21 Mistakes I made when I got into Real Estate

21 Mistakes That I Made When I Got Started in Real Estate

Updated: Become an Agent, From the desk of The Earl, Keller Williams

My name is Robert Earl and I created the website YourCBL.com for 2 reasons.

The First reason is to have conversations with aspiring agents just like yourself that I wish that someone would have had with me when I first got into real estate back in 2001. I want to answer the questions that truly matter in a honest and forthright manner. I admit that I made some mistakes when I first got into real estate.

The Second it to provide guidance and knowledge so that you avoid some of the same mistakes that I made when I got started, particularly with regards to the real estate classes, company & brokerage that I associated with.

I originally joined with a Brokerage that was at the time was one of the top companies in the area I lived in. Their yellow branding and signage was seen all over the area and across the country. Here are some of the mistakes that I uncovered in my first two years in the business. I hope this helps just one of you that is reading this.


I signed up for the real estate course, paid for the class, got the textbook, rushed home to start to read the materials with anticipation that this book would be my ticket to freedom. I was going to show my how to sell real estate and be of service to buyers and seller. Boy was that the furthest from the truth. I read Chapter One and slogged thru definitions and history and the importance of the state real estate commission agency and the licensing regulations. I thought to myself, what does this have to do with selling homes. So I continued on to Chapter Two and Chapter Three, thing that at any moment, the dry material would fade away and that the materials would give me something to learn that I could apply. I finished the book before the first class was held, and it never got any better. Worse yet, it had a quiz of 50 questions included that were as confusing the story problem questions in college first year Algebra. It was the Pythagorean theory all over again. There must have been a mistake, I must have gotten the wrong book. Don’t they understand, I need to learn how to sell homes to buyers and sellers, not how many square feet are in an acre.

Surely, the classroom and the instructor would be better. They would be the ones to show me how to sell. I tried to approach the first class with an open mind, thinking that it would be different.

Boy was I wrong. The instructor took as much time reading the materials back to the class (Que the Charlie Brown Teachers Voice) as she did answering questions for students that didn’t understand what was just read. I sat in the class and gave it chance after chance to get better. By the end of the 2nd class I realized that it never would. I was so disappointed. I was frankly confused. And on top of it, I paid for the pleasure of being confused and frustrated.

I remember one term being used by the instructor over and over again. This will be on the test. This will be on the test. I think I ran out of two highlighters and when I reviewed my text book, 90% of it was highlighted.

What I have since realized – You take the real estate pre licensing course for two reasons. 1) To Satisfy the Hours & 2) To pass the freakin Test. The purpose of the course is to provide you with principals and terms and explanations that you will need to memorize and recall in a multiple choice format, all while satisfying a hour requirement set by the state. The course does not teach you how to sell real estate. This realization would have caused me to approach the class in a completely different manner. I would have started with sample test questions and worked my way backwards. (I will cover that in a bit.)


This turned out to be a mistake for me for a couple of reasons. One had to do with the time schedule and the required hours. I had a situation come up during the 3rd class session where I had to watch the kids. It was parent – teacher conference week (You can insert anything here with regards to what might come up, illness, car troubles, etc.) I missed the afternoon session and was faced with a delayed graduation because I either had to work out a plan with the instructor to sit in on another evening class that they were teaching or wait for the next time that the course was offered to retake the afternoon of session 3. In the end, this delayed my ability to take the final exam by 2 weeks. Valuable time when you are making a career change with a lack of income. (Sorry to those of you that live in states where a classroom course is required. I feel for you.)

About midway thru the afternoon of the first session, I realized that the classroom had 3 students that were bound and determined to hijack the class. The know it all (my mothers, brothers, uncles, friend and I invested in a home one time years ago) – Debbie Downer & the Why is that the case student. The why is that the case student wanted to get to the bottom of every definition and explanation. Why is an acre 43,560 sq feet? Who came up with that? That is like trying to figure out why in baseball the players run around the bases counter clockwise and not clockwise. This questioning was usually attempted to be answered by the know it all that would launch into a story of how the appraiser screwed him of the one deal that he was involved in because they went by the square footage from the owner that was out to get them. Once or twice and hour this back and forth would occur adding no value at all to the classroom experience. And then at break, Debbie Downer would give a recap of what had just happened. I have heard from countless other that this occurs more times than not. The instructor reading from the book was actually a nice break from the chaos that would erupt from time to time.

