real estate careers header

Like the idea of working in the real estate industry, but don’t know what types of jobs are available?

You have dozens of real estate-related career options to choose from, all with different earning potential and credentialing requirements. Keep the following careers in mind, as you explore work in the field of real estate.

Realty-Related Careers

People need help buying, selling, managing, and renting properties. And the workers who serve them need their own support services as well, creating an entire ecosystem of jobs.

1. Residential Real Estate Agent

You probably know at least one real estate agent, and understand the basics of what they do. Agents represent buyers and sellers, helping them either find the perfect home or sell their property quickly and for top dollar.

real estate agent

It’s a common career path, and one with only minor barriers to entry—both a blessing and a curse for new Realtors. Agents must take a course and then pass a state-run licensing exam, which typically takes two or three months of part-time study. Unfortunately, the course only covers real estate laws and imparts no practical knowledge whatsoever about the skills needed for day-to-day work as a real estate agent.

Agents must work underneath a licensed real estate broker (more on them shortly) to operate legally. They typically learn the skills needed for the job from their broker.

Real estate agents get paid on commission. The listing agent usually includes the fee for both themselves and the buyer’s agent in the listing agreement, often 3% of the sales price apiece. However, each agent doesn’t walk away with the entire 3% fee. Their broker takes a portion of it, generally in the 25-50% range.

Earning Potential: Based on commission, so volume and price of homes determine earnings. Full-time Realtors earn a wide range between $50,000 – $150,000 or higher, in more expensive markets. The average income of $94,987.

Required Experience or Credentials: Pass a state real estate licensing exam, after completing a mandatory course.

2. Commercial Real Estate Agent

As the name suggests, commercial agents work with commercial properties.

While that entails matching buyers with sellers, just like their residential counterparts, commercial buyers have vastly different needs. Commercial real estate agents must understand not only local market conditions but also financial metrics like cap rates and internal rate of return (IRR). They should also know locale-specific things like zoning differences and permitting and nearby resources such as parking and public transportation.

Like residential real estate agents, commercial agents show properties, help their clients negotiate, draw up legal contracts, and ensure that closings take place on time. They also coordinate with other related service providers like appraisers and inspectors.

Commercial real estate agents rely heavily on their network. The most successful have the largest local networks of contacts in their area of specialization.

Earning Potential: Based on commission, so volume and price of properties determine earnings. Commercial agents typically earn more than residential agents, ranging between $75,000 – $200,000 or higher, with an average of around $153,000.

Required Experience or Credentials: Commercial real estate agents must similarly take a state course and pass the licensing exam, then take a position with a licensed broker.

3. Real Estate Broker

Real estate agents who want to move their career to the next level can take additional courses and get their broker’s license.

Brokers open their own (you guessed it) brokerage, under their own license, and hire real estate agents to work with buyers and sellers. They earn a portion of each of their agents’ commissions.

real estate broker

In addition to letting agents work under their license, brokers provide agents with training, office space, leads, and administrative support services. If you want to start your own realty business, you become a broker.

Read more about becoming a real estate broker if you’re considering the transition from agent to broker.

Earning Potential: As business owners, real estate brokers do as well or as poorly as their businesses. They could barely scrape by, or they can earn millions each year, depending on the size and success of their brokerage.

Required Experience or Credentials: States require additional coursework and exams to become a licensed broker. Many states also require that brokers work as licensed real estate agents for a certain number of years before becoming a broker.

4. Realty Assistant

Real estate brokerages need administrative support from assistants, just like any other business.

These workers answer phones, schedule meetings and other appointments, manage calendars, and perform other secretarial duties. Without a real estate license, they can’t show properties or participate in price negotiations. However, they provide support services to take on as many tasks as they can for agents, so those agents can spend more time on earning-related tasks rather than routine administrative tasks.

It’s not a glamorous job, but it makes a great entry-level position with a real estate brokerage if you want to explore becoming an agent or a related career in real estate.

Earning Potential: Real estate assistants earn an average salary of $47,747.

Required Experience or Credentials: No experience required, although administrative assistant experience doesn’t hurt.

5. Real Estate Marketing Specialist

Like every other type of business, real estate brokerages want to reach as many people as possible. So they bring in marketing specialists to boost their reach and brand image. The mission is simple: bring in more business for the agents, both among sellers and buyers.

real estate marketer

Marketing for realty companies could include search engine optimization, pay-per-click ads, social media marketing, television and radio ads, public relations work, billboards, and print ads in local newspapers and circulars. Or any number of other creative marketing channels, from local influencer marketing to partnering with related local businesses.

