Interviewing for a Position at a Real Estate Firm

Female estate agent showing mid adult woman around property
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Real estate brokers-in-charge are nearly always in the recruiting mode. If they have desk space available, many will take on almost anyone with a valid license and a desire to work. Don't wait for the broker to advertise for salespeople. You can just call the broker yourself.

Some firms may require that you commit to a full-time job in real estate, and not hold a second job; while others will hire agents who work part-time. A few allow agents to be associated with the firm, even if they don't work on a regular basis. This allows someone with a salesperson's license to remain on active status, rather than go inactive, as they are technically under the supervision of a broker.

How to Select a Real Estate Firm

Even if you are considering a particular real estate firm, it's recommended you interview with several before you make your final decision. The following tips can help you determine the right agency:

  • Notice which for-sale signs are most common in your desired work location. The firm with the most listings isn't necessarily the best place for a new agent, but because of their strong presence in the local market, they should be considered a potential employer.
  • Pick up local real estate publications such as the free magazines available at supermarkets and other businesses, and examine the ads that stand out.
  • Check your local Chamber of Commerce or city visitor's center. Search for firms that provide handouts to potential residents. Find out if they are promotions for individual agents or for the agency in general, which benefit all agents.
  • Look at television, radio, and other advertising to see what agencies dominate those areas.
  • Ask a few local agents which agencies they recommend, of course, recognizing that real estate agents may favor their own firm.
  • Check the internet for popular real estate sites such as Zillow and Trulia to see which real estate firms are selling properties.
  • If you're in a small market, talk to them all.

Maintain Control of the Interview

In most job interviews, your goal is to convince the interviewer that you are the best person for the job. However, in real estate, you are also interviewing the broker to determine their suitability as an employer.

The majority of real estate agents are independent contractors, not employees. While agents have a fair amount of freedom, they are also responsible for most of their business expenses, so it's important to know what training and other benefits a firm offers before you accept a position.

How to Interview the Broker-in-Charge

successful real estate career is dependent on your desire to succeed and your willingness to persevere during a slow beginning. The rate of your success will depend on your work habits, but choosing the right agency can help jump-start the process. To determine a suitable agency, it is important to find out the requirements and benefits, as well as any assistance in helping you to succeed as a new agent.

In terms of training, determine the following:

  • What type of training is offered for new agents? If a broker's answer is none, that agency is probably not the best place to begin a real estate career.
  • Does the firm have a designated trainer, perhaps the broker or another experienced agent who acts as a mentor for new agents?
  • Will you attend classes?
  • If part of a franchise, are there local or regional training sessions for new agents? If so, who pays for the training?
  • How many new agents have the firm hired during the past year? How many of those agents are still with the firm? A revolving door of agents is a red flag.

Sometimes creatively called "opportunity duty," there may be times you are scheduled and required to work at the real estate office:

  • Are all agents scheduled for floor duty, and if so, how often?
  • Are phone leads, walk-in customers, and referrals given to the agents on duty when those leads come in? If not, how are they distributed?
  • Will the brokerage train you to work the floor?

Advertising is a major expense for real estate agents, so anything the agency pays for is a plus:

  • Does the firm pay for the typical agency ad where listings are showcased or are you required to pay for the space occupied by your listings?
  • Does the firm pay for any portion of property ads? 
  • What types of advertising does the firm do? For instance, newspaper, radio, television, internet, for-sale publications, bulk mailings, Chamber of Commerce, and other local promotions.
  • Does the firm have a bulk mail permit? The expense of a bulk mailing is typically yours, but many firms pay the yearly permit fee.

Regarding computer equipment, digital cameras, and other technology:

  • Does the firm provide computer equipment to agents, or are you expected to bring your own to the office?
  • What types of software are loaded on office computers? Are all agents allowed to use the existing software?

How to Evaluate a Real Estate Firm

Consider your potential earnings and expenses:

  • What commission rate do they offer? Are commissions paid on a sliding scale, with the percentage you earn increasing as you bring more income to the firm?
  • Are commissions paid immediately upon closing?
  • Does the firm pay a higher percentage for in-house transactions? 
  • If the firm is part of a franchise, what percentage of each commission earned is retained as a franchise fee?
  • Are you required to pay monthly fees, often called tech fees or advertising fees?

Ask to review a sample commission settlement statement, so that you can see exactly how commissions are recorded and distributed.

When you ask the broker to give you an idea about an average first-year income, keep in mind that it is just an average. Some agents come to the office every day, even if they aren't on floor duty. They may receive a surprising number of leads on those days, sometimes because the duty agents are on the telephone, or have left to show a property to walk-in clients. Other new agents only show up when they are scheduled for duty. Therefore, earnings vary based on how you perform your job.

Earnings are dependent on your ability to be proactive and take advantage of any opportunities that can lead to a potential sale.

In terms of office expenses, inquire about the following:

  • Who pays for long-distance telephone calls made from the office?
  • How about postage, photocopies, and basic office supplies?
  • Does the firm charge agents a flat monthly fee, or a percentage of certain expenses?
  • Do you get a break on promotional fliers?
  • Will the company help pay for your business cards?

Find out if the firm carries errors & omissions (E&O) insurance for its agents, or if you are expected to purchase this liability insurance yourself. Also, find out if you covered under worker's compensation.

Multiple Service Listing Fees

You may be required to join a local multiple listing service (MLS) to work for the firm. In some cases, you may need to join a second, or even third MLS office to work effectively in the community. Ask about the expenses associated with each membership.

Make a list of the questions before your interview, and add any others you feel are important. Sure, you can change agencies if the first one doesn't work out, but that's a waste of time and money. Getting the answers to your questions before you start working helps you make the best choice for a rewarding long-term position.