What I have since realized – The Materials in the textbook and more importantly the way the multiple choice questions are framed and the information that you need to recall is paramount. The experiences of others in the class did not add anything to my learning experience. I knew what I wanted to accomplish and could set my schedule to accomplish the hours portion of the course. And with the right sample test regimen and flashcards, I could memorize and recall the information required. All in the comfort of the public library or my own home.


The text book itself had one quiz in the end totaling 50 questions. Each chapter has 3 to 10 questions, yet these were not always in a multiple choice format like the final exam. The book did have an answer key, but it just strictly told you the correct answer. No additional explanation was provided. Textbooks have gotten better and real estate schools many times offer an add on package of an exam prep or a weekend cram session day. (Just what I needed, another day in class with that group).

I made the mistake of either not realizing the importance of or not purchasing the add on exam prep module.

During my period that I was waiting to make up my afternoon session, I happened to be in a Barnes and Noble bookstore and happen to find a thin book that was the answer to all my problems. It was 100 pages of sample questions and an answer key that explained why the correct answer was the best out of the 4 sessions. Had it not been for that book, I would have NEVER passed the class final exam or the state/national exam.

What I have since realized – What ever class you take, purchase an exam prep module that has 500 to 1000 sample questions. Take these test over and over again. Realize which problems that you got wrong and more importantly why you think you got it wrong and go back and review the principals that you have yet to master. Once you are passing at a 90-95% rate consistently, you will be able to pass the final exams, even if you have a brain fade or are stressed out. Taking the sample test questions, especially on the computer in a timed manner will also prepare you for the ultimate test. When I moved to Florida after being Licensed in Virginia for 15 years, I was required to take the entire 63 hour Florida course from scratch. I took it online. I focused on the Exam Prep. I was working a 9-5 and still completed the course and the final text in 21 days.


This goes back to the way I approached the class and also listening to – this will be on the test so many times from the instructor. I attended the class. I paid attention. That should position me to pass. It was not until I got the exam prep book that I started to spend time out of the classroom. That and the forced break. I made the mistake of not approaching the class with time set aside outside of the class in the evenings or on days off to memorize the materials in the test format.

What I have since realized – A Rubik Cube can be solved with set number of moves and patterns. If you know the patterns, you can solve the puzzle. Knowing the importance of mastering the exam format and the multiple choice test taking skills is paramount to get to the phase where you can truly start your business/career and start making money. Also, with over 1 Million members of the National Association of Realtors – plenty of other have passed the course and final exam before. Set aside the 30-45 days in your life to conquer this phase and move on. Anything longer than this and you will start to forget what you learned in the first portions of the class. Block off classroom and study time, with almost more time dedicated to study time and you will get to the place where you can join a brokerage.


I thought that I was being Hired and that attending their course would give me a leg up. If I was at the office for the classes then it would look good to my future boss, the Broker. That turned out to be the furthest thing from the truth. The Broker popped his head in one time during the entire course. And then when I joined the office, another agent joined the next day that had taken his course with another school not associated with the company we signed up with, and there was no difference between the way the two of us were treated. So much for getting a leg up. The only advantage that I got by taking the class at the company that I joined was that I knew where the bathrooms where in the building and I knew where not to park.

Luckily I didn’t fall for the offer that was made by the company to pay for my real estate course. On the surface this sounded like a generous deal, yet the fine print attached called for a mandatory service period, a modified commission split and sales quota in the first year. Maybe it was because of my prior mandatory service period in the Air Force that this did not sound appealing to me. Turns out that was one thing I got right. That generous deal of the company paying for the $400 course could have cost me a couple thousand in the first year with that modified split structure.

What I have since realized – A lot of Real Estate Companies / Brokerages want you to feel like you have to jump through hoops to be HIRED by them. Not every company is this way. You have taken the time and made the monetary investment to get your real estate license and it is you that should have the power to make the decision as to where you want to hang you license and you decide if that company / office environment will assist you in getting to your goals. I have since realize that I was sucked into a brokerage model that I now refer to as a Dependent Model. They did everything they could to keep me dependent to them. They went so far as to say that any success that I had was just a by product of the Brand Name that they had created and that my association with them was the reason for my success. I have since learned better.