If you like both marketing and real estate, consider a career that marries both.

Earning Potential: Real estate marketing specialists earn an average income of $52,589.

Required Experience or Credentials: The position doesn’t require a specific license or degree, but the more background you have in marketing, the better positioned you are for success.

6. Leasing Agent

While real estate agents focus primarily on buying and selling properties, leasing agents focus on renting them.

Sometimes leasing agents work for real estate brokerages as rental specialists. In other cases, they work for property managers, shouldering the workload of showing properties, screening tenants, and signing leases.

It’s a people-oriented job, with plenty of time spent showing vacant properties to prospective renters. Leasing agents tend to specialize in either residential or commercial properties.

Earning Potential: According to Indeed, the average leasing agent earns $103,013 (although in my experience that sounds high). Note that commercial leasing agents tend to earn higher incomes than residential agents.

Required Experience or Credentials: Many leasing agents are licensed real estate agents, although most states don’t require leasing agents to be licensed. Charm and charisma go a long way in this field.

7. Property Manager

Property managers handle leasing agent responsibilities but don’t stop at signing the lease.

Landlords hire property managers to take on the labor of filling vacant units, screening tenants, signing leases, collecting rents, and enforcing lease terms. Property managers also oversee property maintenance and repairs and work directly with contractors and handymen. In many cases, property managers also keep the books and financial statements.

property manager

Property managers specialize in either residential or commercial real estate. Within those umbrellas, they also tend to specialize in a certain segment of the market, such as retail space.

Some states require property managers to have a real estate license.

Earning Potential: The average residential property manager earns $50,742, while commercial property managers earn $67,669.

Required Experience or Credentials: You may need a real estate license, depending on your state. It certainly doesn’t hurt, even when not required.

8. Home Stager

Stagers furnish and decorate listed properties to present them in their best possible light. The better to sell you with, my dear.

One survey of Realtors by the NAR found that 82% of buyer’s agents reported that staging makes it easier for buyers to visualize a property as their future home. Many said it adds a premium to homes’ selling prices and shortens the time spent on the market.

Think of home staging as the intersection of interior decorating and real estate marketing.

Earning Potential: Home stagers earn an average of $48,517.

Required Experience or Credentials: None, although a background in either interior design or marketing helps.

9. Real Estate Photographer

Some photographers specialize in shooting real estate, rather than weddings or portraits. But the goal remains the same: make the subject look as beautiful as possible.

real estate photographer

Real estate photographers often collaborate with home stagers to decorate the property tastefully. In fact, some offer combination services, where they briefly stage a home, photograph it for the listing, then immediately remove the furniture and artwork for use at the next property.

Often real estate photographers bring their own lighting equipment, and of course use higher-end cameras, lenses, and other equipment. The combination of perfect lighting, perfect decor, and perfect camera angles all help make properties look larger, brighter, and more enticing to prospective buyers.

In today’s world, many real estate photographers also pilot drones to shoot aerial photos. These shots and videos help make listings pop even more.

Speaking of videos, some real estate photographers also create video tours, 3D mapping, and other virtual tours to help prospects get a sense of the space without actually visiting in person.

Real estate photographers typically work for themselves as self-employed freelancers. In many cases, they do real estate photography as a side gig, or as part of a larger photography business.

Earning Potential: According to Zip Recruiter, real estate photographers earn an average of $60,520.

Required Experience or Credentials: While they don’t need a formal certification or degree, real estate photographers need experience, equipment, and of course a good eye for shooting properties.

Careers in Real Estate Investing

Rather than offering services in the real estate industry, some people invest money to buy properties directly.

But you can make money through many different real estate investing models. Consider the following investing strategies before picking one to specialize in.

10. Landlord

Everyone understands the business model of landlording: you buy a property and sign a long-term lease with tenants.

While it does generate ongoing income, it’s not as passive as many outsiders believe. Landlords must advertise vacant units, show properties, screen applicants, sign leases, collect rents, enforce lease violations, and maintain and repair properties. They can outsource this work to a property manager—for a cost.

