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Many will tell you that the real estate business is much like an investment at the start of your career, and that’s true. As a new agent, you may have to deal with a lot of upfront costs before your career takes off and you actually see returns. So, it’s important to understand what these business expenses will be, so you can prepare for them now.

What are they and how much will they cost? It largely depends on the brokerage you choose, where you are located and how you prefer to run your business.

Education and Training

Licensing Course: If you’re in the process of getting your license or just recently obtained yours, this expense will sound familiar to you. Pre-licensing courses can run around $300 and up, while the real estate exam and related admin costs will be about $325-plus.

Continuing Education: The learning never stops! To create a competitive edge and stay up-to-date on the changing trends in real estate, you should continuously search out training and learning opportunities. While your brokerage may provide training seminars, you can also find third-party options for coaching. Keep in mind, the more personalized the service and the longer the session, the higher the cost will be.

To ensure you’re spending wisely, develop a niche in your career. Whether that be short sales or luxury homes, or another concentration, seek out more specialized training so you’re not overspending on something that won’t be applicable in your day-to-day. Designations and certifications, for example, are great options because they each focus on a particular segment of the market.

Licensing and Membership Fees

License: Depending on the state in which you’re obtaining your license, the renewal period may be anywhere between every 2-4 years. Also keep in mind mandatory continuing education that you’ll need to pay for in order to renew your license. 

Associations: While membership to the National Association of REALTORS® is another expense, it is well worth it if you’re looking for support and a solid reputation from the start. Set aside about $150 per year for NAR dues, as well as another $35 for the Special Assessment for the Consumer Advertising Campaign. If you’re a member of a local REALTOR® association, your membership is automatically extended to NAR.

Multiple Listing Service: Depending on the MLS, expect to pay somewhere between $20 and $50 per month. Some brokerages will eat the cost for you, but most require that agents pay the fee themselves. 

Office-Related Expenses

Desk Fees: Depending on the brokerage you choose to align yourself with, you may need to pay a desk fee. These can vary in price depending on the privacy you’re looking for, the square footage and the location. If the brokerage has a capping program, you may only have to pay for this fee up until your level of production crosses this cap threshold. So, at the start of your career, when you’re making less money, choose a cubicle or another low-cost desk option.

Software: In order to be as efficient as possible, you’ll want to invest in some software that can streamline your processes and boost productivity. This is especially true if you’re going to be working as a solo agent instead of on a team, where you’d generally have more resources and support available to you. So, think CRM, transaction management and lead generation. All of these tools will likely cost you, either as a fee through your brokerage if it’s an in-house tech offering, or from purchasing third-party programs. Read up on reviews and ask other agents what they use to find the most cost-effective solution for your business.

Office Supplies: You’ll need tools that will help your business run. These can include simple things like paper, pens and printer ink, but also, think about what you would need if you wanted to create tangible advertising resources, such as mailed flyers and event invitations. Also, shop around for a laptop that you can take with you on-the-go as well as use within your office, and buy a cell that best suits your transaction and communication needs. Good phone service across the board is key, and so is an office line if you want to set some boundaries between you and your clients.

Marketing and Advertising

Signs and Riders: If you’re looking to become a listing agent, you’ll need to stock up on custom riders for your for-sale signs (which is another expense), as well as signs for open houses. While your brokerage may provide you with free or low-cost use of their signs, those customized with your name and picture will help develop your brand and can attract more attention. These can cost anywhere from $15 and up. You may be able to save by purchasing in bulk.

Tracking Your Expenditures

First things first: Don’t get overwhelmed. It can seem like a lot when you haven’t started making money. With some patience and clear goals in mind, however, your career can take off.

Before you tackle anything yourself, hire a financial advisor. You need someone that has experience with the real estate industry and can help you manage these expenses and introduce you to others you may not have thought of, like errors and omissions insurance. This professional will also help you navigate how you can make the most of these expenses come tax time.

From there, you can create a business plan that ensures you are utilizing these tools in the most efficient and cost-effective way and you’re not needlessly spending. Use tools and apps such as Mint to organize your expenses and set alerts that notify you when you’re about to overspend. If you’re more hands-on, keep a running Profit & Loss spreadsheet going on your own.

Remember, it may take you 2-3 months to start making money, so before you jump in, save for these start-up costs and set some goals so you begin your real estate career with your best foot forward.

Liz Dominguez is RISMedia’s associate content editor. RISMedia is the residential real estate industry’s definitive source for news and information. Email Liz your real estate news ideas at