I mean, what could be better. They ran a full page ad in the Washington Post every weekend. They had ads behind home plate at the baseball games. They were prominent of the sides of buses all over town. The yellow signs were everywhere. They went back and forth as being number 1 or number 2 in the area. With all of this in place, people would be flocking to my door to ask me to sell their home or buy a home.

The office even required me to serve on floor duty because with all of this advertising and promotion, people would be calling the office. (then I would get assigned Thursday afternoons twice a month, a good 4 days after the newspaper ad was out. By that time, the paper was more likely at the bottom of a bird cage than in the hand of a active home buyer) The time on the phones, I realized was a great way for the office to not have to pay for a receptionist, because all I did was route calls for the broker or other agents.

What I have since realized – When I really started to deal with home buyers and sellers, they wanted to make sure that I was with a reputable company… But they did not care which particular company that was. It was about my professionalism and approach. My knowledge of the marketplace and how to get the job done. Surveys of Buyers and Sellers performed by the National Association of Realtors have shown this same thing. The importance of the company and office is not the brand, it boils down to the training they provide that is focused on teaching me how to be the agent of choice to my customers and an environment or culture of growth and success. Ads on the sides of buses do not sell homes. And this care and support / this culture is nearly impossible to accomplish in a virtual manner.


I finished the real estate test and passed and was ready to start selling homes. I am not the first new agent that I have heard of that finds a potential buyer right out of the box. I mean, face it, you have been in real estate school and all you have been talking about to anyone that will listen is real estate. And one of them will say, “I am thinking of buying a home, when you get licensed you can help me.” I don’t always know if they say this to be nice or if they truly mean it, but that is a discussion for another day. But sure enough, this happened to me on a Tuesday. The day after I started the real estate companies new agent quick start training. A 2 week, every day program that was required to be taken, that was taught by an agent that hadn’t sold a home in 15 years.

I remember putting together my listing presentation portfolio. Some of you that got into business at the same time that I did can remember the large, black oversized binder that we were required to put together with basically posters in the pages (that we were required to purchase) that we added to with items that we copy and pasted onto the sheets. We also put together a great open house suitcase, complete with a compass, color books and crayons and toilet paper. (All of these are great ideas to have). But no time was spent teaching us how to get people to show up to the open house (they wanted us dependent on the newspaper ad) or how to find people to give the presentation to.

Back to the prospective client. While I was in the class, I was not yet certified to work with buyers and sellers by the company. Had I done so, I would not have been eligible to collect the commission on the transaction. I was required to sign a referral agreement over to the company that assigned the buyer to an agent that I had never met before. Needless to say, this did not work out, the client was not contacted, my hands we tied to help them yet (the company went as far as to not activate or approve our MLS access until the end of the 2nd week of the class.) 2 more weeks of no business.

What I have since realized – I would have gladly paid another agent 80 to 90% of my share of the commission to assist me in working with that first buyer. And I would have been staying in touch with that client the entire time to assist in anyway I could. The 2 week delay was costly to my wallet and to my mindset. I now appreciate the enthusiasm that a new agent has and know that they need to be able to take quick start training and be selling from day one. This business requires us balancing a schedule and multiple task and we might as well learn how to do this starting day one. And getting a percentage of something is better and 100% of nothing. There is no reason to delay.


The real estate pre-licensing course does one thing very well. It shows you every way that you can get fined and sued as an agent and it positions that Broker as this deity in the real estate universe. Add to this the position of the Broker in a Dependent brokerage model, and I had been presented with a relationship that placed more faith in the Broker and the company than I probably should have. The Broker was very good at explaining the commission splits and approving my flyers, but they were not someone I could turn to as a business advisor. They were more like a shop foreman and not a leader. They were more worried about whether or not I was in the office, but never once asked me about my sales pipeline in my first year of business.

What I have since realized – I respect the role of the managing Broker of any office.
Many times it is a thankless job. But I have realized that to be successful, an agent is best served when they have an individual or team that can take time to advise on the strategy and tactics of running a real estate business as a independent contractor. Compliance is one thing. Business growth and management is another and having this consultant role that has the ability to take time to assist me in my growth is invaluable.


