How to Start and Grow a Real Estate Business

real estate entrepreneur gazing at buildings and homes

Starting a real estate business can be both thrilling and daunting. This industry, revolving around buying, selling, and managing properties and land, holds many opportunities yet comes with challenges. Understanding the terrain, whether your interest lies in residential houses, commercial buildings, or land, is crucial.

Embark on your real estate journey with confidence. Dive into our guide, crafted from a wealth of experience and hands-on knowledge. Our team—comprising licensed brokers, seasoned business developers, and expert mentors—has curated clear, actionable steps to launch and elevate your venture in real estate.

So, roll up your sleeves – it’s time to lay the first brick of your real estate business!

Is real estate profitable?

The real estate market is enormous.

  • According to National Association of Realtors statistics, 5.64 million existing and 822,000 new homes were sold in 2020.
  • The Association of Real Estate License Law Officials (ARELLO) estimates about 2 million active real estate licensees in the United States.
  • Over 106,548 real estate brokerage firms are operating in the U.S. (based on the most recent census numbers from the 2017 economic censuses).
  • According to the National Association of Realtors, annual sales have increased over a decade.

If you have real estate business ideas, let’s take a look at each of the steps you should take to start a real estate business:

Step 1: Carving out your unique space in real estate

The cornerstone of every successful venture lies in careful planning and a well-refined idea. Understanding your competencies, recognizing the gaps in your local market, and tailoring your strategies to leverage your unique strengths are paramount. It’s essential to do the following:

  • Deep dive into local insights. Understanding your operational area, not just as a geographic location but as a vibrant community with specific needs and desires, is vital.
  • Evaluate your competition. Analyze how existing realtors and companies navigate the market, absorbing their effective practices while identifying potential gaps they’ve overlooked.

Ensure your foundational decisions are solid by asking yourself the following crucial questions:

  • What unique skills do I bring to the table?
  • Who exactly is my target audience?
  • What financial boundaries need to be established?
  • How does work/life balance factor into my venture?
  • What expectations do I have in the short and long term?

Identify and dominate your niche

Your roadmap to success in real estate starts with identifying a niche that doesn’t just align with your strengths but also holds tangible potential in your operational area. Whether it’s specializing in residential real estate, focusing on vacation homes, or becoming the go-to expert for real estate laws in your state, pinpointing a specific domain will elevate your expertise and visibility in the market.

While niching down is vital, remember that the real estate industry is an umbrella under which myriad related opportunities coexist. Explore avenues like:

  • Becoming a go-to real estate blogger or podcaster.
  • Offering specialized services like home staging, property management, or renovation strategies consulting.
  • Diving into real estate app development or crowdfunding.

Step 2: Formulating your business plan

Embarking on a real estate business venture demands a carefully structured business plan. While not obligatory, a business plan distills your business ideas and objectives, offering a roadmap delineating how your business aims will be achieved.

A business plan need not be long; clarity and specificity reign supreme. Adopt a concise approach, illuminating only the crucial aspects of your business. Your business plan should contain the following sections:

  • Executive Summary: A brief overview of your entire plan.
  • Industry Overview: A brief on the industry, major players, and trends.
  • Market Research and Analysis: Insight into your target market and its segments.
  • Competitive Analysis: An examination of your competition and your differentiating factors.
  • Sales and Marketing Plan: Your strategies for promoting your business and attracting clientele.
  • Management Plan: An overview of your organizational structure and leadership team.
  • Operating Plan: Details about your business location, facilities, and operational aspects.
  • Financial Plan: A breakdown of your financial statements and anticipated startup costs.
  • Appendices and Exhibits: Supplementary information validating your business idea.

You can create a stronger plan by understanding the real estate market you’re entering. Diligent market research lays the foundation for a robust real estate business and informs your business planning process. Your journey should kickstart with thorough market research – both primary and secondary.

  • Primary Market Research: Direct engagement with potential clients through online survey tools, focus groups, or one-on-one interviews to understand their needs, preferences, and pain points.
  • Secondary Market Research: Identify competitors and define your market segments using existing data.

Ask the critical questions:

  • Who dominates your chosen niche?
  • What strategies are employed by successful agents?

Step 3: Determine your legal business structure

Establishing a real estate business entails selecting a suitable legal structure, which can often seem daunting for new entrepreneurs.

Whether you’re an independent real estate agent or aspiring to establish your brokerage, consider that real estate has particular business prerequisites. Real estate agents, typically self-employed, affiliate themselves with licensed brokerage firms, whereas opening your brokerage might demand a distinct real estate license and bring expanded considerations.

