How to Be a Real Estate Agent

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

A career in real estate can provide you with opportunities to set your own schedule and work autonomously. Learn more about how to be a real estate agent, including the job and salary outlook, to determine if it’s a path you want to pursue.

[Featured Image] A real estate agent shows a new home to a couple.

Working in real estate as a real estate agent gives you a flexible career, with the option to work alone or as part of a team and on your own schedule, rather than being tied to an office and working nine to five. These benefits make it a popular career choice that can provide an above-average salary and excellent bonuses.

Depending on the type of real estate you choose, state licensing rules, and your background, you can start your career in real estate in various ways. Let’s explore the career further and some of your options when considering how to be a real estate agent.

What is real estate?

Real estate is any form of property attached to land that you can legally purchase and own. It can refer to your home, a commercial property such as an office or store, or industrial property like a warehouse. It’s an expansive, growing sector that plays a critical role in the economy, generating substantial income and employing many people. Data from Grand View Research projects that the global real estate market will grow at a compound annual growth rate of 5.2 percent through 2030 [11]. In the United States, the brokerage industry alone will be worth more than $200 billion in 2023, with more than 1.5 million realtors working in the country [12].

Different types of real estate

Real estate agent roles vary according to the type of real estate you work with. Each comes with its own regulations and licensing requirements.

  • Residential real estate refers to properties designed for people to live in. It may be your own house or a residential property that you buy and sell to make a profit.

  • Commercial real estate refers to any property and land used for business purposes, such as offices, stores, and leisure facilities, which someone owns or leases to generate income. 

  • Industrial real estate refers to properties, including buildings and land, that tenants use for industrial purposes, such as factories and manufacturing plants.

  • Land includes vacant land and also land with underdeveloped properties.

What does a real estate agent do?

Real estate agents help clients to find, buy, sell, or rent their ideal property. Real estate agents work for a brokerage unless they have a license to run their own real estate business. A typical list of responsibilities of a real estate agent includes:

  • Value properties for clients

  • Inspect properties and advise clients on how to improve property value

  • List properties for sale

  • Market properties to clients through open-house events

  • Advertise properties for sale through websites, social media, and relevant groups

  • Prepare relevant paperwork for sales or leases

  • Support clients in their property search

  • Determine clients’ financial status and refer them to suitable mortgage brokers

Salary and job outlook

Real estate agents usually receive a basic salary, with the majority of income commission-based. The more properties sold and the higher the prices, the more you make, as this is usually calculated on a percentage of the sale value. The median annual salary for a real estate agent is  $56,224.69, according to Lightcast™[1]. This figure aligns with the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which calculates the median annual salary as $61,890 [2]. Additionally, it’s notable that this career has an average job outlook, with 3 percent growth anticipated through 2032 [3].

How to be a real estate agent

You can pursue several paths to building your career as a real estate agent, depending on where you are, your existing skills and experience that will help you pass exams to gain your real estate license, and whether you have money to invest in setting yourself up. Given the variability of all factors at play, the time it takes to become a real estate agent does not follow a set time scale.

Consider taking the steps listed below.

1. Research your state's licensing and education requirements.

Real estate agents cannot practice without a license, so this step is an essential starting point to becoming a real estate agent. Each state has its own licensing requirements for age, education, exams, and fees.

2. Take courses to prepare for the license.

States typically require a minimum of a high school diploma and state-accredited real estate courses as a preliminary to applying for a license. The number of expected course hours can vary according to the state but typically range from 40 to 168 hours. You can take accredited courses in colleges, specialty schools, and online.

3. Earn your real estate license.

To earn your real estate license, you need to pass an exam. Again, the exam varies from state to state regarding the number of questions and what is covered, but most follow a multiple-choice format. A real estate license exam costs between $100 and $300 [4]. In total, including taking relevant courses, you can expect to spend between $500 and $1200 [5].

4. Join a brokerage.

Real estate agents must act on behalf of a brokerage to work, so selecting the right one for you is essential. Start by searching all those operating in your area, then narrow the search according to reputation. Brokers will offer different terms, such as educational opportunities, coaching, support, and differences in fees and commissions.

5. Network and market yourself.

Even when you join a brokerage, you'll still handle your own sales and marketing. You operate as your own business, making developing your skills in this area essential. Think about building a social media profile and portfolio, networking online and in person with real estate professionals, mortgage brokers, and builders, and developing a system to keep track of leads generated.

Ideally, you’ll set up a website and develop a brand for your marketing. It should keep your target customers and their needs in mind, so it helps to do this after spending time getting to know your market and how you can best serve it.

Real estate agent skills

To be successful in real estate, you must learn and develop a robust set of skills. Some of the essential workplace and technical skills you need include:


  • Customer service

  • Communication

  • Active listening 

  • Negotiation

  • Resilience

  • Patience

  • Integrity

  • Tactfulness


  • Local expertise

  • Market analysis

  • Digital technology

  • Marketing

  • Client management

  • Sales

Real estate agent career path

You may pursue several careers in real estate, so once you’ve built up the skills and experience, you may move up or laterally to other areas. As a real estate agent, you also have options to find a niche, such as focusing on residential sales or picking an area within commercial real estate.

Other positions in the real estate industry and their base salaries according to October 2023 data include:

  • Leasing agent: $40,696 [6]

  • Property manager: $53,076 [7]

  • Property developer: $95,978 [8]

  • Real estate director: $156,978 [9]

  • Real estate broker: $101,753 [10]

Next steps

Does this sound like a career you want to pursue? To determine if it is right for you, consider taking an online course to understand more about the technology involved. For example, you might explore some of the latest real estate tech with Application AI, InsurTech, and Real Estate Technology delivered by Wharton Online. You can also brush up on some essential workplace skills by taking Successful Negotiation: Essential Strategies and Skills from the University of Michigan—both available on Coursera.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

Article sources


Lightcast™ Analyst. “Occupation Summary for Real Estate Agent.” Accessed  October 4, 2023.

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