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U.S. News: Real Estate: The Ultimate Second Career for Seniors

Buying and selling houses provides more than extra income for older Americans.

By Maryalene LaPonsie

May 8, 2015, at 9:19 a.m.

Real Estate: The Ultimate Second Career for Seniors

The field's fairly low barrier to entry and flexible schedule both appeal to older real estate agents. (Getty Images)

As Americans age, they may view retirement with conflicted emotions. While seniors often look forward to leaving the daily grind of a full-time job, they may also be concerned about losing vital social connections and income.

Over half of Americans think they might work during their retirement, according to a 2015 Franklin Templeton survey of 2,002 adults. Money can be one factor in the decision to never fully retire, but 20 percent of survey respondents say they may delay retirement because they enjoy working.

For seniors who are looking for a second career that will provide both income and a social outlet, real estate professionals say their field fits the bill.

A Relatively Easy Career to Enter

"There is a fairly low barrier to entry," says Sherry Chris, CEO of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate. "It doesn't cost much too become a licensed Realtor, and some states have licensing [classes] online."

Educational requirements vary by state, and Ross Bimson, a real estate agent with Keller Williams Arizona Realty, notes his state requires 90 hours of education followed by a licensing test. Once licensed, agents must take continuing education courses.

Beyond education, new real estate agents need a reliable vehicle, computer and phone system, says Steve Goddard, vice president of the National Association of Realtors. While some real estate firms may provide computers and equipment, Goddard says agents won't want to head to the office for everything. "You need to have the ability to fax something from home," he says.

Flexible Schedules Means Time for Family and Hobbies

Being able to enter the field with relative ease is only one reason seniors might want to consider a second career in real estate. Flexible scheduling is another.

"The real estate industry is a career offering a lot of flexibility," Chris says. "You can work 20 hours a week or 80 hours a week."

However, Bimson cautions against working too few hours, which can leave agents disconnected from their office or clients. "You need to stay involved at the branch level," he says. "At a minimum, expect to do 20 hours [of work] a week."

Tom Valdes, president of The Georgia Club Real Estate Company, has four agents who work exclusively for The Georgia Club retirement and golf community. He says working with a dedicated team is one way seniors can maximize the flexibility of the career. "You can set a schedule with other team members so you don't have to work full-time," he says.

While the hours may be flexible, Bimson adds that most work may occur during off-hours. Buyers often have day jobs, so showings and meetings are typically scheduled during evenings and on weekends.

A Career Revolving Around Community Connections

Real estate is a career that doesn't only foster new social connections but also builds upon existing ones. "As a Realtor, you need to know your area," Goddard says. "Seniors may have been in an area 10, 15, 20 or more years."

As a result, seniors may be able to easily answer neighborhood questions and direct clients to community resources. They may also have a deep network of friends and acquaintances to provide personal and professional support.

At the same time, other people may not be looking to build on existing connections, but rather, create new ones. Bimson chose real estate as his second career, in part, for this reason. After years working for IBM, he was ready for something new at age 42. "I was looking for something I could move into that was mentally challenging," he says, "and I wanted something community-based."

3 Tips to Get Started as a Real Estate Agent

While selling real estate can be rewarding, it isn't always easy. "It's competitive," Bimson says. "It doesn't just happen." Besides hard work, real estate experts offer a few keys to success in the field:

1. Get the best education possible.

Every state is different, but Goddard is quick to note California has 48 forms that are required for a property sale and there may be as many as 200 pages that need to be initialed or signed during the process. "A Realtor needs to understand all those forms and explain them to their clients," he says.

Many clients rely on their agent to provide guidance when it comes to legal and accounting information as well. While an agent may not need to have all the answers, they should have at least passing knowledge of applicable tax laws and related issues.

2. Weigh your career options.

Real estate agents have many choices when it comes to their career path. The most common choice may be to work at an established agency. However, not all agencies offer the same level of services.

"My recommendation is to select a full-service brand that offers training and support tools," Chris says. For example, Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate offers a quick-start program that helps agents set up social media accounts and walks them through the basics of selling, like how to hold an open house.

Another option is to work exclusively in new home or community sales. Valdes says being a dedicated agent at a retirement community can make sense for seniors, particularly if they already live on-site. "It's a much easier learning slope inside your own community," he says.

Finally, seniors may want to consider whether to specialize in selling to other seniors. "If you're a senior, you don't necessarily have to work with seniors," Goddard says, "but you might understand them better." For those who want to focus on senior sales, the National Association of Realtors offers a Seniors Real Estate Specialist designation.

3. Talk to multiple brokers and firms.

"Broker-owners in every community are happy to meet with people interested in the field," Chris says. She encourages people to visit several agencies to find the right fit. Some may work on a team concept, while others have agents operate largely independently. "Seniors need to go where they will get the most help and where there's a good cultural fit," Chris says.

Goddard says seniors need to be realistic about the field and explains that the average real estate agent lasts only 18 months. What's more, it typically takes nine months for an agent to make his or her first sale.

Those statistics may sound negative, but Bimson says working in real estate is about more than the money. "The joy of the job is in helping people and enjoying people, not in the commission," he says. For that reason, seniors who aren't looking for a quick buck may find real estate to be a rewarding career path.