Expand What You Do

Keep business running at full speed even in a slow market by branching out into new business segments.

February 1, 2007

One great advantage of working in an entrepreneurial field such as real estate: You have full control over the direction of your career and the growth of your business. Even if the housing market slows down, you can branch out into related fields to generate extra income and build your client base.

We chatted with a practitioners who’ve pursued new careers while continuing to sell residential real estate. From home staging to public speaking, we learned there’s no shortage of opportunities for real estate professionals who want to expand what they do.


“I pursued real estate auctions as a way to help clients sell homes in a slow market,” says Bruce Lawrence, broker-owner of Auction Marketing Services Inc. in Huntington Beach, Calif. “Much to my surprise, many clients and acquaintances were very receptive to the concept of selling property by auction.”

Skill set: Must be able to effectively manage many moving parts. When working with sellers, most auctioneers create a listing agreement and market the property during a three- to four-week auctioning campaign, says Steve LaRocque, co-owner of Pacific Auction Exchange, Pleasanton, Calif. Auctioneers also schedule and organize auction previews and conduct the auction. You will need to understand auction contracts, Lawrence adds.

Training: Real estate license required in all 50 states to sell property. NAR’s Business Specialties division offers a plethora of resources on at REALTOR.org. In addition, courses, certifications, and designations are available through the National Auctioneers Association.

Earning potential: Expect to double or triple your regular business with multiple commissions, Lawrence says.

Benefits: You can cultivate nationwide and international interest, leads, and exposure. Potential buyers tend to be serious, as they usually are required to register ahead of time and leave a 10 percent nonrefundable down payment that will go toward the purchase if they win, LaRocque says. Properties are sold quickly, and referrals often are a result.

Drawbacks: Initial difficulty in overcoming a negative “auction” connotation held by some consumers and educating clients about the auction platform, LaRocque adds.

HomeStaging Expert

“Staging satisfies my interest in rolling up my sleeves and actively helping my sellers prepare their homes for the market,” says Mary McDonald, ABR®, a sales associate on the Mary Opfer Team, RE/MAX Unlimited Northwest, Cary, Ill. McDonald also earned her Accredited Staging Professional (ASP) designation, which is offered through the International Association of Home Staging Professionals (IAHSP).

Skill set: Good eye for exterior and interior design, with a knack for seeing a home as if you were a buyer. Ability to use your imagination to make simple changes that will enhance the space. Must use diplomacy as you encourage clients to spruce up their home and minimize clutter.

Training: A background in real estate, home design, or interior decorating is a big plus. IAHSP, which runs the Web site StagedHomes.com offers two-day ($349) and three-day ($1,995) courses to earn the ASP designation; and a five-day ($3,450) Accredited Staging Master Professional program. International Redesign Industry Specialists and the Society of Decorating Professionals offer related certifications and training programs.

Earning potential: The average industry per room rate is about $400, according to StagedHomes.com. Hourly rates range from $100 to $250 for the first hour and $100 for each additional hour.

Benefits: Staging expert Barb Schwartz, founder of StagedHomes.com, says staged homes sell 50 percent faster and for about 7 percent more than nonstaged properties. Even if you don’t pursue it as a new career, you can add staging to your selling services or offer to professionally stage a room as a closing gift.

Drawbacks: Requires extra time dealing with clients who may be opposed to change. If you have a hard time doling out constructive criticism, you may quickly discover this path isn’t for you.

Real Estate Trainer/Speaker

“I’ve been selling real estate for 21 years, I made the $1 million club, and now I want to share my knowledge,” says Jeanette Nolan, ABR®, associate broker for Metro Brokers GMAC Real Estate, Atlanta, and an aspiring real estate trainer. Nolan completed coursework through the Metro Brokers GMAC Real Estate Academy to become a real estate trainer. “At this point, it’s not about making money. It’s more about doing something different and being of service.”

Skill set: Top producer status will get you noticed and make your advice more valuable. You should be able to articulate what it takes to be successful, with tips on lead-generation, communication, and presentation skills. Also, you must have a desire to see others succeed, and be comfortable speaking to groups.

Training: Public speaking and presentation experience is definitely an advantage. You also must stay educated on the latest industry trends. To fine-tune your speaking and presentation skills, visit the Toastmasters International Web site and search for a club in your community. The International Coach Federation provides training specifically for coaching, and The Real Estate Educators Association offers program accreditation, training, and certifications.

Earning potential: According to the not-for-profit National Speakers Association, about 35 percent of its members who were surveyed in 2005 earned $1,000 to $3,000 for a keynote address. More than half earned $2,000 to $5,000 for a one-day training session. More than 60 percent earned $2,000 to $5,000 for a one-day consultation.

Benefits: You can earn supplemental income from direct (speaking and training) and indirect (training programs and books) streams, says Dirk Zeller, CEO of Real Estate Champions in Bend, Ore. You’ll also gain recognition as an industry expert, something that’ll boost your selling career, he says.

Drawbacks: Being a public speaker usually involves lots of travel. You’ll also have to devote time and energy to promoting your programs and training systems, which means less time for your core real estate business, Zeller says.

