What Is a Real Estate Agent? Your 2024 Career Guide

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

A real estate agent is a licensed professional who helps clients find, buy, and manage property. Learn more about what a real estate agent does and how to get started in this lucrative career.

[Featured image] Real Estate agent on sidewalk in front of property

A real estate agent is a sales professional who helps individuals and companies sell, buy, rent, or lease property. The Association of Real Estate License Law Officials estimates that there are more than three million real estate agents in the United States who have an active real estate license while its database contains more than four million records of real estate agent licenses [1, 2].

Millions of properties change hands every year as people buy and sell homes, commercial buildings, and land for development [3]. Real estate agents assisted in many of these transactions, and the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects, on average, more than 50,000 positions in the field to open each year through 2032 [4]. If you're a natural problem solver who pays attention to detail and wants a career with flexible hours, a career as a real estate agent may be right for you.

What is a real estate agent?

Real estate agents connect people with properties. In this role, you spend time interacting with clients, getting to know their wants and needs, showing properties, and guiding them through the transaction. Behind the scenes, you market your services and listings, participate in negotiations, and research available and recently sold properties.

Real estate agent vs. real estate broker

Both real estate agents and brokers help their clients sell and buy property, but a broker has additional education and training. Unlike agents, brokers have the ability to open their own brokerage, though they must have a broker license in many states. As a sales agent, you typically work at a company managed by a licensed broker. Brokers may have additional responsibilities, like training new agents, managing the firm's finances and escrow funds, and assisting sales agents as needed.

Types of real estate agents

As a real estate agent, you can specialize in various areas, depending on how you want to interact with clients and the property types you want to sell. For example, if you enjoy helping people find properties, you can work as a buyer's agent. In this role, you meet with clients to discuss their needs and wants, search for properties that meet their criteria, and assist with negotiations and closing. Alternatively, you could work as a listing agent who helps sellers price and market their properties, working with them from listing to closing. Some real estate agents operate as dual agents or transaction brokers, which means they work with both the buyer and seller in the same transaction.

Many real estate agents specialize in a type of property. A commercial real estate agent helps clients purchase or lease office buildings, warehouses, retail centers, and other types of property used for businesses. Residential property includes single-family homes, apartments, condos, and vacant land where a buyer can build property for someone to live in. You also may choose to work as a property manager or leasing agent. In this role, you can help clients find residential or commercial property to rent or lease, or you may oversee property for the owner. Your work could include finding tenants, scheduling maintenance, and more.

Real estate agent tasks and responsibilities

As a real estate agent, your daily duties will likely vary depending on how many clients you work with and where you are in the sale process. These responsibilities can include any of the following tasks:

  • Market services to attract potential clients.

  • Identify comparable properties to help sellers price their properties.

  • Locate properties for buyers to view.

  • Market properties in a variety of print and digital outlets.

  • Coordinate open houses and property showings.

  • Facilitate negotiations between buyers and sellers.

  • Coordinate property maintenance for rentals.

  • Create and review documents.

  • Attend community events.

Real estate agents may work full or part-time. Although you can often set your schedule, be prepared to work nights and weekends. You'll be meeting with clients when they are available.

Real estate agent skills

In your work as a real estate agent, you'll rely on several skills when interacting with clients and working in the office. Successful real estate agents typically have mastered the following skills: 

  • Business skills: Real estate agents tend to work as self-employed individuals, which means you'll be responsible for marketing your services, keeping financial records, setting goals, and monitoring your progress toward them.

  • Computer skills: You will need to use a computer to search available properties and to add your listings to the regional Multiple Listing Service (MLS). Basic computer skills like navigating a website and using email are essential in this role, and many real estate agents use video conferencing and a variety of computer applications to promote and share listings. 

  • Interpersonal skills: Real estate agents must be able to communicate with clients and other professionals who have a role in the transaction. You have to listen to your clients' concerns, work around their schedules, and demonstrate patience and trustworthiness through each transaction stage.