Understanding various business structures:

  • Sole Proprietorship: A straightforward entity where one individual is accountable for all profits and liabilities.
  • Partnership: A collective venture where liability and profits are shared among partners.
  • Limited Liability Company (LLC): Allows limiting personal liability while retaining a partnership’s tax and flexibility benefits.
  • Corporation: An entity distinct from its owners, capable of owning property, incurring liabilities, and engaging in contracts.

Real estate agents often function as independent contractors (sole proprietors) under a brokerage firm. If starting independently without forming an LLC or corporation, you’re automatically considered a sole proprietor.

Incorporation and Legalities

Investigate how to formulate your desired business entity. Guides on forming LLCs in various states, like Texas, can streamline this process. Legal obligations for forming companies or corporations are typically more elaborate yet provide explicit business and financial advantages. Ensure the chosen structure aligns with your business’s future growth and goals.

Financial considerations

While not mandatory for sole owners without employees, acquiring a Tax ID or Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the IRS is advisable to segregate personal and business taxes and to facilitate future hiring. The IRS offers a checklist to determine EIN necessity, which can be registered online at no cost.

If your business will operate under a name differing from its legal name, a DBA (“doing business as” or “assumed name”) may need to be registered. Explore the DBA requirements across various U.S. states and territories for further details.

Step 4: Set up accounting and bookkeeping

Ensuring financial stability and compliance begins with a meticulous accounting and bookkeeping setup for your real estate business. Understanding these aspects will safeguard your financial flows and facilitate seamless tax filing.

Annual review and adjustments in accounting processes

The importance of an annual financial review cannot be overstated. As your real estate business evolves, so should your accounting and tax strategies. Ensure that your accounting is conducted cost-effectively, that your CPA possesses adequate real estate industry knowledge, and that your tax preparer has the skill set to navigate the intricacies of real estate law.

Step 5: Assess your finances

A thorough evaluation of your financial standing, transcending beyond tracking sales and commissions, is pivotal when starting a real estate business. Your financial management dictates the sustenance and profitability of your operations, particularly when involving real estate investors.

Diversified business financing options

Understanding the many financing options available to your business is paramount, as it lays down the framework for your business’s funding and growth strategy.

And while it’s imperative to conserve funds during the initial stages of your business, prudent spending on essential purchases is equally crucial. For real estate agents and brokers, maintaining a lean operation until a stable client base is established can be a sustainable strategy, with digital platforms offering cost-effective marketing and sales materials solutions.

Step 6: Secure a real estate license

Becoming an authorized Realtor involves acquiring a real estate license, which authorizes you to facilitate residential real estate transactions. Notably, commercial real estate businesses demand separate certifications.

Here’s a straightforward guide to obtaining your real estate license:

  • Real Estate Pre-licensing Course: Essential for taking your state’s real estate exam, this course delves into key topics like property ownership types, fair housing laws, and other fundamental real estate law aspects.
  • Pass the Exam: With a duration fluctuating between 1.5 and 3.5 hours, depending on your state, it’s crucial to secure a passing mark, typically between 70% and 75%.
  • License Application: Post-exam, submit your application, inclusive of any fees, to your state’s real estate board, keeping in mind the potential requirement of fingerprints for a background check.
  • Align with a Real Estate Broker: Finalize your initiation by affiliating with a licensed real estate brokerage, ensuring you thoroughly explore the pros and cons of various brokerages, such as franchise versus boutique.

Broker license

Transitioning to a real estate broker involves additional education and experience. Here’s how:

  • Real Estate License and Experience: With your existing real estate license, accumulate 2 to 4 years of industry experience.
  • Advanced Education: Complete the requisite pre-licensing education for broker applicants, ranging from 45 to 90 hours.
  • Broker’s Exam: Navigate through this comprehensive examination, potentially utilizing preparatory courses to bolster your readiness.
  • Application Process: Submit your broker license application and the associated fees, typically $150 to $200.

Step 7: Get business insurance

Ensuring your real estate business’s safety and continuity involves timely and adequate insurance, safeguarding you against unforeseen mishaps and liabilities.

Why insurance is non-negotiable

Initiating your real estate business sans insurance can lead to unanticipated financial drains due to property damage, theft, or intellectual property lawsuits, to name a few. Especially in real estate, where your guidance and management of substantial transactions are pivotal, ensuring liability coverage becomes quintessential.

Different insurance types

Navigating the real estate industry often involves treading through numerous uncertainties and risks. Ensuring your business is cushioned against these vulnerabilities is crucial for stability and sustainability. Let’s delve into some specific types of insurance that are particularly relevant in safeguarding your real estate business against various potential setbacks.