Other agents in the office sure didn’t share any ideas, and the brand promotion was always the focus of the Broker. And I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I remember holding an open house that was promoted in the full page ad that the brokerage ran, and I put out the balloons like they told me to do, and I stood in the house for 4 hours during the open – and no one showed up… It was crushing. 4 hours in a open house, a vacant house, with no internet. As soon as I got home I logged onto internet (insert modem dial sound here) and searched for how to sell. The company had shown me how to prepare for an open house, complete with the color books and crayons, but didn’t show me how to get anyone to us them.

I remembered that a former boss had a record that he would listen to and then some cassettes in his car of Zig Ziglar talking about sales. I search for Zig Ziglar and ended up on ebay. On ebay, there was a real estate trainer that was offering a complete success summit series for over $500 dollars. This was more than I paid for my original real estate class, so that was out of the question. But another listing had a starting bid of $20 for the 1999 version of the success summit. Only one thing. It was missing cassette 3 of 12. I bid on it and $39 dollars later and a week of shipping via the Postal Service and an entire world opened up to me. You mean I could actually create my own business and spend time daily doing just that. I will call that period the summer and winter of my discontent as I started learning things that the brokerage had not even mentioned to me. And I was required to be in all of their meetings and training.

I also learned that as I started to implement some of the tactics that I had heard on the tapes, I would be reigned in by my Broker. We don’t allow that or we don’t do that? Do what, knock on doors? Talk to people? (I will get to that in a bit)

What I have since realized – Give me a fish and I will eat for a day. Teach me to fish and I will never go hungry. A real estate company can play a critical role in helping train you on how to find business. Consistently. And yes, there are additional resources available, but being in a learning based environment is the key in the long term. Training that fosters a path toward mastery. Not just a one time presentation or seminar or webinar. Ongoing training that focuses on tactics and strategy and mindset. Scripts and dialog and approaches that empower myself as the agent and that don’t just glorify the real estate company brand.


Required Floor Time, Required Meetings, Required Conference Calls, Required times to be in the office when regional and corporate guest were in the office. I clearly remember the stretch for 6 months were we had a require meeting where we were told for a half hour to an hour each week how important it was to use the in office, company owned mortgage company. (I would have no problem doing that if they followed up with potential buyers and provided a great level of service, but if they don’t and service is not improved, then why should I refer?)

Add to this an environment where other agents were not thrilled to assist you at all, especially new agents and it made for some long mornings or afternoons sitting around waiting for the phone to ring. Then when I did start using the time to start making calls and I faced everything from ridicule and critiques to flat out complaints to the broker that I was rocking the ship.

What I have since realized – There is a benefit to being in the office at times with other agents. The masterminding and energy that can come from the interaction is second to none. There is certain training that is best suited to occur in person, and not online or in the clouds. Yet there is a balance that is different for every single agent in the office, based upon experience and production level and the personality style of the agent. Being with a company that respects and encourages that is a must for me.


I started out at a 46%/54% split with 46% to me. As I started to produce, I rose to a 50%/50%, then a 60%/40%, 70%/30% up to 80%/20% on the last deal I closed of the year. I had done it. In a 12 month period I had reached the highest split level in my agreement. I was pretty happy, and then I found the agreement that had been left on the copier. The agreement of an agent that had been with the company for 5 years. And it stated they were on a 90%/10%. I couldn’t un see what I had just seen. I also heard of agents coming on board at a 60%/40%. The splits we all over the board. And it became clear that the sliding scale also applied to required attendance and compliance to paperwork and marketing standards. If I wanted to deal with this level of corporate politics, I would have never become an independent contractor. This sliding scale showed up the most in one area. Who was allowed to sit on the floor duty on the coveted Sunday and Monday time blocks, when the newspaper ad was fresh in the prospective clients hands. Favoritism was the norm.

I asked for the higher split, the key spots and every time I was denied or turned down.

What I have since realized – Favoritism is no way to run a real estate company. Nothing erodes culture more that creating an unequal playing field, especially in the area of potential pay. Being with a company that has a set commission split that is capped at a consistent level for all agents associated with the office is the only way to go.


