The Hardest Part of Being a Real Estate Agent

shutterstock_68852506From the outside looking in, real estate agents have it easy. They work whenever they want, make lots of money and hardly do anything. How hard can it be? The truth is real estate is anything but easy. As professionals, we face constant struggles being in this industry. For me, these are some of the hardest.

Pretending things are always great

Ask a real estate agent how the market is and you’re likely to hear “Great!” Ask a real estate agent how business is going and again you’ll likely hear “Great!” Unless the agent you are talking to has already made the decision to leave the business, you will not hear anything negative. Why? “Fake it till you make it.”
This old adage has been around a long time and still holds true today. Success breeds success and no one wants to work with someone who is not, or at least does not appear to be successful. The truth is there is nothing inherently good or bad about the market. The “How’s the market” question is so subjective there is no real answer. The ups and downs in our business however, are very real. Even through the hard times, we must put on a smile and pretend things are great with the hopes next time you ask “How’s the market?” You will actually be asking to hire me as your real estate agent.

Time away from family

Real estate can take a toll on your family. Setting boundaries between work and home can be extremely difficult. The public has literally no idea what real estate agents do for a living. Ask your friends what they think you do every day. The reality is, aside from “Selling houses” the dirty (and HARD) work involved is unknown and goes unnoticed. This was cleverly described by a humorous website dedicated to real estate agents which read:

– Public’s Perception: “Must be nice working anytime you please.”
– REALTOR®: “Yeah, I can work any of the 80 hours per week I want.”

When starting a career in real estate there is the belief you will be able to work whenever you want, and frankly if you don’t want to work that day you really don’t have to. You are the boss! However, if you went to your favorite restaurant on a Friday night and saw a note on the door that read: “Closed today. Didn’t feel like coming in” What do you suppose would happen to that business?

There is no clocking in, and it’s unfortunate but there is no clocking out either. Family dinners, birthday parties and even vacations are shared with frequent phone calls, texts, emails, quick showings and last minute appointments inconveniencing your family for a client who in the end may or may not pan out.

Managing Expectations – Our Own

If you were to follow a real estate agent for 30 days you would be inclined to diagnose them with either ADHD or Depression.

ADHD: suffering patients have to cope with their condition, feeling frustrated by the second. Many people go through life with ADHD without even being diagnosed. Feelings of inadequacy and inability to cope cause depression, resulting in erratic mood swings

Depression: Depression causes extreme mood swings, happy one moment, hysterical the other and immeasurably sad again.

The reason is because we are sooooooooo heavily invested in the outcome of every phone call, email, inspection, appraisal, etc. After all, if it doesn’t go our way, we might not be able to provide for our families for the next 45 to who knows how many days! How can we not get so invested?
Being a real estate agent is full of ups and downs. When something positive happens such as a client’s offer getting accepted or we are hired on a new listing, everything instantly becomes so exciting and nothing can bring us down. On the flip side, getting too invested can lead us to want to “baby” each transaction so much so that when something negative happens to your baby, you are devastated.

Justifying your worth

You sit across from a homeowner who invited you to discuss the possibility of selling their home and to go over what you bring to the table, only to be asked to take less for your services. Don’t get me wrong, everything in real estate is negotiable but it sure doesn’t make it any more pleasant. Real Estate is the only profession I can think of where people will ask you to lower your income. Sorry sweetie, daddy can’t get you that baby doll today. Mr. Joe thinks I’m not worth it. Maybe it goes back to not knowing what real estate professionals do but it just feels like you’re being taken for granted sometimes.

Missing an opportunity to another agent

You know what hurts more than losing that listing or buyer to another agent? When it’s a friend or family member who called someone else to help buy or sell their home. Sometimes it’s better not to mix business and personal but what a blow that can be. At least let me refer you to someone competent.

Budgeting like you’ll never get paid again

2010 was a rough year for me and my family. I grossed $20,000 and had to rely on credit cards just to survive. Unless you are in a commission only job, you cannot understand the financial pressures involved in real estate. Some months you’re a rock star and think you should have your own real estate reality show, and some months you wonder if your career is about to end and be forced to take that 9-5 job you hated so much before real estate.
Unless your real estate income (if any) isn’t needed at home because of your sugar mama or sugar daddy, budgeting as if you will never get paid again is key. For this reason my wife and I live fairly conservatively even when things are good. We like to keep our bills as low as possible and try not to over extend ourselves knowing full well nothing is promised tomorrow.

The glamorous life of a real estate agent isn’t always what it seems but it’s not all bad either. There isn’t anything else I’d rather be doing (at least right now). Being able to help clients with their most significant investment is very rewarding. But in a business where the average real estate agent sells ZERO homes a year, the struggles are real and can hit you hard. Next time you meet a Realtor, give them a hug. After all, we’re people too.

About Daniel Di Matteo

Realtor at CENTURY 21 Award, Daniel was Voted U-T San Diego’s Best Real Estate Agent in 2014. A Husband, Father, and most recently, accomplished Blog writer, which explains your visit today.


  1. That does not even skim the surface of whats involved and how much work it takes if, you are a hard worker and do everything you can reasonably do for your clients.

  2. Thank you for this!

  3. Chris DiNapoli Realtor.CDPE.GRI says

    Nicely Done!

  4. I really liked this article. So much so that I shared the link on several of my agent group sites. It’s nice to resonate with a piece. Then you know you aren’t alone.

  5. Heather Smith says

    You really verbalized it all perfectly. Had so many people lately asking about getting into real estate. Even in a great selling market there are still ups and downs and challenges. Thank you for writing this.

  6. peta~lee smith says

    You hit the nail on the head with every point. Real Estate can be soul destroying. 22 years in this industry, i have seen many broken agents.

