Is it too easy to become a real estate agent?

For better or worse, it’s not very difficult to get into real estate. In most states, you can just sign up for a course, pass the state licensing exam and start selling houses (and paying dues) under a local brokerage.
That makes the industry a uniquely egalitarian one, where a high school dropout can find as much success as an Ivy League MBA. It’s also a welcome venue for people seeking a second or third career — only 5% of active Realtors started out in real estate, according to the National Association of Realtors 2020 Member Profile.

Also in this issue:
Getting started is easy; moving forward is hard, particularly for Black agents

But that ease of entry also guarantees a steady inflow of newcomers who, without additional training and mentorship, may be ill-equipped to succeed and often flounder — sometimes at the expense of their clients. “It’s one of the greatest things about real estate and one of the worst things about real estate all in one,” says Kevin Fruh, owner and broker at Fruh Realty in Newburyport, Massachusetts.
Ease of entry
The relatively cheap, quick and easy process of getting up and running in real estate makes it unique from many other industries in three key ways, says Sonia Gilbukh, assistant professor of real estate at the City University of New York.
While a training course and exam will cost several hundred dollars and a couple of weeks of your life — and association dues, marketing costs and other fees can quickly top $1,000 a year — it’s nowhere near the cost or time commitment of a four-year college degree. “So the education is relatively cheap,” Gilbukh says. “It’s also fast. You can take a course, take the exam and be licensed within a month, compared to other professions where it can take years to apprentice.”
Indeed, while it takes 40 hours of coursework to obtain a real estate license in Massachusetts, for example, becoming a licensed hairstylist requires 1,000 hours of schooling over six months. While you’d want anyone wielding sharp scissors next to your face to be thoroughly vetted, most consumers would probably not be comforted to know that the stylist performing their $50 haircut may have completed more training than the real estate agent negotiating their $500,000 home purchase.
Some states have more demanding requirements, of course. It takes 180 hours of class time to become a licensed sales agent in Texas, for example. But even that rigorous course load can be completed in a matter of weeks. (Texas, surprisingly, has more Realtors per capita than Massachusetts: about one in every 216 versus one in 268.)
Finally, since most agents work as commission-based independent contractors, it’s relatively easy to land a first job, Gilbukh says, as brokerages don’t have to offer new agents benefits like health insurance or even a salary. And there’s no guarantee a new agent will receive further training or mentorship at that brokerage, either.
Teaching for the test, not the trade
In the view of Aliyah Gary, broker at iCare Realty in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and founder of the Cambridge Real Estate Collaborative, the licensing course simply teaches people what they need to know to pass the state exam, not what it takes to succeed as a real estate agent. So, Gary developed an additional training course, called APEX, that better prepares new agents for the realities of the business.
Participants first learn how to make a business plan and what type of brokerage will help them achieve their goals. “The next step is to complete an entire transaction through role-playing,” Gary explains, from finding a client to setting up and performing the listing presentation to







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