
No matter how much local marketing you do, you need an web presence to attract and engage online leads. It may cost a little money up front, but a solid, SEO-focused website that lets you integrate IDX listings and usher those leads right into your CRM is a crucial foundation of every successful real estate business.
Once you have this asset in place, you can start moving toward a consistent blogging and social media strategy to generate more leads.
5. Prospect consistently
Shiny object syndrome is a big problem in real estate. But the most consistent agent always wins. So, choose your prospecting system and stick to it.
In the early days, it’s never a bad idea to optimize your SOI. In fact, the Atlanta-based Graham Seeby Group transformed a list of just 279 contacts into $90 million in home sales in just four years by consistently marketing to their past clients and sphere.
Here’s how co-founder Justin Seeby tells it:
“We focused on the ‘mets’ in our database and it was amazing the volume of transactions we started doing right out of the gate! For example, we did $2 million worth of sales from one couple I hadn’t talked to in 13 years. I mailed them a postcard, because I was afraid to pick up the phone and call them. I didn’t know if they’d know who I was. When they got the postcard, they called me. They ended up spending $1.2 million on a new house and selling an $800,000 house.”
Justin’s prospecting strategy was based on a simple schedule of mailers, emails and phone calls. A winning system doesn’t have to be complicated but it absolutely must be consistent.
6. Nurture leads
If a lead contacts you, they expect to hear from you.
Mike Pannell is a master lead generator and the leader behind Nu Home Source Realty. According to Mike, a follow-up system is crucial to long-term lead conversion. “I tell my agents that 70% of people are not going to buy for 180.5 days. If you’re waiting on those new leads to buy, you’re only going to close three percent. That will make you enough money to survive, but your goal is six months and beyond. You’ve got to follow up to get to those; you’ve got to build that pipeline to get to those people.”
In addition to avid blogging and website optimization, Mike also checks up on the competition to see what’s happening on the ground in terms of follow up. “I sign up on a lot of different websites out there. I don’t give them a real name, but I give them a real phone number. And I can tell you what, I don’t get a lot of calls.”
Be the agent that’s always there and you’ll automatically beat the herd.
7. Get a CRM
At the end of the day, a business is a system.
Barry Jenkins is the broker-owner of the #2 Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Team in the United States. He’s also a guy who hates inefficiency. “I, to a fault, like to make things easy. The reason my business is so successful is that it was built on the core principle of leverage.”
In order to bring that principle to life, Barry uses his CRM as a true lead conversion machine. He walks leads through relevant nurture campaigns based on lead source and automates the entire transaction process.
This kind of boss-level organization is how Barry and his team sold 240 homes in 2017. And it’s not all about the front end, either. Barry also uses his CRM to send automated onboarding drips to new team members and keep the business admin completely streamlined so that nothing important ever falls through cracks.
8. Have good time management
If you’re like most of us, a big part of the dream is to have more time and energy for the things that really light you up.
But most agents who set out to build a real estate business haven’t built that into the plan. They end up with a revolving door of team members and have to roll up their sleeves and try to outwork the business problem du jour. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
For expert automaters like Barry, the desire to win back time for both himself and his team was a key motivation. “I had to find a way to add so much value for my agents that they wouldn’t leave and in the process, figure out a way to free up some time so that I could focus on my family.”
This is where automation can make all the difference.
Once you’ve created your personal vision, business plan, and unique value prop, it’s time to get down to brass tacks.
How do you enter the real estate field and develop as a real estate professional? Here’s what you’ll need to do.
1. Get a real estate license
Obtaining a real estate license is an important first step in your real estate career. The timeline, qualifications, and costs of getting your real estate license are different from state to state, so consult your local real estate bureau to understand what’s required.
Many states require pre-licensing and renewal courses as well. Once you have your license, however, you can legally sell, broker, or rent real estate in the state in which you’ve obtained your license. There’s one caveat here: Most states require you to work with a brokerage for the first two to three years as an agent. So let’s dive into what that means, exactly.
2. Find a brokerage
A real estate brokerage is an agency where real estate agents work. You might choose to work for a national franchise like Keller Williams Realty or RE/MAX LLC, or a local boutique brokerage in your area. There are also virtual brokerages popping up around the internet, so do a little digging and find out which option best aligns with your goals.
Consider company culture, commission structure, and possible mentorships when you’re selecting a brokerage. Choose a place that reflects a kind of culture you’ll thrive in, feel fairly compensated in, and one in which there will be people from whom you’re excited to learn.
3. Join the National Association of Realtors (NAR)
Want to call yourself a REALTOR®? Until you join the National Association of Realtors, you can’t. A NAR membership will also earn you access to the Multiple Listing Services (MLS) where you’ll be able to search other realtor’s listings.
4. Pay your dues
Don’t expect to get your license, join a brokerage, and start selling million-dollar homes. Digital marketing strategist Hillary Robert says, “New real estate agents need to know that building a business takes time, hard work, and effort. To build a sustainable career in real estate, they need to be willing to put in the elbow grease to build an audience and database of contacts. Then they need to learn how to work it, provide value, and be consistent.”
Prepare to up your sleeves, do the hard work networking and supporting more seasoned realtors for a few years, and don’t expect to be bringing in the big bucks right away.
5. Find a mentor
Learn from those around you. Is there someone in your brokerage who specializes in FSBOs or has a knack for running Facebook ads? Set up time to grab coffee with them once a month, see if you can shadow them for a day, or offer to help with a project they’re spearheading.
Spend time and build relationships with people who are good at the things you’d like to be good at. It will pay dividends in the years to come.
6. Build your personal brand
One thing that longtime realtors know to be true is that real estate is a lead generation business. You should always be building your personal brand and expanding your network.
You can do this by building a personal real estate website outside of the one you have on your brokerage’s site. Create a social media presence for your professional brand. And host happy hours and networking events that will get your name out in the community.
When you get to the point where you’re responsible, not only for your own success, but also for the success of your team, it’s incredibly important to give them every chance to win. Let automation take on some of the grunt work so everyone can focus on what matters most.