Dreams and Realities of the Real Estate Business

August 23, 2015 Updated: July 3, 2016

Imagine $37,800 for a day’s work. Not a bad haul, but that’s relative—chump change for a Kobe Bryant or a Johnny Depp. For the lot of us in the common-ordinary-everyday class who get up, go to work, come home, go to bed only to it again “Groundhog Day” after day, such a lofty sum, based on an optimum 6 percent commission for a $680,000 home, the median price of a home in Los Angeles as of July 15, according to Trulia, an online property site, makes the mouth water for a year’s wage to be had in a single day.

With a chance for an enchanted payday, it’s a small wonder so many from California to Timbuktu go gaga over the get-rich quick allure of the real estate business. But the pathway to Easy Street, easy to get into, has an implicit caveat: “Buyer beware.”

“A career in real estate provides flexibility and freedom to set your own pace,” reports the National Association of Realtors (NAR), whose website expounds on the advantages of a real estate career: “Income directly reflects your efforts, with no limits on what astute, hard-working men and women can earn.”

The NAR points the way to igniting a career selling real estate, which, by definition, surreally includes all the air space to infinity, and the manmade structures on the nature-made soil, which goes all the way to—for California—the Indian Ocean. In comparison to other fields, getting the education to sell real estate is short and inexpensive. Would-be agents who don’t have a bachelor’s in real estate or are not attorneys must take state-sanctioned courses at a community college or a private school licensed by the California Department of Real Estate. Of those who pass the exam and get licensed, the attrition rate the first year is 80 percent.

According to First Tuesday Journal, a real estate news source, in California there are about 280,000 active real estate licensees (agents)—not including thousands of real estate attorneys qualified to sell homes—down from 483,250 when the bubble that burst sent so many back to the reliable income of a day job. As the economy recovers, the number of agents is expected to go back up.

Diem Ngo, who received her real estate license 12 years ago while still in college, calls her beginning in real estate “the best college job ever.” Whereas typical work-study students got minimum wage, the commission from one sale in real estate could be up to $15,000, she notes. Though the Alhambra resident presently works as math teacher in adult school, she remains optimistic about the earnings potential in real estate. “You can work around your schedule and there is no cap on your potential earnings.”

Selling real estate is the inverse of employment, claims Maurice Anyadike, an immigrant from Nigeria who has an MBA. “You pay the employer to be able to work for him,” he says, noting the charges for office space and technology fees.

Licensed since 2010, he looks forward to the day of making his first sale, which would help pay himself back the $2,000 a year he has spent on Multiple Listing Service (MLS) and membership in a local affiliate of NAR, both of which provide resources that a sales agent would be hard-pressed to do without. He works at an assortment of jobs meanwhile. “Mortgage, bills don’t wait,” the Carson resident says. “I have a family—kids to support.”

One story of success is one of perseverance. Blossom Chen, of Studio City, Calif., a broker for 30 of the 40 years she’s been in the business, has been with Gotham International Properties since last November. The retired educator claims to be “swamped” these days, though the beginnings of her life in real estate were lean.

“Rough profession to start without financial means to ride out 6–9 months of no having steady income,” she said. She attributes her success to her spiritual faith, good health, and tenacity centered on a desire to be financially secure.

At Glendale Community College, instructor Walter Huber, who has published several books on real estate and is informally thought of as an industry guru, begins his first lecture in a real estate economics class with the perennial message real estate.

“It’s the single most expensive thing a person will ever purchase,” he says. Rooms filled to capacity typify Huber’s classes, where he commands respect by his example of having amassed impressive real estate holdings.

Despite anecdotes of success, statistics bear out that such aspiring agents mirror the chances of dreamy-eyed hopefuls in acting classes to be the next star—and multimillionaire. Disclaimers “proceed at your own risk,” “don’t quit your day job,” or “for informational purposes only” might make sense for courses on real estate, a cottage industry of classes and certifications.

Timothy Wahl’s experience in business, education, the sciences, and the arts gives him a unique platform on a spectrum of subjects.