How Flexible Is A Career In Real Estate?

Any discussion I have that begins with “How flexible is a career in real estate?” is a long one. There’s such a wide range of careers in real estate and flexible means different things to different people. Since we can’t chat in person if you’re wondering how flexible is a career in real estate? here’s the same inside information I share with my friends and family. It’s my personal rundown of flexible jobs in real estate.

So, how flexible is a career in real estate? Careers in real estate can be flexible BUT. Your success is directly proportional to the time and energy you put in, and you won’t achieve success without a substantial amount of work. Successful real estate professionals invest serious effort in their careers and flexibility is one of their rewards.

Not every job in real estate has the potential to be flexible. However, many of them do. In this article, I am going to share with you some of the real estate careers in which you’re most likely to achieve the kind of work-life balance for which many of us strive.  For some roles, I have also included plenty of additional information such as the average national salary for full-time workers in each job, qualifications required, the costs of training, education, and maintaining a career, and the personal traits needed to be successful.

How Flexible Is A Career In Real Estate?

The perception of flexibility is what attracts a lot of people to a career in real estate. In a recent survey, 82% of real estate professionals said that flexibility was one of the things that attracted them to their job in the first place.

Different Kinds Of Flexible

When some people think of flexible work, they imagine a job that allows them to chose which hours they work each day while others interpret flexibility in other ways. They might:

Use Real Estate As A Regular, Part-time Income

Flexible can still be regular, and some are drawn to the flexibility of real estate because they see it as a steady source of additional income. However, because it is not their “main gig,” if they need more personal time, the real estate role is “disposable” enough to drop. For these people this is flexibility.

Plan To Take Breaks During Their Career

Real estate is popular among individuals who want to enjoy a fulfilling, professional career, but who also plan to take a career break, or two. This might be to raise a family, travel the world, or go back to higher education. Whatever the reason, real estate is well suited to hiatus.

Want To Work Non-traditional Hours

While some prefer to work the regular 9-5 and leave their professional life at the office, some of us enjoy the opportunity to work evenings, weekends, or at 3 am if we want to. Yes, much of real estate work involves connecting with others and to do so you must work at the same time as “regular” people, but it also affords the opportunity to do much of your job when works best for you.

Prefer To Work Remotely

Although many real estate organizations have offices where their staff is based, and a significant proportion of the self-employed work from a home office, many careers in real estate can, nowadays, be successfully run from a laptop and cell phone.  If you are one of those people who enjoy meeting different people but are keen to avoid the complexities of daily office politics, this can be the perfect fit.

Have A “Spare” Job Up Their Sleeve

Last, but by no means least, are the “real estate is my ‘spare; job” group. These people earn and maintain their professional licenses but only dust them off when they need to. This group might not work for several years, flex their working muscles for a few months and then once again take a step back.


Just as in other areas of life, with a real estate career you get out what you put in. So let’s be clear that you’re not going to find a job where you can work 16 hours a week, to your schedule, support your family, and have cash to spare. Neither will you find a role which you can treat as a side gig or filler job, AND have it provide you with a regular, livable income. What you can find is a profession in which hard work, talent, and performance are well rewarded. That said, here are the best options for those who are wondering “How flexible is a career in real estate?”

Real Estate Agent

Average Annual Salary- $43,860

Flexibility Score-  9 out of 10

Many people who have never worked in the industry have a mental image of real estate agents as older, slightly snotty, middle-class women, who “dabble” in the role of agent as a way to fill time or to make a little spare spending money. You say real estate agent, they see Annette Benning, playing Carolyn Burnham in “American Beauty.” She may not be the typical agent, demographically speaking, but some elements of the movie are spot on. Benning’s character demonstrates how focussed and dedicated a real estate agent must be, as well as how difficult it can be to achieve success, but still, the character is absolutely not the typical agent.


The qualifications to become a real estate agent vary slightly from state to state, but every jurisdiction requires an applicant to:

  • Have reached the age of 18 or 19 years old, depending on the State.
  • Hold US residency
  • Take all of the required license training
  • Pass the state licensing exam.
  • Upon passing the exam, work under the supervision of a licensed real estate broker.

The majority of states, but not all, require an applicant to have a high school diploma, and many States will only accept applicants who are sponsored by an existing real estate broker.

Costs Associated With Becoming A Real Estate Agent

There are both “start-up” costs and “running” costs involved in being a real estate agent. Also, the prices and fees vary according to where, and how, you work. The values noted here are national averages.

Prelicensing Training

Before you can become a real estate agent, you will have to take either in person or online training at an accredited real estate school. Exact costs vary according to the state and the school with which you sign.

