The master multitaskers: what do realtors really do?

What does a realtor do GettyImages 1686886075 e1717099157376

HGTV’s House Hunters makes real estate look easy. Agents find someone, usually a couple, looking to buy or rent a new property, give three tours, and then an offer is made and papers are signed.

If only it was that easy. As many real estate experts will tell you, real estate is not for the faint of heart. It often requires working long nights, weekends, holidays, and birthdays. 


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As luxury real estate mogul Ryan Serhant told Fortune Recommends earlier this year, real estate agents must have a relentless work ethic, but if the grit is put in, the money will flow eventually. So what does a day in the life look like in reality? Fortune has answers to the questions you may have.

What does a realtor do?

On paper, the job of a realtor or an agent is simple. As described by Amy Lessinger, president of RE/MAX, they have three simple tasks:

  • Find a buyer to serve
  • Find a seller to serve
  • Work on closing those transactions

If you don’t have any business, your sole focus should be finding business, Lessinger says. 

“Your focus is going to be on prospecting and marketing activities and making sure that you’re out in your community—being pretty loud about what you can do to professionally serve a buyer or seller, and literally picking up those rocks and turning them over and saying, is there one here?” Amy Lessinger says. 

For those early in their career, brokers will be especially part of the learning process, she adds. While going to real estate school is a critical part of any agent’s initial path, the hands-on training is invaluable.

“For a new agent, a brokerage that offers transaction coordination support is a big help, because you have somebody who has navigated the transaction process, who can help walk that newer agent through because it can be complex, it can be intricate, and there can be lots of things that a newer agent will need to know about,” Lessinger explains.

Real estate agents are also master multitaskers. At the same time they are working on closing one transaction, they are thinking ahead to the next several moves they will make and help their clients make.

Real estate agent vs. realtor

While the terms real estate agent and realtor are often used interchangeable, it is important to know that there is a difference: while a realtor is a real estate agent, an agent is not necessarily a realtor.

Those who complete their state requirements of training hours, exam passage, and clean background check become officially licensed real estate agents, meaning you are allowed to assist buyers and sellers with the exchange of property. However, in order to then become a realtor, one must  meet the requirements to join the local association of the National Association of Realtors (NAR). 

For 2024, the member NAR national dues are $156 annually, in addition to a $45 “special assessment” used for consumer advertising. 

According to Paula Monthofer, a licensed realtor in Arizona and Georgia, the resources offered by the local associations are “underutilized,” especially for those just starting out. “Don’t be afraid to reach out to your local association and ask to talk to the local volunteers there, they can give you their insights,” he says.

Real estate agent vs. broker

A real estate broker is an agent who has met the requirements to manage their own firm and oversee a team of agents. Becoming a broker is the typical next step in the real estate career trajectory for those eager to become a leader in the space and build out an empire. 

In order to become a broker, individuals typically need at least two years of full-time experience as a licensed real estate agent (check your state for exact levels of experience). Then, agents must take broker pre-license education courses and then pass an exam. 

Brokers earn a small percentage of the commission their agents earn from representing buyers or sellers in real estate transactions. Brokers also play a role in mentoring new agents and help them become successful in the field through hands-on training.

What do all real estate experts have in common?

No matter your title, those who succeed in real estate hold similar skills, such as:

  • Communication: Those in real estate are in constant communication via phone calls, text messages, and emails from new clients, existing clients, fellow agents, brokerage staff, property managers—plus their own family and friends. 
  • Organization: Real estate agents would probably lose their head if it wasn’t attached; they’re always going somewhere—from appointments and showings with clients to open houses, meetings, and more. Plus, each of these brings countless documents that may need to be created, signed, filed, mailed. Failure at any level can cause you to lose out on business.
  • Socially savvy: Real estate is a people’s game. Not only does someone need to be socially savvy in the sense of being good at striking engaging conversations, but also great at using social media to attract and retain clients.
  • Good with numbers: Clients rely on real estate agents to be the numbers expert, and can answer questions like: what are other properties going for in the area? What is a reasonable asking price or offer? How much will closing costs be? Plus, knowing how real agents get paid through commission is paramount.

How can you learn more about real estate?

Like other professions and education pathways, hearing directly from someone with years of experience is one of the best tried-and-true ways to learn more about the field. Real estate is no exception.

There are over 1.5 million realtors across the U.S., and the odds are, you or someone close to you knows of a local real estate agent. Reach out to them (LinkedIn is a good start) and ask them to pick their brain about all things real estate. Do you live in a good market? Is now a good time to become an agent? What are the lessons they learned starting out?

An agent might even let you shadow for a day. Another good idea is to inquire where they attended real estate school and hear about their experience. 

Real estate is ultimately what you make of it, and success is only defined by what you consider to be successful. That could be selling one house a year or that could be the top agent in your market. Now more than ever, workers are changing jobs many times throughout their lives. So, if real estate sparks your interest, try it out as part of your career journey.

Frequently asked questions

What is a buyer’s agent?

A buyer’s agent represents the buyer during a real estate transaction. Commission from the transaction is typically split with the seller’s agent.

What is a seller’s agent?

A seller’s agent—also known as a listing agent—represents the seller during a real estate transaction. Commission from the transaction is typically split with the buyer’s agent.

What is a dual agent?

A dual agent represents both the buyer and seller during a real estate transaction.

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