- The Washington Times - Friday, May 17, 2002

So you want to be a Realtor? Are you drawn to the field by visions of fast cash, quick deals and meeting interesting, diverse people? Local Realtors give a different image of the career, one of hours spent driving anxious, emotional buyers from property to property, working weekends and being on call for clients.

If you are thinking about becoming a Realtor, what can you expect and what do you need to do to make it big?

Experienced Realtors say nothing beats the thrill of seeing first-time buyers get the home of their dreams and that these types of rewards are worth all the hard work. However, they also advise those considering the profession to enter the field with realistic expectations and eyes wide open.

Instructors and other industry experts say the training and test you must pass to get a license are challenging. It takes time and perseverance to build up a client base, and you must be willing to work 60 or more hours a week when starting your business. Most important, you essentially must be on call for clients who are going through one of the most emotional times of their lives.

Thomas J. Lynch, managing broker for ERealty.com in the District, teaches the basic Principles and Practices of Real Estate course for the Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors (GCAAR) and other area organizations.

Mr. Lynch says aspiring agents must successfully complete 60 hours of instruction focusing on property, contract and fair-housing laws. They then must pass the licensing exam in the local jurisdiction where they will want to practice. Once they have earned their license, if they want to be recognized as Realtors, they must join the National Association of Realtors. To keep up with changes in the field, every agent also is required to complete post-license training every two years.

Mr. Lynch says the failure rate for the jurisdictional test is as high as 50 percent because the legal language and definitions used in real estate can be overwhelming, especially for those who have been out of school and have not taken a test in years.

"It might as well be Spanish 101, because you are learning a different terminology," Mr. Lynch says.

While coaching potential agents, Mr. Lynch says he makes it clear to them that being a Realtor is serious business that requires hard work, dedication and self-motivation.

"The reality is that most people only hear about the agents who do very well," he says, "but the dropout rate is tremendously high."

Other area experts agree that many drop out of the field and that most agents decide they are no longer sold on the idea of being a Realtor because of unrealistic income expectations, lack of motivation or reluctance to put in the long hours required in the beginning.

Doris S. Barrell, co-owner of JLB Realty in Alexandria, also teaches the basic real estate course for associations around the nation, including GCAAR, the Northern Virginia Association of Realtors and Graduate Realtor Institute. Ms. Barrell estimates that 50 percent of Realtors drop out of the field during their first year of practice.

"I see it all the time," Ms. Barrell says. "It's harder than most people think. People think they'll start out and make $100,000 a year and that it's easy. It's never easy."

Ms. Barrell points out that, after finding a brokerage with which to affiliate, agents must focus on selling themselves and building up a client base through numerous phone calls and mailings. Marketing themselves and cultivating clients can take as long as three years, Ms. Barrell says, so prospective Realtors need to have another source of income to survive.

They also need to realize that they cannot afford to work only certain hours or turn down work on the weekends if they want to get ahead.

"You have to take the business as it comes when starting out," Ms. Barrell says.

So, how do successful Realtors make it and stay on top in a field that can be so demanding?

Bruce Majors, a Realtor with New Washington Land Co. in the District, is recognized as one of the top real estate agents in the District, having sold more than $10 million per year in 1999, 2000 and 2001. Mr. Majors says he works as many as 10 hours a day, seven days a week, juggling schedules and constantly responding to clients. This exhausting schedule requires him to be flexible and his family and friends to understand that his plans may change at a moment's notice.

Mr. Majors first warns prospective Realtors that the required 60 hours of basic real estate instruction is not indicative of the real-world experience they will face. "It doesn't tell you what is coming on the market or how to assess a property or what neighborhoods cost," he says.

It also doesn't prepare Realtors for the emotional roller coaster their clients will ride or the hand-holding they will need to provide. Mr. Majors says clients in the midst of making such a crucial decision will call their Realtors, needing reassurance and answers.

"You have to listen and not be judgmental," he says. "A lot of psychotherapy is involved. It's about keeping people calm so they can focus on what they need to do. If they are emotionally loose, you have to keep them together until settlement."

The dynamic nature of his profession, the freedom of being his own boss and being recognized for his efforts keeps Mr. Majors from leaving his profession. He also enjoys the fringe benefit of finding foreclosed properties, buying them and fixing them up.

"You look at all of these properties, so you come across good deals and good contractors you know what things are, and what they cost," Mr. Majors says.

Allis Radosh, a Realtor with Long & Foster in Bethesda, agrees that people skills and negotiation know-how are crucial to success in the field.

She also says that to move ahead, Realtors must be fairly aggressive.

"You can't wait for business to come to you," she says.

Ms. Radosh cautions would-be Realtors that the field is competitive, especially now. She points out that because of the number of eager buyers and low inventory, there is even more pressure on local Realtors to perform at their peak.

Challenges and drawbacks exist, but experienced Realtors say that if you venture into the field with a realistic perspective, you won't be disappointed. You will enjoy the money you eventually can make, the control you will have over your success and the variety of experiences you will face.

Dale Mattison, president of GCAAR and associate broker with Long & Foster in the District, says the wide spectrum of experiences Realtors run into on any given day ensures that they never get bored with monotonous activities.

"We see everything that life has to offer, from the best the first-time buyer who thought they couldn't buy to the worst, such as a property that has a multitude of heirs fighting over it," Mr. Mattison says. "We show properties that are showcases and then go [into] properties that when you leave, you can smell it on you. You just never know what you're going to get."

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