Cost: $300 – $900

Exam And License Fees

Once you have completed your training, you will have to pass your exam and apply for a real estate license. Again, the costs vary slightly from state to state. In some places, you will be required to obtain a background and fingerprint check.

Cost: $200 – $500

On-going Professional Development

In order to maintain your real estate license, you are required to participate in a minimum number of “professional development” hours per year. These might be training course’s, lunch and learns hosted by your brokerage, conferences and similar events.

Cost: $1,200 upwards

Brokerage Fees

All new agents must “sign-up” with a supervising broker before they can begin work. Some agents will sign with a broker who works alone and independently while others join a larger organization with multiple agents. As you might expect, the larger and better established a brokerage is, the higher the brokerage fee you can expect to pay.

Cost: $300 – $9,000

Professional And MLS Fees

In order to access the MLS, a real estate agent must be a member of the National Association of Realtors, as well as a member of their local “chapter” of the organization.

Cost: $1,500 – $2,000

Business And Marketing Costs

This category of expenses covers everything from office supplies and printing to building and maintaining an agent-specific website. I have also thrown in cell-phone service and internet costs as it would be impossible to operate without these facilities. However, the hardware is not included. The same goes for a vehicle; running costs are taken into account, but not the cost of a vehicle.

Cost: $4,000 upwards

Insurance And Taxes

As a real estate agent, you will have to maintain Errors and Omissions insurance and put aside money for taxes, health insurance, etc.

Cost: Varies according to income.

In total, for your first year as a real estate agent, you should expect to pay out upwards of $9,200, without including the cost of insurance and taxes.

Minimum $9,200 – $17,600 and beyond.

Traits Of A Successful Real Estate Agent

Agents and brokers form the backbone of the real estate industry, and at various points, during the working day they might have to be a:

  • Salesperson
  • Diplomat
  • Financial advisor
  • Marketer
  • Counselor
  • Administrator
  • Business manager
  • Negotiator
  • Mediator, and much, much, more.

As a consequence a real estate agent must be:

  1. Knowledgeable. The knowledge an agent must acquire and maintain encompasses not only the practical and legal steps needed to buy or sell a property, but they must also have a detailed, up to date knowledge of, among other things:
    1. Local neighborhoods, their amenities, crime figures, reputations, price ranges, etc.
    2. Trends in national and local sales.
    3. Proposed changes to federal, state, city, and county laws and regulations that could impact property.
    4. Financial products, which clients will qualify, and how they can be used to optimize a clients budget.
  2. Well connected. Maintaining a robust network of professional contacts, in all areas of the industry, is critical to a successful real estate career. For example, you might want to know:
    1. The best mortgage broker to source your buyer an appropriate loan.
    2. Agents whose client’s who would jump at the chance to buy your seller’s property,
    3. An excellent builder for all of those repair estimates in the negotiations phase.
    4. A clear-up contractor who can empty a yard of junk this afternoon.
  3. Personable. As a real estate agent, you are going to come up against all manner of personalities, social backgrounds, and cultural differences. In response, you have to know how to adapt your approach to your client.
  4. Tenacious. If you are the kind of person who does not do well when faced with barriers, real estate is not for you. The ability to stick with a deal and do everything you can to make it happen is central. However. It is also important to know when to let a deal go.
  5. Entrepreneurial. For those who work in a large brokerage, this is not such an important skill, but if you are planning to work for yourself, or as part of a small team, it’s critical to recognize that your real estate career is a business, and must be treated as such.
  6. Self-motivated. The cousin of entrepreneurial, self-motivation is equally important. Without this essential trait, a real estate agent is unlikely to ever build a prosperous career.
  7. Honest & Trustworthy. Reputation is everything in real estate. If you are dishonest or untrustworthy, then your unhappy and dissatisfied clients will soon share their experiences with others. Once you are viewed as someone who cannot be relied upon to do their best for their clients, your career will come to a premature halt.
  8. Empathic. People move home for both positive and negative reasons and being a real estate agent you will become part of your client’s world as their transition from one stage of their life to another. You will need to be sensitive to your buyer or sellers needs, as well as to what they are going through outside of their property transaction.

Potential For Flexibility

Real estate agents work full-time, part-time, and various other types of schedule. They can also work in roles such as a transaction coordinator, or real estate broker administrator. They can be based in a brokerage or work exclusively from their own home. This is where much of the appeal of being a real estate lies. That idea of working from home, entirely on your own schedule. I know of:

  • Teachers who supplement their income during the summer months with real estate work.
  • Freelance web-designers, writers, artists, etc. who work from home and use real estate to provide them with extra income.
  • Parents that work around their family commitments.
  • Retirees that are not quite ready to retire.