  1. General liability insurance. Shields your business from financial losses arising from property damages, bodily injuries, or advertising errors that might inadvertently harm others.
  2. Professional liability insurance (Errors and Omissions Insurance). Protects against claims of negligence, misrepresentation, or inaccurate advice, safeguarding both your reputation and financial stability.
  3. Property insurance. Provides coverage for physical damage to your business property due to perils like fire, theft, or natural disasters.
  4. Workers’ compensation insurance. Covers medical expenses and a portion of lost wages for employees injured or falling sick due to work-related activities.
  5. Commercial auto insurance. Protects company vehicles and employees in case of an accident, covering damages and medical costs.
  6. Business interruption insurance. Compensates for lost income during periods when your business cannot operate due to a covered loss, such as a natural disaster.
  7. Cyber liability insurance. Offers a safeguard against the financial implications of data breaches, cyberattacks, or other cyber vulnerabilities.
  8. Directors and officers (D&O) insurance. Protects individual executives from personal losses and ensures the company can cover costs related to litigation following managerial decisions.
  9. Umbrella insurance. Provides extra liability coverage that goes beyond the limits of your other policies, acting as an additional safety net.
  10. Tenant discrimination insurance. Protects property owners and managers if they’re sued for alleged discriminatory practices in leasing or managing rental properties.

Each type of insurance plays a vital role in safeguarding different aspects of a real estate business, ensuring that the inevitable bumps along the entrepreneurial road do not derail your journey toward success.

Step 8: Understand your finances thoroughly

Starting a new business, even in real estate, demands a comprehensive understanding of the financial dynamics. It’s more than just keeping an eye on sales and profits; it’s about having a holistic view of all your monetary inflows and outflows.

Given the economic fluctuations affecting real estate sales, preparing for inconsistent revenues is crucial. Anticipate the lean periods, ensure you have sufficient income to get through them and accommodate essential costs like health and life insurance and some leisure time without pay.

Whether establishing your own brokerage or kickstarting your journey as a newly minted realtor, your business expenditures will likely include:

  • Branding essentials like a logo, business cards, and a website
  • License and permit fees
  • Expenses for tools and platforms used for marketing and building an online presence
  • Deposits and rent if you opt to lease a workspace
  • Fundamental infrastructural costs such as phone, internet, and invoicing software
  • Marketing and advertising expenditures, which include promotional materials
  • Equipment purchases or leases
  • Salaries or compensations for any staff employed

Step 9: Forge a compelling brand identity

In real estate, agents and brokers frequently anchor their marketing on their brand and persona. Hence, shaping a striking and memorable brand identity is pivotal for any professional in the field.

Your brand is essentially your public facade and should encapsulate your company’s prime and indispensable attributes. It molds how you and your business are recognized and perceived, influencing customer perceptions and your company’s reputation. A potent brand is indispensable, particularly in highly competitive real estate.

Consider the following questions:

  • What persona or identity do I want my real estate brand to project?
  • Who comprises my target demographic?
  • What unique service can clients avail from me?
  • What unique experiences can clients gain from collaborating with me?
  • What values underpin my brand?
  • What element of customer experience is paramount?

The responses to these questions will shape your brand’s core, dictating all future brand-related decisions and strategies. These foundational concepts should influence your business name, logo, and website design. Ensure your real estate logo stands distinct amidst a sea of analogous logos.

Also, don’t underestimate the potency of vibrant and eye-catching real estate signage. Go beyond mundane signs and opt for ones that actively sell.

Consistently spotlight your brand identity across social media channels. And remember, constructing a robust brand identity doesn’t necessarily demand a big budget. Various pricing guides can help you pinpoint an optimal pricing strategy, covering diverse aspects like logo design, business card creation, brochure design, and website design, accommodating all budget sizes.

Step 10: Establish a commanding online presence

In today’s digital age, establishing a potent online presence is imperative for small businesses across all industries, including real estate.

Studies have indicated that a significant portion, about 90%, of homebuyers initiate their search online, while 40% reach out to real estate agents after conducting online research. Therefore, an online presence isn’t just favorable – it’s indispensable for competing in the real estate market and developing a thriving business.

Clients often select real estate services based on brand, the professional associated with them, and their reputation. Your business website frequently serves as the initial interaction point between potential clients and yourself; thus, ensuring it effectively represents your brand is crucial. Either by mastering the skill of website development or employing skilled designers and developers, ensure your website authentically reflects who you are, the services you provide, your qualifications, and your reputation.

Here’s a handful of tips to augment your web presence:

  • Be authentic, engaging, and relatable in your copy, avoiding generic marketing speak.
  • Showcase high-quality examples of closed sales and integrate social proof wherever feasible.
  • Make communication with you straightforward and uncomplicated for site visitors.
  • Display your listings with high-quality, impactful photos, and consider investing in real estate photo editing services.
  • Consider incorporating virtual house tours and floor plans to enhance your listings and engage potential buyers.
  • Craft a website that solidifies your brand, delineates your style and approach, and articulates your value proposition.