  • Negotiation: As a real estate agent, you will likely have plenty of opportunities to use your negotiation skills. From helping sellers set a sale price to presenting buyers' offers, you must actively listen and understand how to present information to both sides while sometimes advocating for your client.

  • Organization: Real estate agents typically work under minimal supervision, which means you should know how to manage your time, keep track of your commitments, and store documents so you can locate the information you need.

  • Problem-solving: Many things can go wrong between the listing and the closing. The appraisal may come in lower than expected, the inspection may uncover a problem with the foundation, and the buyer's financing can fall through. Problem-solving skills can help you assess the situation and find solutions.

  • Social media: You also may use social media to advertise your services and listings. Choosing the appropriate platforms, creating posts that attract views, and engaging with followers can help you maximize exposure online and boost business.

Read more: Facebook Marketing: 2024 Strategy Guide

Real estate agent salary and job outlook

According to data from the BLS, the median pay for real estate sales agents was $49,980 in May of 2022 [5]. However, what you earn as a real estate agent varies depending on where you work, housing market conditions, the properties you sell, and the time you invest. Income can be irregular, especially at the beginning of your career.

For example, agents working in Florida, Texas, California, Georgia, and Arizona tend to have higher employment levels than agents in other parts of the country [6]. Yet, agents working in the District of Columbia, New Hampshire, and New York have a mean salary greater than $90,000 per year [6]. The four top-paying metropolitan areas in the country—Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura (CA), Greeley (CO), Boulder (CO), and Midland (TX) —have an average salary of more than $100,000 per year [6].

In the United States, real estate agent careers should grow 3 percent in the decade from 2022 to 2032, per the BLS. This is about as fast as all occupations, which makes sense when you consider people moving from one area to another rely on real estate agents to buy and sell homes [5].

Read more: Real Estate Agent Salary Guide: What to Expect

Real estate agent career path

Since it can typically take two to six months to meet the real estate agent license requirements, many people enter the real estate profession as sales agents. However, you also can work in a real estate office as an assistant, listing agent, or rental agent to begin learning about the industry. Experience in the loan department of a bank or mortgage brokerage can be helpful for a sales agent.

After you gain experience as a sales agent, you can join the National Association of Realtors to qualify for the REALTOR® title. You can earn a real estate broker license if you want to open your own real estate office. As a real estate broker, you will have more responsibilities and can potentially earn more money. The median salary for a real estate broker was $62,190 in 2022 [7].

Education and training

No matter where you plan to work, you'll need at least a high school diploma and take pre-licensing classes to qualify for a real estate license. Your state government should have a list of approved real estate courses and an outline of the topics you must master before taking the exam and applying for your license. In some states, you can waive this requirement if you have taken acceptable real estate courses in college. 

Here are some of the topics covered in real estate training courses:

  • Brokerage duties

  • Contract law

  • Office administration

  • Markets

  • Mortgages

  • Real estate finance

  • Real estate law

  • Real estate principles


You can earn real estate certifications to demonstrate your industry knowledge and skills. Here are some common real estate certifications you can pursue:

  • Accredited Buyer's Representative (ABR)

  • Accredited Land Consultant (ALC)

  • Certified Commercial Investment Member (CCIM)

  • Certified Luxury Home Marketing Specialist (CLHMS)

  • Certified Property Manager (CPM)

  • Certified Residential Specialist (CRS)

  • Seller Representative Specialist (SRS)

Read more: How to Become a Real Estate Agent

Getting started with Coursera

Start building the skills you'll need in your career as a real estate agent through courses available on Coursera. Check out Introduction to Negotiation from Yale University, which covers topics like negotiating through email and making ultimatums. Also, consider the Business Foundations Specialization to develop and deepen the business skills you can use to operate your business. You can enroll for free.

Article sources


National Association of Realtors. "Quick Real Estate Statistics, https://www.nar.realtor/research-and-statistics/quick-real-estate-statistics." Accessed January 19, 2024.

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