There are, however, some downsides.

Many people are only available for house-hunting outside of their own work hours. Consequently, you should be prepared to work when it is convenient for your clients, and this may turn out to be in the evenings or at weekends. Working from home can mean you never feel you are “away” from work and you can end up working excessive hours that you hadn’t planned on.

Home Inspector

Average Annual Salary – $78,000

Flexibility Score- 8 Out Of 10

Home inspectors are hired by property buyers to carry out a non-invasive, visual inspection of the home in question and to provide a written report. An inspection report usually details an inspector’s observations on the quality of the building and systems including:

  • Materials used in construction,
  • The current condition of the property,
  • Obvious repair or maintenance issues
  • Recommendations for further, expert inspections
  • Indications of wider problems that may exist

Despite what many people assume, home inspectors do not carry out a detailed, invasive examination of a property. They do not cut into walls, pull up floorboards, or crawl under decks.

The majority of home inspectors are generalists and if they suspect a problem they usually recommend a further, more detailed inspection of the item or issue in question, by a qualified specialist.


Qualifications to obtain a home inspector vary significantly from state to state. For example, in California, there are no licensing requirements, while in Montanna you have to take a basic course and pass the National Home Inspectors Exam. Meanwhile, in Texas, you have to demonstrate comprehensive knowledge in a wide variety of building elements such as HVAC, plumbing and electrical.


Even though a license may not be required, or the standards to obtain a license may be very low in some places, that does not mean it is easy to become a successful home inspector. The people in this career who work for themselves have to spend time and effort building up a client base of realtors, many of whom are not willing to take a risk by hiring a newbie without any education or experience.

It is no less difficult for a new inspector who wishes to work for an established company. The majority of companies require training and/or experience of some kind in the real estate or building industries and many of them require a degree.

Costs Of Becoming A Home Inspector

As State licensing requirements and the minimum qualifications for established companies vary so much, an “average” cost range would be challenging to develop and would have little value. Instead, I have compiled figures for a new inspector, who has little, to no experience in building or real estate, takes basic training for the National Home Inspectors Exam, passes the exam, and will be working for themselves.

Training, Exam, And Licensing Fees

Some states only accept classroom training with registered providers while others recognize both classroom and online instruction. The American Society Of Home Inspectors has a complete program which can be studied at your own pace at home while other, smaller organizations have simple “National Home Inspector Exam” prep courses.

ASHI Course: $3,500

Exam Prep Course: $750

NHIE Exam: $225

Ongoing Business Costs

A self-employed home inspector will have to pay for their work cell phone plan, internet, office supplies, marketing/networking costs, insurance, travel and all other costs associated with running a service business from home.

Cost: $4,000 +

Professional Dues, Fees, And Development

Again, as there are no requirements for these elements in some states the cost could be as little as $0. However, assuming the average home inspector will want to build and maintain a reputation or professionalism, this is the cost of annual membership with the ASHI, two basic training courses, and professional liability insurance.

Cost: $3,000

In total, you can expect to pay up to $10,500 in your first year of basic operation.

Traits Of A Successful Home Inspector

A self-employed professional in a service industry cannot be a shrinking violet, and home inspectors are no exception. While you do not have to be the life and soul of the party you do, at least at the beginning of your career, have to be a good networker. In addition, a home inspector must be:

  1. Personable. A home inspector needs to display tact when inspecting a home where the current owner is present. For example, if a seller asks your opinion about their fabulous DIY, you cannot say how terrible their efforts are. Well, not if you want to continue working with the real estate agents involved in the transaction.
  2. Clear Communicator. Not only do you have to be able to think before you speak but you also need to be skilled at conveying important information in a clear and succinct manner.
  3. Organized. Juggling several inspections, traveling to multiple homes, providing a range of reports, and more form the framework for a home inspectors day. Being able to make the best use of your time and resources is critical. So too is maintaining effective administrative systems. You certainly do not want to bill the wrong client or sending an incorrect report to a buyer.
  4. Detail Orientated. Although a home inspection isn’t a top to bottom, inch by inch event, you still need to pick up on the tiniest details in a home, to understand their implications, and ensure all relevant information is correctly recorded.
  5. Entrepreneurial And Self Motivated. In order to achieve success as a self-employed home inspector, you’ll have to build a professional network from which you can learn, grow, and exchange referrals.

Potential For Flexibility

There is less potential for maintaining a job as a home inspector in addition to a regular full-time career or as a way to supplement your income from a second, freelancing role. For home inspectors that work within a larger company, there are opportunities to work a fixed number of hours or days per week, but most inspections take place during the regular working day.