  7. Right on!
    And Thank you for voicing your opinion.

  8. Well said!

  9. Love the article because everything is so true.

  10. Great article! Trouble is that when we try to explain the realities of the job to a potential seller, it appears that we’re crying poor. Follow most agents around for 30 days and I believe the public would want to pay them more!

  11. Greg Fassbender says

    Real Estate is very conservative: Work hard, and you make money. Don’t work, and you get NOTHING. That IS the way it should be. … And now look around what some politicians promise. Is that good for our country?!

  12. Tonya Keppel Smith says

    very insightful article. A huge BIG HUG to all my real estate agent friends

  13. Shreveport Real Estate, LLC says

    I love the part about picking the hours we work! Next time someone tells me that I can work any time I want I’m gonna be like, “Yep! I get to pick whatever 80 hours of the week I’d like to work!”

  14. dailyapology says

    This is a great article and great insight into the field. However this sentiment “Real Estate is the only profession I can think of where people will ask you to lower your income.” really irked me. Every service oriented industry deals with clients negotiating your fee; realtors are not alone in this and we all have to deal with it especially in a recovering economy.

    • I agree. As my business revolves around realtors as my clients, I’m constantly being asked to lower my fee. Even when they’re looking to make 2.5% on a 900k listing, they’ll balk at the $250 I charge.

      Most professions suffer from this.

    • It happened to me with my very first listing appointment, on top of unrealistic expectations from the customer. Needless to say, I did not get hired.

  15. Mike McNabb says

    This is a great article, I began my journey in the real estate business in 1975, there have been a lot of changes in the market and in buyers since then. The one thing that has not changed is you have to work it like a business, and on a regular basis. Yes, you can work when you want to, but if you do, there will be a lack of sales, your business will suffer and so will your bank account. There are people wanting to buy even in hard times, if you slack off, so will your sales. I believe that the more people you see, show, and talk to the more property you will sell. Lets face it, it cost us a lot of money to stay in this business. Like Zig says , If I help enough people get what they want, I will get what I want. So plan out what 80 plus hours you want to work each week, and stick with it. It does pay off. Being a Realtor is the easiest low or no paid job, and its the hardest high paid job. Be a professional, do you job, as matter of fact, over do your job.

    Mike McNabb
    Jonesboro, Ar.

    • Rita Shaw Broker says

      Been licensed since 1978. I tell people that when you own your own business you get to choose which 18 hours a day you want to work!

    • In my opinion Sir, you hit the nail on the head. 20 years in this business this year. It has truly been a life changing business for me. Yes, all of the things pointed out in this article are true but what is not said is how rewarding this career is. If you do work hard and help enough people get what they want, lifetime relationships occur. To me that is the biggest reward. The skills and time necessary to do this job are important but the responsibility to the people who trust you with the most important aspect of the financial lives dictate that the skills and time involved are necessary to earn that trust. I believe in all aspects of life a person owes it to himself to work hard and make a good life for him or herself but in this profession the responsibility is greater than that. You owe yourself to your clients. If you are not willing to take on that kind of responsibility then you should not consider this career. Blessings.

  16. Karen Keim Rice says

    Excellent points made.

  17. Tony Rojas says

    Great article and so true for most of us. It’s a very few that can make consistent big money in this business. But I do live the freedom that it allows me so for me it’s worth it.

  18. Chris Gotcha says

    I’ve been in commission sales all my life. I understand where your coming from, but I would suggest you educate the public. I was first Mauf. Rep. Traveling 67,000 miles a year, but missed family terrible, then changed to Promotional Sales for the last 18 years, I make my clients my family, I learned from A motivational speaker, that you need clients and they need you to make them look good to your friends and family, so they will refer no one else but you, because they know you will take the best care of them and be there. I proudly tell clients when they ask for a discount, that I work on a 20% commission! the first 10% pays my taxes and insurance! the second 10% supports my Family, when they said our last woman was less expensive. I simply say, where is she, then they say we don’t know, I’m here to take care of you for the next 20 years. Stick up for yourself, your in the greatest Profession there is. Professional Sales, we those that can do it, make the wheels of commerce turn

  19. Your points are all good ones. I remember my mom 40 years ago working day and night doing RE. Before faxes and all offers had to be hand delivered. I loved it at age ten and I love it now. I took a different route of design/build. But we never make a $ , if it doesn’t sell. So selling is my most important task. I have one warning , the NET… use it don’t fear it. If you use it you will reap the rewards. Good luck…. ps… Tiger Woods when he was at the top, had a so small margin of difference between himself and number100 on the PGA (he was #1) the same is true in RE. you can make it , but you must work hard and smart….cheers.

  20. Great list. Especially the last point. Like many brokers I came into the business from a sale’s background so I was wired like an entrepreneur to push the boulder up the steep hill and make the closing happen. The problem happens when the economy overall tanks like we have seen in recent years. Nothing prepared us for the severity and duration of the downturn. I have seen first hand the effects on many people who lost jobs during the recession…some still not working. The upside for me is that I do have control over how much time and energy I spend staying involved in the business of securing new listings and working to represent buyers. Adjusting to market conditions is not just something that buyers and sellers are required to do, but it is essential for us also who work as professional real estate agents. Painful…yes, especially when giving the bad news to clients or prospects. My best advice to anyone starting out is to save save save…..a good year may be followed by a couple of slow or difficult years. We are only as good as our reputation and a consistent ethical professional approach will always weather the economic storms that arise. Business will always follow and you can sleep peacefully knowing you are doing the right thing by your trusting clients. I love my work and try not to complain about the endless hours….I signed up for it with full knowledge of the time required to be successful. Being able to help people with their investments and finding them the space to live and love their families is a very satisfying thing.