So I hit the 80%/20% split and realized that my next payment would be back down at 60%/40%. In a past life, I had done government contract cost proposals with spreadsheets, and the cassettes that I had been listening to said I should create a business plan. So I did just that and calculated the levels of sales I would need to get back to the 80%/20% level. But something didn’t add up. The way that the levels worked in the second year vs. the levels I had gone thru the previous year, the 2nd year calculation actually took about $1,200 dollars out of my pocket more that before. I had to essentially, re-earn my right to the level as a different rate than I earned it the first time around. I give credit to who ever created the math on that one. I can see why the owner of the company showed up at the company picnic in his private helicopter. And I know in year 2 I paid for the fuel.

What I have since realized – I am no less valuable or no more valuable to the company after 2 years, 5 years or 15 years. Consistency matters, especially when dealing with money.


I hit the 80% level in half the amount of time in the 2nd year and every check after that, the brokerage kept charging me 20%. I didn’t know any better.

What I have since realized – Companies that treat their associated as partners place a CAP on the amount that they charge on an annual basis. When people ask me what my commission split is now, I realize that I can not answer that question until my final production results are in. What I do know is that I usually spend 8 to 9 months a year earning 100% of my commission.


The office had a mandated $395 transaction fee that had to be charged to the customer and if it wasn’t charged then it was coming out of the agents portion of the commission split, no questions asked. And on a buyer side commission when the seller was contributing to pay the buyer agent, this $395 fee was not covered and would have to come out to the buyers pocket as added closing cost. Not great for VA Veteran Buyers or Teachers or First Responders or First Time Buyers that we having to get gift letters just to cover the closing cost. If the buyer didn’t pay, it was the responsibility of the agent to pay the company. Remind you, this was in addition to the commission split that never went away.

What I have since realized – That this is not the norm. When you are first signing up with a brokerage, you have no idea about transaction fees or administrative fees and this not knowing can cost you. Take 40 transaction time $395 and you will see that this adds up over the year and actual can impact the commission split percentage. The devil is in the details.


After the initial quick start training held at the regional training center, I never stepped foot in that building again. I was never invited back. There was never a training for an active, experienced agent. Sure we would get some tid bits here and there at the sales meeting. But it was nothing that I would call training. It was dog eat dog and you are on your own.

By the end of the 1st year, I had over 100 cassette tapes that I had acquired in the same manner off of ebay. All missing one or two from the set, yet containing enough information to point me in the right direction. But it was not from the company and many times it was contrary to the company compliance and standards. My quest for knowledge and training actually cause me more friction in the office, despite my increase in sales and commissions.

What I have since realized – The Real Estate School doesn’t teach you how to sell real estate. You will either need to learn how to do so on your own of be in an environment that is learning and training based. Being in that environment and paying accordingly to the real estate company – without over paying is the best path to maintained success. Outside investments can then focus on coaching or personal development and not just learning the basics.


So at the start of my 2nd month, I am all excited that I have the opportunity to make a listing presentation to a home near the office. I get ready for the appointment, show up just a bit early to make sure that I was on time and guess who walks out of the house with presentation folder in hand. That is right. My managing Broker. I was in competition with my Broker.

What I have since realized – Sometimes Brokers or Owners of an office need to also sell. I get it. And I also realize the value of having a leader in the office that I can turn to and talk about strategies and tactics for my business that I am not having to compete against. This creates a level of trust and communication that allows me to work in a win win manner with this office Team Leader.


So I started to have success and the company encouraged me to mail out some post cards to the area that I had just sold a home in. I put together a mock up based upon some ideas that I had gotten from another agent that mailed to my house. I submitted it in for approval and got a call that it was ready for me to mail. What I got back from the company was a standard, stock card with my information and photo fitting into a 1 1/2 x 2 inch square on the back of the card. And they wanted me to pay for half of the card. I was prepared to pay, but not to promote them. Their information and the office main number was prominently featured on the card. My phone number was removed. Somehow my email was left on, but this was 2002 so maybe they didn’t realize it.

Remember the floor time. These cards would have been paid for by myself and the office to generate calls for the agent that happened to be working on the day that those cards hit the mailbox. I never sent the cards. I had been shown once and for all how much I mattered to the company.