Self-employed home inspectors have more flexibility. To some degree, you can book inspections according to your schedule, and there is greater scope for restricting site visits to certain days or during specific hours. However, the role of home inspector losses flexibility points because:

  1. It is difficult to build a large enough pool from which to draw clients, if you only work during the summer, or take on inspections when your “main” job is quiet.
  2. Federal, State, and local laws and regulations with regard to homes, planning, permitting, environmental issues and more, change frequently. Keeping up can be a challenge if you want to take career breaks.


Property Manager

Average Annual Salary – $66,970
Flexibility Score- 7 out of 10

The role of a property manager varies from location to location and from employer to employer. The basic job description for a property manager is someone who:

  • Advertises the availability of rental units
  • Acts as the intermediary between tenants and the property owner.
  • Collects rents
  • Carries out or coordinates contrators for repairs and maintenance.
  • Negotiates terms and conditions of leases.
  • Handles complaints from tenants.
  • Ensures lease conditions are adhered to by the tenants.
  • Instigates, manages, and complete any necessary evictions.

The precise roles and responsibilities will depend on the manager and property owner, but in many cases, the property manager also lives on site, often in a rent-free, or subsidized unit.


In all but 10 States a residential rental property manager is required to hold either a real estate agent or real estate brokers license. Of those that remain six do not need any license and the last four have their own, specific real estate management training and licensing.

However, all states have a minimum standard, and you must be:

  1. Either 18 or 19 years of age, depending on the state in which you wish to work.
  2. A legal resident in the US and some states require that you have established residency in the State in which you intend to practice.
  3. The holder of a high school diploma.
  4. “Of good character” which generally means free from any convictions and requires a background and fingerprint check.

For those that require a real estate agents license the qualifications are listed under the agent description above. In the case of states that require a brokers license, you need have held a real estate license for a minimum of two years, completed the requires broker education, and passed the real estate brokers exam,

Costs Of Becoming A Property Manager

In states that require a real estate license the costs are the same as for any other real estate license. For States which require a brokers license the cost is the agent licensing and education PLUS an additional $1,500 – $2,000 for broker education, exams, and licensing Finally, in those jurisdictions which have a state-specific training and licensing program the costs are approximately $1,800 – $3,200.

Traits Of A Successful Property Manager

As the person to whom tenants must turn owners will rely upon, a property manager must be:

  1. Approachable. A property manager has to be comfortable with an “open door” policy as well as being someone tenants can speak with and trust.
  2. Able to juggle multiple, disparate tasks. One day you might be needed to deal with a tenants noise complaint about the person who lives above them, arrange for a plumber to visit a third tenant, carry out credit checks on potential tenants, and bank the weeks’ rent for the owner. For this reason, a property manager must be able to jump from job to job and from role to role, as required.
  3. A good administrator. Keeping financial records, keeping personal details of tenants confidential, recording potential tenant interviews, all of this and more is important. Man of these records are legally regulated so accuracy and security are especially important.

Potential For Flexibility

Property managers can have plenty of free time during the day, and other non-traditional times. However, the flip side of this is that they are often expected to be on the premises, or within close proximity in order to deal with issues. Those who take on property manager roles may find it challenging to be on-call pretty much 24/7 but might also appreciate the potential to take career breaks or work part of the year.

In fact, I know a pair of property managers, one of whom works April to September and spends the winter season enjoying the mountains. Meanwhile, the other works from October to March and spends the summer months traveling the world.

Other Flexible Real Estate Careers

These three careers are representative of the many, varied, flexible careers available in the real estate industry. Other options, with similar potential, include:

  • Real Estate Broker
  • Real Estate Consultant
  • Relocation Consultant
  • Appraisers
  • Specialist Home Inspectors
  • Mortgage Brokers And Consultants
  • Real Estate Photographers
  • Home Stagers
  • Interior Designers
  • Leasing Consultants
  • Real Estate Investors

In addition, many of these careers are available in the residential, commercial and/or government sectors.


At the beginning of this article, we asked: “How flexible is a career in real estate?” Hopefully, having made it to this point, you know that many of the careers in the real estate industry can be both flexible and lucrative. As long as, of course, the role you chose is the right one for you.


Geoff Southworth is the creator of, the site that helps new homeowners, investors, and homeowners-to-be successfully navigate the complex world of property ownership. Geoff is a real estate investor of 8 years has had experience as a manager of a debt-free, private real estate equity fund, as well as a Registered Nurse in Emergency Trauma and Cardiac Cath Lab Care. As a result, he has developed a unique “people first, business second” approach to real estate.

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