Strict regulations on landlords have also added headaches and costs for many landlords, particularly in major cities. If you think being a landlord is easy money, think again.

Earning Potential: Landlords typically earn cap rates in the 4-10% range, with higher-end properties generating lower returns.

Required Experience or Credentials: None, although new landlords can expect to make plenty of mistakes on their first few deals.

11. Vacation Rental Host

Popularized by Airbnb, another model involves renting to short-term guests rather than long-term tenants.

Property owners trade one set of headaches for another. Rather than hassling with strict landlord-tenant laws and chasing down erstwhile tenants for rent, vacation rental hosts have to constantly turn over their unit. They often suffer high vacancy rates and have to maintain furnished units while paying for utilities.

airbnb

Some larger cities have outlawed or severely restricted property use as short-term rentals. Vacation rental businesses also run the risk of local laws changing in the future.

Note that platforms like Airbnb and VRBO also take a large cut of your nightly rate, further reducing profits.

Earning Potential: Landlords typically earn similar cap rates on vacation rentals as long-term rentals. However, these returns vary by location; try a tool such as Mashvisor to compare cap rates on short-term versus long-term rental models for any given property.

Required Experience or Credentials: None, but again experience helps improve your returns. Double-check local regulations and requirements, as you may need to register your property, pay fees, or even pay hotel taxes.

12. House Flipper

Flipping skyrocketed in popularity during the housing bubble of the mid-2000s. Investors buy a dilapidated property, renovate it, and sell it to a homebuyer for an immediate profit.

Flippers need several distinct skill sets, including finding good deals and working with contractors to renovate them. It helps to be handy so you can do some of the renovation work yourself, although it’s not strictly necessary.

Flippers must also navigate the often-murky waters of permits and municipal inspections. Fail to get the proper permits and inspections, and you face fines, penalties, and having to tear out completed work and redo it.

Earning Potential: It depends entirely on each deal, and how many deals you can complete in a given year. But flippers frequently earn $25,000 – $100,000 per deal and can close a handful of deals each year.

Required Experience or Credentials: None, although you need a wide network of contractors and a plan for finding properties at a discount.

13. Wholesaler

Some people flip real estate contracts instead of properties. These people are called real estate wholesalers.

wholesaler

It works like this: you found an exceptional deal on a distressed property, and put it under contract. Then you reach out to your network of house flippers and other investors, to offer the deal to them—at a discount below market value, but with a margin built in for yourself. For example, you put property worth $100,000 under contract for $70,000, and you sell the contract to a house flipper for $80,000. You earn a $10,000 margin, and the house flipper still gets a $100,000 property for $80,000.

The business model hinges on you scoring outstanding deals on properties. You also need to build a network of real estate investors to buy your contracts. But if you can do those two things, you can earn a pretty penny without ever making a down payment or taking title to properties.

Earning Potential: As a self-employed real estate wholesaler, you write your own paycheck through the quality and quantity of your deals.

Required Experience or Credentials: You need to be able to find great deals, and sell them quickly to your network of contacts.

14. Real Estate Syndicator

Real estate syndicators find a deal on a large property, often an apartment complex or commercial building, and then raise money from passive investors to fund the deal. Despite the syndicator putting up a minority share of the purchase funds, they maintain control over renovations and day-to-day management of the property.

For their trouble, the syndicator receives some sort of incentive, such as a bonus for hitting their profit target or a disproportionate ownership percentage.

Given the high stakes involved, only experienced real estate investors with broad networks typically attempt real estate syndications.

Earning Potential: You earn money based on how your properties perform, and the incentive structure you negotiate with your passive investors.

Required Experience or Credentials: To raise the money needed for large real estate deals, you need to demonstrate a track record of success with similar deals. Consider syndications an advanced stage in real estate investing.

15. Real Estate Developer

Developers put up buildings or otherwise improve raw land.

For example, a developer might be a large tract of land, subdivide into individual lots, and install water and sewer lines. They might sell those lots to individual homebuyers who want to design and build their own homes. Or they might build the homes as a development themselves, and sell the completed homes.

real estate developer

Degrees and experience with urban planning and civil engineering serve you well in real estate development. But the best path forward is simply gaining experience by working for a real estate developer to learn how the process works, typical hurdles, and risk mitigation. Expect plenty of red tape with permits and inspections, plus all the usual headaches with contractors.

But for those who succeed in the field, there’s plenty of money to be made.

