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How to Become a Real Estate Agent After 50

A short course and licensing exam are all it takes to get started in this new career

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Finding career switch opportunities that offer flexible hours, good earning potential and the chance to use the skills you’ve honed can be challenging. There is, however, one option that meets all of those requirements and more: real estate.

Most real estate agents — who help buyers and sellers make property transactions — come to the role as a second career, according to Brandi Snowden, director of member and consumer survey research for the National Association of Realtors. In fact, the median age of all real estate agents who belong to the association is 60. And just 6 percent say real estate was their first career.

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“We see that there’s a very diverse background of members who are coming from other industries and starting in real estate,” Snowden says. And the career’s reputation for flexible hours and workloads makes it appealing for those who are beginning to plan for retirement, too.

The career also does not require a college degree, which can make it easier to switch into than some other professions. Requirements to work as a real estate agent vary from state to state, but in general, you will need to complete 45-60 hours of study in a real estate course and pass a licensing exam. On average, real estate agents earn $52,030 per year ($25.02 per hour), according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

If you’re interested in staking your claim as a real estate agent after age 50, here’s how to get started.

1. Check your skill set and complete a pre-licensing course

Through your work experience, you’ve developed a number of skills — and many of them may work to your advantage in real estate, says Nicole Beauchamp, associate broker at Sotheby’s International Realty in New York City. Beauchamp came to real estate from a career in finance and technology with an academic background in economics, philosophy and statistics. She says her finance and economics background helped her understand real estate market trends. Her ease with technology helped her communicate with clients and evaluate tech tools to integrate into her business.

According to the “2023 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers” report from the Realtors association, what buyers want most from real estate agents is to help them find the right home (50 percent) and help negotiate the home price (12 percent) and the terms of the sale (11 percent). Beauchamp says that good communication skills and the ability to network are also valuable in real estate.

Depending on where you live — and where the real estate you want to broker or sell is located — you likely will need to complete a licensing course, either before or after taking your real estate exam. Check with the appropriate real estate licensing agency for your region for certified courses.

With the combined costs of the licensing courses, application fees for a real estate license, the licensing test and any background checks the state might require, you should expect to spend at least $500.

2. Pass your licensing examination

Initially, Beauchamp got her real estate license at a friend’s encouragement. The friend happened to be a real estate agent to whom Beauchamp was referring friends. When Beauchamp hosted a party one evening and remarked on a nice vehicle outside, the agent friend said that Beauchamp’s referrals had paid for the vehicle. Beauchamp decided to take the 45 hours of pre-licensing classes her state required and passed her test.

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Licenses are typically granted by the government agencies in the state or territory in where the real estate will be bought or sold. The Association of Real Estate License Law Offices publishes a list of such entities.

3. Understand your options

When Vickey Barron, now a broker at New York’s Compass Real Estate, moved from California to New York, she also decided to launch a new career in real estate. It was a bold move, considering she was moving to an area where she knew no one. She had always had an interest in real estate and architecture, and she thought this would be a “boots on the ground” way to get to know the city. “I said in my interview, ‘I understand business, problem-solving, and I understand people and I will figure something out through creativity,” she recalls. The company took a chance on her, and she believes that her experience helped. “I do believe that when you're a little more seasoned and mature, and you make this transition and have a new chapter in your life, it really does present an opportunity.”

Real estate agents also can have specializations within the field, Beauchamp says. For example, she began as a referral agent, getting paid for referrals she generated for other real estate agents. Real estate agents can represent buyers or sellers or specialize in particular neighborhoods or regions. There are also advanced certifications available and several career paths real estate agents may choose to pursue, such as commercial brokerage and industrial brokerage.  

4. Develop your real estate base

Barron knew that she would have to specialize to differentiate herself in a competitive market, so she focused on one apartment building. She got to know everything about it, from the unit layouts to the nuances of its history. In doing so, she became the go-to person for that property. From there, she was able to build a foundation for her business on which she could expand.

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Beauchamp and Barron agree that, while real estate can be a flexible career option, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t take time and effort. “Getting started in real estate is not a part-time job,” Barron says. Working a day or two per week will likely result in selling only one or two houses per year, she estimates. But if you’re self-driven and able to avail yourself of the wealth of educational materials on how to build a real estate business — and apply the lessons — she says the career does offer the opportunity to have more control over your own schedule. Beauchamp says that can be particularly important for people in the “sandwich generation,” juggling care for children and aging parents or other relatives. The flexibility of her career allowed her to care for her parents when they were ill and needed her. However, she cautions, the business must still be structured properly.

5. Build relationships with brokers and clients

If you pursue a career switch to real estate, you can set yourself up for success in a number of ways. When Beauchamp decided to make the leap, she sat down and wrote a business plan. That was two decades ago, and she says the process helped her understand the sales numbers she would need to hit to earn a living. Both Beauchamp and Barron say it’s also a good idea to have savings that can help you pay for your first year when sales may be slow.

Barron adds that learning from an established broker can be a good way to break into the field. While real estate does offer the opportunity to work on your own, taking a role as part of a team can help you get established and learn the ropes. She also recommends using technology like generative artificial intelligence to help you in your business. She says the technology can speed up writing email messages and other communications to clients. (Just be sure to edit and fact-check what it generates.)

And, of course, put your network to work for you. Even though most of Barron’s contacts were in California, she was able to focus on making contacts and becoming known as an expert about her building. Beauchamp’s referrals got her into the business in the first place. And repeat clients can help put a real estate business on solid financial footing.

If you are thinking about planning a career transition into real estate, the Realtors association offers resources to help you get started, earn continuing education credits and advanced credentials, and keep up with trends. Contact the state agency that issues real estate licenses and learn the requirements for selling real estate in your state.

Given the median age of today’s real estate agents, the flexibility the career offers and the value of a robust network, seasoned professionals facing ageism in the workplace may find a welcoming new career opportunity as they work toward and transition into retirement.

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