Mortgage Broker

Scott Geary, president of First Choice Equity Group Inc., Allentown, Pa., has watched about six real estate practitioners become mortgage brokers since 2001. In 2007, he plans to do the opposite when he begins work as a real estate sales professional. The two professions go hand-in-hand, he says. “I want to take the courses and become licensed to become a [sales practitioner because] I have customers who occasionally want to sell property.”

Skill set: Good communication and computer skills. Ability to multitask, work under pressure, and transfer sales skills to mortgage origination.

Training:License required in most states. Training, exams, and designations offered through the National Association of Mortgage Brokers.

Earning potential: According to a salary survey by staffing firm Robert Half International, mortgage loan officers earned between $30,000 and $100,000 in 2005.

Benefits: Predictable hours and income, and you’ll still get to use those selling skills from your residential real estate career.

Drawbacks: Must deal with pressure from clients and lenders to keep deals moving. Also, it can be hard to establish credibility and rise above competition from experienced lenders.

Corporate Relocation Specialist

“My relocation business increased my annual transactions by 40 deals last year — that’s significant,” says Troy Smith, CRS®, GRI, a sales practitioner with the Michael Group Inc. in Dallas.

Skill set:You’ll work closely with clients who are transferring to new locations for their job. You’ll help with everything from temporary housing to moving vans, Smith says. You need the ability to work with people from different states and countries — often times outside traditional business hours. You’ll have to deal with budgets and show sensitivity to your client’s unique situation, including language and cultural barriers.

Training: Experience with corporate relocation departments can give you an edge. The Worldwide Employee Relocation Council, an organization devoted to easing relocations, offers classes on the principles and practices of relocation. In addition, the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® created a Certified International Property Specialist (CIPS) designation and holds courses on transnational referrals.

Earning potential:Salaries can range from $40,000 to $100,000, according to Cecelia Chott, director of education for Leading Real Estate Companies of the World, the Chicago-based real estate network formerly known as RELO.

Benefits: Expect to build a strong referral base and gain valuable experience working with different types of deals and clients, Smith says.

Drawbacks: Limited personal contact with clients and a fair amount of paperwork. Also, conflicting time zones can require flexible hours.

Real Estate Consultant

“To expand my business and keep variety in my life, I started a consulting company for people who want to build a custom home on land they own,” says Rolf Mitzkat, broker-owner of Mitzkat & Associates Inc. in Georgetown, Texas. He advises clients on the building process, interviews builders, and negotiates prices for labor and materials. “I have a background in building, and I can offer an objective service that saves my clients time and money,” he says.

Skill set:Mitzkat has a background in construction and land development. He understands how different builders work, the building process, the psychology of building, and how land can affect the cost of building and materials. He’s also a confident negotiator.

Training:Stay educated on new materials, building trends, costs, and changes that might impact a home’s value.

Earning potential: Mitzkat charges $145 per hour.

Benefits:Broaden your real estate sphere while reinforcing your niche expertise. You’ll learn to balance needs of consumers, salespeople, and builders as you encourage cooperation, communication, and trust. All of these skills will help your real estate career, too.

Drawbacks:As a consultant, you must constantly work to educate clients and prospects on the value of your services. Otherwise, when potential customers are looking to cut costs, your service may be the first to go.

File Checker

“I do file checking and file coordinating — two very separate things — but the two combined are what contribute to my extra income,” says Judy Funk, sales associate and head file-checker and file coordinator for Tarbell, REALTORS®, in Hemet, Calif. “I’ve found a little niche that works for me.”

Skill set: You’ll review individual transaction files for each listing, make sure all forms are complete and accurate, and educate new practitioners on file-preparation techniques. You’ll need an extensive knowledge of real estate forms, Funk says. Strong organization skills and attention to detail also are a must.

Training: Attend annual file preparation classes. Stay educated about new real estate forms.

Earning potential: Approximately $300 to $500 per transaction, Funk says.

Benefits: Work at your own pace. There’s a need for the service among your fellow real estate practitioners, who you can turn into customers.

Drawbacks:Time-consuming and lots of paperwork.

Managing Broker

“Even though I was doing well selling real estate, I really enjoyed managing. So I weighed the pros and cons and decided that becoming a manager was a good opportunity,” says John Rurkowski, managing broker, Charles Rutenberg Realty, Clearwater, Fla.

Skill set: Ability to train and motivate others. An approachable, friendly personality is a plus — excellent communication and listening skills are a must. You should have the desire to continue education on everything from contracts to technology so you can keep everyone in your office on the cutting edge.

Training: Requirements vary by state. The Certified Real Estate Brokerage Manager (CRB) designation requires two years of active real estate management experience and 12 credits. For information, visit the Council of Real Estate Brokerage Managers Web site.

Earning potential: According to the Council, the median gross personal income of a CRB designee is $152,000 annually, 84 percent higher than brokers, owners, and managers who don’t have the designation.

Benefits: If you love to lead, this job is for you, says John Rurkowski, managing broker of Charles Rutenberg Realty, Clearwater Fla. You’ll have steadier hours and income than if you were just selling real estate, Rurkowski says. It’s also a great job for people who enjoy teaching and helping others, says Lynn Lenton, managing broker of Jay Cole Realty in Atlanta.

Drawbacks: Along with responsibility comes pressure, Rurkowski says. “While the salespeople are independent contractors, the broker is responsible for making sure they are doings things properly.”