Earning Potential: Limitless.

Required Experience or Credentials: It takes time to learn the local permitting process and regulations, the local real estate market, and build the relationships you need to succeed. Plus it takes investing capital— a lot of it—to buy and develop land.

16. Niche Real Estate Investing

There are endless niches in real estate investing.

From flipping land to self-storage facilities, investing in mobile homes to entire mobile home parks, you have your choice of niches. Some require little investing capital; you can buy parcels of land for as little as $100. Others, like mobile home parks, can require millions.

But what many of these niches share is less competition than the more mainstream investing strategies like buying rental properties or flipping houses. And less competition means higher returns.

Earning Potential: Limitless.

Required Experience or Credentials: You can learn any real estate investing niche online. For example, REtipster offers a detailed course on how to make money flipping land.

Careers in Real Estate Lending

Real estate is expensive, so most buyers finance properties with a mortgage. The lending industry brings its own ecosystem of careers, some of them quite lucrative.

17. Mortgage Loan Officer or Account Executive

Loan officers work directly with borrowers, helping them find and close the right loan for their needs. They can work for either mortgage brokers or directly for mortgage lenders.

mortgage loan officer

Account executives work for mortgage lenders, serving as the point person for loan officers. So a borrower calls up a mortgage broker to discuss loan options, speaking with a loan officer, and that loan officer turns around and calls up an account executive to place the loan with that lender.

But both loan officers and account executives do similar work: taking loans from application to closing. Each works as the main point of contact in making sure the loan closes.

Earning Potential: Most loan officers and mortgage account executives get paid on commission for each loan they close. The average loan officer earns $73,756 according to ZipRecruiter, but some earn six figures.

Required Experience or Credentials: Loan officers must typically get a Mortgage Loan Originator (MLO) license after passing the NMLS (Nationwide Multistate Licensing System & Registry) exam. However loan officers are fundamentally salespeople, so sales training helps you close more loans.

18. Mortgage Processor or Underwriter

Mortgage processors organize and clean up loan files for underwriting, ensuring that they include all required documentation.

In contrast, underwriters review loans with a critical eye, looking for any risk factors that require a closer look. Underwriters typically send loan files back to the loan officer, asking for more information and documentation.

Because most mortgage lenders don’t actually keep loans on their books. They sell loans to large corporations like Fannie Mae or Chase, freeing up capital to issue more loans and earn more fees. Underwriters ensure that lenders can sell every single loan they originate and don’t get stuck without a buyer.

Unlike loan officers and account executives, processors and underwriters earn a fixed salary.

Earning Potential: The average mortgage processor earns $58,812, while the average underwriter earns $95,445.

Required Experience or Credentials: Mortgage processors and underwriters also typically take the NMLS exam. From there, it’s simply a matter of getting a job with a mortgage lender and learning the ropes.

19. Mortgage Broker

Mortgage brokers act as a middleman between borrowers and lenders. They match borrowers with the best possible mortgage lender, and earn fees and points on every loan they help close.

mortgage broker

Brokers run marketing campaigns to generate leads and hire a team of loan officers underneath them to turn those leads into closed loans. They can earn enormous incomes, but they operate and run a full-fledged business.

Earning Potential: Unlimited, based on how much business you do.

Required Experience or Credentials: In addition to taking a course and passing a licensing exam with the NMLS, brokers must also carry bonds and meet minimum net worth requirements established by each state. To succeed, they also need a well-oiled marketing machine to generate leads and the personnel and network of lenders to close them.

20. Hard Money Lender

Hard money lenders issue short-term loans to real estate investors to buy and renovate properties. They charge high-interest rates and high fees, issuing loans with a high risk of default.

To limit that risk, they typically only lend 65-80% of the property’s value (65-80% LTV).

While they can, of course, lend their own personal money, most hard money lenders raise money for loans from others. That could include friends, family members, colleagues, or strangers simply looking for high returns on the cash.

Hard money lenders still have to go through the foreclosure process if the borrower defaults, but real estate investors don’t get the same legal protections afforded to homeowners. That makes the foreclosure process much faster and cheaper for hard money lenders.

Earning Potential: Unlimited, based on how much business you do. Hard money lenders charge 8-16% interest and 2-6 points typically.