Moreover, maintaining a strong social media presence is also pivotal in connecting with your audience and directing more visitors to your website; hence, building a robust social media calendar is key. After interacting with you, prospects will often visit your website for additional research, whether in person or on social media.

In an industry where trust is paramount, especially when dealing with significant life investments like home purchases, ensuring that every aspect of your brand emanates reliability and authority is vital.

Step 11: Develop a robust sales plan

Market research is an indispensable tool every aspiring business owner should utilize when embarking on a new business adventure. When the time arrives to inaugurate your real estate business, possessing a thoroughly researched plan will mitigate time, stress, and financial expenditures in the long run. Your sales and marketing strategies should outline your roadmap to cultivate your real estate brand and foster word-of-mouth referrals for your company.

When devising a sales plan, comprehend your options and decide which strategies will most benefit your business.

Begin by determining: How will you sell your real estate services?

Given the often personal and intimate nature of real estate services, adopting a more hands-on, personal approach tends to be more effective and successful. Although your website can assist in lead generation, your success equally hinges upon discerning when to say no and when to say yes to customers.

This entails occasionally stepping away from the computer and connecting via phone calls. A brief conversation with potential clients can rapidly ascertain whether your services align with their needs, conserving time and effort for both parties when a suitable match isn’t present.

The preliminary work facilitates the next phase of your sales plan: the face-to-face consultation. Personal meetings with clients allow you to discern their needs, expectations, and any pivotal factors ahead of time. The ultimate objective of this phase is to secure the client’s commitment to partner with you in their real estate journey.

The real work commences after the sale! Remember, the post-sales experience is vital. Your post-sales customer care can distinctly set you apart from your competitors. Satisfied clients, especially new homeowners, often provide real estate agents and brokers with clients through word-of-mouth.

By crafting an exemplary sales experience, you enhance the likelihood of generating many word-of-mouth referrals, which is a potent tool for marketing your commercial properties and residential listings. Ensure your sales plan seizes every opportunity to close and cultivate future sales.

Step 12: Choosing the right brokerage structure

Join a team: franchise vs. boutique brokerages

Understanding the intricate dynamics of franchise and boutique brokerages can streamline your initiation into the real estate world. Each harbors its unique merits and demerits.

National Franchise Brokerages

A symbiotic relationship where you leverage the brand of a large company while contributing a percentage of your deal commissions.

Pros: Access to vast marketing resources and superior brand recognition.
Cons: Potential impersonality and complex mentorship acquisition for new agents due to the large setup.

Boutique Brokerages

Small, intimate setups where every agent plays a pivotal role.

Pros: Enhanced attention to each agent and flexible branding.
Cons: Limited marketing budgets and localized brand recognition.

Embracing Brokerage as a Service (BaaS)

BaaS streamlines the real estate career pathway by encapsulating essential business tools and services into a single offering.

Advantages:

  • Cost-efficiency with low upfront costs.
  • Access to state-of-the-art technology and flexibility in service selection.
  • Unbridled support and mentorship.

Considerations:

  • Opt for a BaaS provider that resonates with your ambitions and values.
  • Maximize the utility of provided technologies and resources.
  • Foster relationships and garner insights from peers within the BaaS platform.
  • Invest in building a distinct personal brand.

Step 13: Grow your real estate business

Prioritize networking

Networking is paramount in sculpting your real estate journey. Choose to establish potent, quality connections to elevate your brand and influence.

Implement Customer Relationship Management (CRM)

Harness a robust CRM to meticulously organize your leads and contacts and enhance customer interactions and engagements, propelling your business’s growth trajectory.

A robust CRM systematizes interactions and molds an optimized customer journey, positioning you aptly for securing leads.

Engage with your leads promptly and constructively. A strategic approach involves:

  • Conducting preliminary research about the lead.
  • Crafting a conversational approach, mirroring a friendly interaction.
  • Being solution-oriented and positive throughout the communication.

Harness the power of referrals

Capitalize on the potency of referrals from various sources—satisfied clients, acquaintances, and professional networks. Use these proven strategies:

  • Adopt a straightforward request method: “Your referral would significantly support my business growth. Would you consider reviewing or recommending my services to your network?”
  • Leverage digital platforms like email campaigns or social media to facilitate easy referral processes.

Conclusion

Launching and navigating a real estate business is no small feat. Still, with the right strategy, robust networking, and a keen understanding of your chosen market, you will maximize your chance for success. Remember: your venture into real estate will be marked by triumphs and hurdles. Your ability to adapt, learn, and persistently push forward will define your journey.