Transcending the Median

What do real estate brokers really earn? Every year the National Association of Realtors releases data on the median income of its members. For 2017 the median income for real estate agents countrywide was just under $40,000. Hardly a living wage! Of course, there are many variables that go into the number. People who have qualified to be brokers almost always earn more than salespeople; maybe it’s the extra commitment required to get the higher level qualification, which indicates a greater commitment to success. And agents with broker’s licenses who have been in the business over 15 years tend to earn far more than their colleagues who are newer: the median income for these experienced brokers is over $100,000, which actually is a living wage (and more) in most parts of the country. The study brings to my mind every year how little most people know about making a career out of real estate brokerage when they decide to do so, and how much harder it is to succeed than most newcomers understand.

The rooms for the New York state real estate salesperson’s exam are always full. For those taking the exam, maybe 50 percent maximum will stay in the business more than a couple of years, and of those 50 percent, maybe another 40 percent to 50 percent will actually make a decent living. Because the bar for entry remains so low, and because the job looks easy from the outside, a great many people want to get in on the “easy money.” After all, prospective agents have said to me many times over the years, “how hard can it be?” I used to say, only half in jest, that the public looks at real estate brokers in Manhattan and sees a fur coat, a ring of keys, and a big check. If only it were so easy.

During my almost 40 years in the business, I have seen some stunning successes and a lot of failure. While I can’t offer a formula to guarantee the former, I can make some observations about what makes people successful in real estate:

Great agents are not ashamed. You can’t succeed in a job you are embarrassed to have. Sure, it’s true that agents don’t have the best reputation, but I always urge that we make it our business to elevate that reputation with every client interaction. If you cannot say with pride that you are a residential agent, you probably won’t get too far trying to succeed as one.

Great agents know how to mine their spheres. They build a powerful network of referrals. But how? The answer: it is different for everyone. Social media is great if you are a whiz but useless if it’s not intuitive and fun for you. Do you love giving big parties or intimate dinners? Are you brimming over with market data and tactical advice to share? Any one of these serves the purpose of keeping you connected to previous and future clients. Whatever you choose, it has to be the right fit for you.  If you don’t like doing it, you won’t do it, so it won’t work.

Great agents get back up again. In this business you get slapped to the ground time and time again. My rule: give yourself 24 hours to feel bad, then bounce back. You can’t stay down if you want to succeed.

Great agents self start. It’s not your company’s responsibility to give you buyers or hand you exclusives. In my career I never once had a deal handed to me by either of the companies I worked for as an agent. I worked day and night (literally) to build a sphere of contacts to whom I demonstrated my competence and commitment. If you are not self-reliant and you aren’t always figuring out how you can do it better, this line of work is probably not for you. It’s a 24/7/365 affair and the ball is always in your court. Win or lose, if you are a real estate agent, success is in your hands.

Frederick W. Peters
CEO, Warburg
645 Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10065

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