Required Experience or Credentials: No legal license is required, but hard money lenders should carry a deep understanding of the real estate finance industry, and the real estate investing industry. Learn more about how to become a hard money lender before attempting it.

Real Estate Legal and Due Diligence Careers

Given the high stakes involved in real estate transactions, several careers involve inspecting the property itself or its legal history.

21. Real Estate Appraiser

Appraisers inspect the property and review comparable sales (comps) nearby to estimate its market value. Mortgage lenders order an appraisal with every loan to verify the property’s value.

Many appraisers start their careers as real estate agents before transitioning into appraising. That said, appraisers must take a different exam for a different license, and not every appraiser starts as an agent first.

appraiser

As with agents, appraisers usually specialize in either residential or commercial real estate.

Appraisers work for themselves, set their own hours, and spend plenty of time in the field inspecting properties. For anyone who loves the idea of a self-employed job in real estate but doesn’t want to become an agent, appraising offers another career option.

Earning Potential: Appraisers charge by the appraisal, usually in the $350-600 range for residential properties. The average appraiser earns $84,827 per year.

Required Experience or Credentials: Appraisers start as trainees or apprentices, first taking an initial course and in some states an exam for a trainee license, then working underneath a fully licensed appraiser for a certain number of hours. To become fully licensed, you must take additional training and pass a licensing exam.

22. Home Inspector

While appraisers look at properties to determine value, home inspectors look at homes to determine condition.

Home inspectors spend hours walking through the property, peeking in every nook and cranny. They estimate the remaining life expectancy of the mechanical systems and the roof. They inspect the foundation, the walls, and every other component of the property. Then, they prepare a report for the homebuyer, detailing their findings so homebuyers know the exact condition of the property.

Note that appraisers’ obligation is, fundamentally, to the lender, while home inspectors serve the buyer.

Earning Potential: Like appraisers, many home inspectors charge by the report, although others work as employees that earn a base salary plus commissions for each report. The average home inspector earns a base salary of $53,225 – $61,091 per year plus average commissions of $32,000.

Required Experience or Credentials: Also like appraisers, home inspectors must take a course and state licensing exam.

23. Title Officer

Title officers review the legal and ownership history of a property, rather than the physical property. That includes verifying the legal description, location of the property lines, and any encumbrances, plus verifying that the seller actually has a legal right to sell and listing all liens against the property.

title officer

They do this in order to issue title insurance policies to mortgage lenders: a requirement for closing. Homeowners also sometimes take out a title insurance policy, to protect against problems such as unreleased liens or losing their home if it was sold illegally.

Title companies also typically prepare the closing documents and conduct the settlement.

Earning Potential: The average title officer earns $62,048.

Required Experience or Credentials: Title officers don’t typically require formal certification, they simply need on-the-job experience.

24. Real Estate Attorney

The umbrella of “real estate attorney” covers a wide range of law practices, from title and closing attorneys to real estate contract disputes to property ownership or boundary disputes and many more.

As with many other jobs above, many real estate attorneys further specialize in either residential or commercial properties.

If you’re interested in both law and real estate, it makes for a great marriage between the two. And as with other areas of the law, attorneys enjoy higher salaries than most careers.

Earning Potential: Real estate attorneys earn an average income of $153,622.

Required Experience or Credentials: Attorneys must earn a bachelor’s degree, take the LSAT, attending law school, and pass the bar exam in their state. Which says nothing of the actual job experience working at a law firm or title company to build expertise and clientele in real estate law.

Final Thoughts

The jobs above only scratch the surface of the real estate industry.

You can work for a real estate crowdfunding company or a publicly-traded REIT, in capacities ranging from finding deals to managing properties, marketing or corporate management. You could work at a courthouse researching title histories, or out in the field surveying raw land. Or for that matter, you can work in the construction or renovation contracting industries, building or rehabbing properties. And hundreds of other related occupations besides.

If you don’t know what you want to do, reach out to people in as many different fields as you can, and ask to shadow them for a morning, or simply to sit down and talk about what they do. You’d be surprised at just how different their actual jobs are from what you imagine—and how many of them offer to let you come work in an entry-level job with them.

What real estate careers interest you most? Why? Let us know in the forum!

About the author

Brian Davis is the co-founder of SparkRental.com, a service offering free online rent collection, a free rental property calculator, free video course on boosting rental returns, and a free rental application. Reach out at any time, Brian is extremely easy to reach and responsive!

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