What I have since realized – My own personal branding and relationship have made me more money then that of the company brand. People buy from People. They want to know who they are dealing with and, within brokerage requirements set by the state, you show have marketing that reflects this approach by highlighting the agent and or team.


I door knock neighborhoods or I talk to my sphere of influence & I take a listing, sign goes in the yard. Only the brokerage main office number is on the sign.

It still goes on to this day. I realize that some state require that the brokerage number is included on the sign. My point being, is that you can look at the sign and see exactly what the brokerage thinks of its agents. Are they business owners, partners, add on riders or afterthought. When the agent is forced into a position where there information is placed on the sign as an afterthought of a smaller rider, you get the real story that the Brokerage feels that the agent is dependent on the brokerage and that they are not partners.

What I have since realized – Sign calls are a valuable part of the business and if the brokerage had those routed to other agents, it will end up costing you in the long run. Also from a customer service stand point, the floor time agent that answers the call many times has never been to the property and knows little about it, which ultimately is a poor reflection on you in the eyes of the home seller. Being with a company that has a your listings, your leads policy is the only way to go. This means that any phone calls or internet inquiries that do happen to come into the office are routed to you as the listing agent.


I got busy. I listened to the advice of the tapes. Those damn tapes as they were referred to by another agent in the office. I say agent, but he was really a professional coffee drinker, but I digress. I wanted to have an someone assist me on a part time basis. I approached the Broker with this and you would have thought that I was asking for a UN resolution regarding sanctions. It went from no, to where will they sit, to it will disrupt the others to are they going to be available to work for the others. I said they can sit at my desk, I don’t use it, I am out selling homes when I am not attending required meetings. To this day, I think that they said no because they could never figure out a way to make money off this positions (that I way paying for). It went all the way up to regional office, so I heard. From day one until the day I left, my assistant was made to feel as an outsider by everyone else in the office. It was truly a hostile work environment. All because I was trying to make more commissions that would have ultimately put more money in the companies pockets.

What I have since realized – That being with a company that wrote the book on teams and the use of assistants is the only way to go. There are an integral part of the real estate team and the real estate office and add to the overall culture of the office in a positive and productive manner.


I remember seeing the map for the first time. It was worse than one of those political maps that you see for congressional districts. Lines and Boundaries. Pushpins and Names. This was the farming area map and the areas were protected like nothing you have ever seen before. This was a reserved area for the agents that had already been in the office (even if they were not actively doing anything in that area or hadn’t for a number of years). As an agent I of that company I was not allowed to mail, distribute flyers, door knock or call in that area. If I wanted to do those activities, it had to been in an area that had not been reserved on the map.

What I have since realized – A farming area is only as good as the care and feeding that is occurring on a regular and consistent basis. Having a reserved area does not guarantee success and a brokerage that promotes this approach is very short sighted. I have to be prepared to do business anywhere and if it is in the same area as an established business then I need to step up my game.


So I got to the point that I was ready to leave my first company. So I got out a copy of my agreement and read the fine print. I could leave, and I had earned my way up to a 80% split, but any deals that I had under contract at the time I left would remain with the brokerage and I would be paid a 50% split minus a $500 per property transition fee. In the industry this is called blood money. I had a pair of handcuffs on me and didn’t even realize it. And I was closing multiple sales per month. I could wait for a few months and not sell. At some point I had to bite the bullet and make the move that would be best to me in the long run. It was a $12,000 decision. And one that I wish that I had made a year sooner. I made up the difference in 6 months and until I wrote this, I haven’t looked back.

What I have since realized – Win Win or No Deal. You have to be in a partnership with the real estate company / brokerage that you work with and they have to respect that listings and business that is created is because of the agents efforts, backed by the office and not the other way around. It should never be a punitive relationship or one in which you are guilted in to staying. A relationship built upon possibility and growth will always outperform one that is based upon scarcity or fear.

All of these mistakes were made when I was first getting started in real estate between 2001 and 2003. Times have changed for sure, yet every single one of these tactics are still being used by dependent real estate brokerages on new agents that don’t really know any better.

All of these mistakes were corrected with my association with Keller Williams Realty. I am confident that the Brokerage Model employed by Keller Williams and the local offices are still best designed to address these issues that I encounter and countless more that agents fall prey to.