Birmingham, AL

Surviving My First Year as a Birmingham Real Estate Agent

Roxanne Hale
Photo by Canva

With the news about how hot the housing market is, you may wonder if now is the right time for you to finally follow your dream and get your real estate license. While it’s true, the housing market is hot, and it is a great time to be in real estate, deciding if this career path is right for you can be a personal and complicated decision.

As a broker, I’ve helped hundreds of new agents build a real estate career. I’m often asked, “What’s it like day-to-day on the job as a realtor, and can you really make money at it?” Here to weigh in and provide an insider’s perspective on what it's like for a new real estate agent their first year on the job are three new licensees who are eager to share their experiences and help you decide if the real estate life is worth pursuing.

Meet our Panel:

Austin Freeman, licensed in 2020

Abby Ruggiero, licensed in 2020

Savannah Johnson, licensed in 2019

Roxanne Hale, Broker, 20 years in Residential Housing

What Real Estate School did you choose and why?

AUSTIN: I choose My Real Estate School by Mark Yarborough. Everyone in the area highly recommended it. The lessons were super easy to follow, self-paced, and targeted all the key points I needed to pass the exam.

ABBY: Mark Yarbrough’s real estate school! He was recommended to me, and I was able to take my classes online, which was a plus.

SAVANNAH: I went to My Real Estate School with Mark Yarbrough. I did the in-person class. I enjoyed learning from Mark face-to-face because he’s super entertaining. I knew nothing about real estate or how to get started, and Mark was recommended to me by previous students.

BROKER’S TAKE-A-WAY: Clearly, local Birmingham-based Real Estate school MY Real Estate School | Mark Yarbrough ( gets our vote!

If you have no prior real estate experience, I’d advise taking a live class. While it’s not as convenient as online learning, the experience is much richer in a classroom setting with other students. The back-and-forth conversations in the classroom help provide practical advice, useful in the day-to-day business of helping clients. Sometimes they even have local guest speakers too!

Costs for education, licenses, testing, BAR, and MLS memberships generally run between $1500-1800.

What was the biggest surprise in your first year?

AUSTIN: How personal clients are. It's easy to become great friends with your clients and not just be a part of a transaction.

ABBY: How rewarding it is! Helping someone buy their first home is such a great feeling. After working with the buyers through the whole process, seeing them so happy on closing day with the keys in their hand is the best feeling!

SAVANNAH: During my first year, the biggest surprise for me what how much can go wrong in any transaction. I remember being so excited about getting some of my first clients under contract and not even considering the things that could potentially go wrong. I definitely learned quickly not to count my chickens before they hatch!

BROKER'S TAKE-A-WAY: The first year is tough. You’ll be learning a lot, and you are going to make mistakes. It’s helpful to choose a brokerage to work at that provides you with a mentor or manager who is always available. We commonly joke that “real estate never sleeps.” That means you’ll often be dealing with problems after hours, late at night, or on weekends. It's helpful to have an experienced, supportive manager on your team who doesn’t mind taking your call and helping you with real estate emergencies when they come up, regardless of the time of day.

Are you making the money you thought you would?

AUSTIN: Yes, and having fun while doing it!

ABBY: Yes, I am! But my real estate job is also flexible enough to let me keep my second job until I have a steady stream of clients to only do real estate.

SAVANNAH: Yes. When I quit my 9-5 office job, I was super nervous that I would fail and not make any money because I felt like I wasn’t qualified enough to even have one client. Fortunately, my broker quickly took me under her wing, taught me everything I needed to know, and prepared me for success. Referrals started to trickle in, and after the first 9 months, I became more confident (financially) about tackling real estate full time.

BROKER'S TAKE-A-WAY: The first year can be a struggle for most new agents financially. If you’ve been used to getting paid on a schedule by an employer, the uncertainty of paydays in real estate may make you nervous. Realtors don’t get paid until a home closes, and that may take anywhere from three to six weeks or longer, depending on the terms of the transaction. If you have a flexible day job, it may allow you to keep a little money flowing in while you build up your sales and closings. If not, it’s helpful to start with a little nest egg to get you through the tight months. You don’t want your need for money to drive your advice and guidance to your clients. Having financial breathing room will make you a better realtor.

Statistics vary by state, but most agree the median income for a realtor is $49,700, with 27% of realtors earning over $100,000 annually. According to Forbes, Alabama real estate agents earn an average of $55,960 per year.

What is your day like as a realtor?

AUSTIN: Emails, traveling, phone calls, research. Emails…emails…and more emails.

ABBY: Driving everywhere, talking on the phone with clients and other realtors, and responding to emails!

SAVANNAH: It depends on the week, but typically it involves talking with new clients, negotiating for buyers and sellers, social media, communicating with all parties involved in the different transactions, driving, and showing houses to buyers.

BROKER'S TAKE-A-WAY: You’ll be able to chuck the day-to-day office grind, but you’ll need to embrace unpredictability and be good at time management. If a hot listing hits the market and your client demands to see it, you’ll be showing a house at a moment’s notice. Other days, you’ll be buried underneath files and paperwork, helping your clients close their transactions on time with all the proper documentation. Expect to spend lots of time on the phone with customers and clients, sorting out problems and sometimes providing a little therapy to anxious buyers and sellers. Many days, you’ll be the guy in the middle, helping to bring everyone together and working toward their common goals. While you won’t have a boss checking over your shoulder, keeping your clients happy will keep you on your toes.

Would you recommend becoming a licensed real estate agent to others? If so, what caution would you provide?

AUSTIN: YES. Stay motivated and put in the work! You only get out of it what you put in.

ABBY: Yes! I would say staying organized and managing your time well are especially important.

SAVANNAH: It can be daunting to commit to a career that seems saturated with real estate agents already, so you have to stay very disciplined. It is critical to do the “small things” - calling people, setting the stage for your social media, and jumping on any opportunity to learn more. These tasks are especially important during your first year.

BROKER'S TAKE-A-WAY: Real Estate can be a fun and rewarding job with lots of flexibility. It is also very demanding. I’ve spent plenty of vacations on the phone sorting out a real estate problem or counseling a buyer on the best route to take on an inspection issue. The people who do best in this line of work are natural problem solvers who enjoy being of service to others. If that sounds like you and you have a passion for homes, you should give it a try!

Are you glad you became a realtor?

AUSTIN: Wish I would have done this 10 years ago!

ABBY: Absolutely!

SAVANNAH: Yes!! I can’t imagine myself ever doing anything else. As with any job, it has moments that make you want to pull your hair out. But it is extremely rewarding if you commit to it and give it your all.

BROKER'S TAKE-A-WAY: I’ve never regretted getting into real estate. When I started, I had never even purchased a home personally, and I had only fifty dollars to my name. It was tough! Twenty years later, I’ve made a six-figure income every year and have learned so much about working with people. I find housing fascinating and could not imagine doing anything else with my life. Now, I really enjoy helping new agents learn the ropes!


Is real estate life for you? It could be! We hope our candid responses have been helpful to you. The housing market is strong right now – this could be the perfect time for you to make the leap! Good luck on your real estate journey!

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Roxanne Hale, owner, and broker of Arthouse has spent over 20 years in the real estate business. Here you'll find a collection of stories about buying and selling real estate & home building advice, housing history, and architecture & design tips. Oh, and some fun personal stories every now and then!

Homewood, AL

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