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Overview

The real estate industry encompasses the many facets of property, including development, appraisal, marketing, selling, leasing, and management of commercial, industrial, residential, and agricultural properties. This industry can fluctuate depending on the national and local economies, although it remains somewhat consistent due to the fact that people always need homes and businesses always need office space.

In the United States, real estate has a long history. After the Revolutionary War, no longer under England's thumb, the federal government sold and granted land to private owners for their own use. This practice continued as the country expanded westward, most notably starting in 1862 with the Homestead Act, which allowed private ownership of U.S. land in exchange for improving and developing the land for at least five years. The U.S. government distributed more than 300 million acres of public property to private landowners through the Homestead Act, creating the basis for the real estate market.

The real estate industry evolved as the United States evolved from an agricultural society to an industrial one. Several shifts occurred during the transformation of the Industrial Revolution. For one, urban centers swelled as people moved to cities to work in factories. These workers needed places to live, and they had money to spend. In addition, as the United States increased its wealth through industry, banks and other financial institutions stopped their practice of lending only to the wealthy. Suddenly, the middle class and blue-collar workers were able to secure mortgages. Home ownership became more common.

As cities developed, the need for real estate transactions increased. Office buildings, retail centers, hotels and restaurants, and residential housing boomed, and someone was needed to develop, sell, and manage it all. Soon, urban sprawl would create the need for suburbs, and with that more housing, town centers, and eventually, businesses.

Today, the real estate industry is one of the most lucrative sectors of the U.S. economy, and it continues to provide opportunities for interested and motivated individuals. Since many professions within real estate are based on sales, success depends on effort. This is an industry for hardworking, goal-oriented people who are always ready to take on more. However, the hard-charging lifestyle is balanced by some flexibility: Those who succeed in the real estate industry often set their own hours, are not limited by a fixed salary, and can be their own boss.

Professions within the real estate industry vary. Brokers and agents lease and sell properties. Real estate developers buy land, build property on it, and sell it to interested parties. Building managers act on the owner's behalf and deal with day-to-day issues of properties. Appraisers must assess the value of properties before they can be sold. In addition, support staff, office managers, real estate attorneys, loan officers, and others are essential players in every real estate transaction.

The real estate industry is an important element of the economy. In the mid-2000s, the industry faced major challenges when the commercial real estate market peaked and then fell in step with the recession. The economy has strengthened in the years since, however, and the real estate market continues to rebound. In 2014, real estate construction alone contributed nearly $1.1 trillion, more than 6.1 percent, to the nation's economic output as measured by Gross Domestic Product. Whether the economy is strong or weak, people will always need a place to live, work, and shop, and there will always be a steady need for real estate professionals. Their degree of success simply depends on their motivation, geographic location, and the tides of the market.

Uppers
  • The entry to some of the jobs in real estate may be fairly quick, which is why many people decide to change careers and go into the real estate business. For instance, although the requirements to become a real estate agent vary by state, in many instances people can meet the requirements and be licensed in a matter of months.
  • Many real estate workers have flexible schedules, especially residential real estate agents.  You set your own hours, and have no need to stop into the office except to file paperwork or maybe to attend the occasional staff meeting.
  • Working in real estate can be fun. For developers, agents, brokers, and others, researching properties and then sharing that knowledge with clients is often a rewarding experience. Closing real estate deals where everyone is happy with the transaction is professionally satisfying, as is the commission check at the end.
  • Real estate professionals have the potential to make a lot of money if they do their research, work hard, and put in the hours. Those who take multiple approaches to securing more business, such as advertising their services and networking for referrals, can further boost their monthly income.
  • People will always need shelter and a place to work, and they need real estate professionals to help them find homes, office spaces, and other properties. There may be more competition for jobs when the economy is weak, but there will still be opportunities in the real estate business.
Downers
  • The real estate licensing exam is really tough. Passing it requires many hours of study and the ability to understand complicated subject matter. Licensed real estate professionals usually have better employment opportunities than unlicensed professionals. Even after investing time in studying and then getting licensed, there is still no guarantee the work and money will be forthcoming. It all depends on the real estate professional’s motivation and dedication to the job.
  • The flexible schedule comes at a price. Real estate agents’ and other professionals’ time may not be as flexible as imagined. Open houses – when a property for sale is shown to the general public – are invariably held on evenings or weekends. Real estate clients may be unable to see properties during the traditional workweek as well.
  • Many real estate workers are paid on commission only. The first few months can be particularly challenging for new agents who are still learning the ropes. Even after putting in long hours and really hustling for business, the first paycheck may still be a month or two away. Having at least six months of savings before entering the field will help ease the stress in the beginning.
  • Residential real estate can be fraught with emotions because it has to do with people and their homes. Handling clients is vitally important. People get emotional when buying or selling a house, and are often nervous about the large sums of money spent or acquired. Managing clients and their expectations is a crucial responsibility for the successful realtor.
  • Self-employed real estate professionals work independently and are therefore responsible for tracking their sales and handling their own accounting, as well as filing tax returns. These tasks can lengthen an already long workday and workweek.