More Real Than Reality TV: What You Should Know About Working in Real Estate


My mom has a strange addiction.

For the most part, she hates reality television. Unlike myself, she’s not interested in watching rich (or seemingly rich) women drinking too much wine, talking behind each other’s backs, crying, making up, and then doing it all over again. Go figure.

But, she does have one weakness—one show that totally sucks her in: HGTV’s House Hunters.

I have to admit that it’s pretty addicting. There’s something enthralling about measuring the buyers’ wants with their budgets and factoring in locations and what’s on the market. Being a realtor looks like so much fun—you’re solving puzzles all day! All you have to do is show people houses, connect the buyer with the seller, and voilà! You’re done.

Well… not so much. It turns out that what we see on television, shows like House Hunters, Million Dollar Listing, or even Total Divas (When Nikki Bella decides to get her real estate license), only show us a small portion of what goes into making this your career.

I had the chance to speak with Realtor and Vice President at Coldwell Banker Pacific Properties Joyce Nakamura about how she got started in the industry, why you need to hustle, and what it takes to excel in this field.

Nakamura Joyce 2012

How she got started

“I don’t think many people wake up and say, ‘I’m going to go into real estate.’ Nobody thinks of it in the way that they think of wanting to be a nurse or a doctor. It’s more of a career that comes out of certain circumstances or as a suggestion.”

Joyce was working at a job that wasn’t really what she wanted to be doing and was thinking of switching things up. Periodically, she would have lunch with her cousin and at one of these lunches her cousin suggested that Joyce try for a job that had opened up next door.

It was at a real estate office.

She got the job and the owner of the company suggested that she take a class for real estate and that was it. She never left the industry.

Favorite parts of the job:

  • Working with clients (especially when they think they can’t qualify)
  • Working with buyers over time and helping them with their first purchase
  • Having sellers obtain their selling price or more
  • Being able to solve problems as they come up
  • Every day is different; no transaction is the same

The challenges:

  • Making sure to ALWAYS set up the seller’s or buyer’s expectations and communicate effectively to avoid misunderstandings
  • Building up at least six months’ worth of reserves
  • Making sure you’re always generating leads by belonging to social circles like civic organizations, alumni groups, church, etc.
  • Marketing yourself to the public—print, website, social media. You don’t want to be a secret agent!

Some essential skills for working in real estate:

Hard Skills

  • Taking a pre-license course which I think takes around six weeks. This course prepares you to pass the Real Estate exam.
  • Learn how to use our MLS system.
  • Basic typing skills are essential to write letters, memos, contracts, etc.

Soft Skills

  • Ability to prospect, sit open houses, door knock (yes, going out and introducing yourself to people), etc.
  • Organization skills
  • Social intelligence (people person)
  • Time management

Some advice for people hoping to work in real estate:

Expect to work long hours

It’s important to create a schedule for yourself. That way you’ll be able to do everything while still staying sane. For example, schedule a time to prospect, attend classes, exercise, meet with clients, attend broker’s open houses, open houses, etc.

Empathy is extremely important

“I used to train other agents,” Joyce tells me, “and I told them, ‘If you have your clients’ interests at heart, the business will come because you’re servicing them the best you can. But, if you’re doing it just because you need the sale to pay your next mortgage, they’re going to sense that and it’s not going to work.’”

An article addressing this subject was recently published in The Guardian, “Secrets of New York’s Real Estate Agents: ‘All Apartments are Basically Four Walls.’” The sale should be about the buyer, not about you.

Joyce will even recommend that buyers head to a non-profit called the Hawai’i Homeownership Center if she feels they’re not ready to buy. Even though this means she doesn’t make the sale with them at that time, she knows it’s important for them as first-time clients to understand what goes into making this purchase.

Building these relationships and trust takes time, so your mind has to be focused on helping your clients and not just making the sale.

You can’t be shy

Not only will your people skills build your reputation with your clients, but they are how you’ll get clients to begin with. The more connections you have, the better.

“You’re going to need leads. I get my leads from all types of sources; my doctor, my surveyor, alumni. So, I’m getting calls from all sorts of different sources. You have to be out there marketing yourself. You cannot be shy.”

There are sites that you can subscribe to that say that they will find you leads but Joyce is skeptical. You really have to put yourself out there and build your reputation to generate real prospects.

You don’t have to start as an agent (in fact, Joyce says you shouldn’t)

When you think of a career in real estate, you automatically think of real estate agents. Even when you do a quick Google search with, “Entry-Level Jobs in Real Estate,” you’re given Real Estate Agent as a first choice.

Joyce suggests you work in the business environment first; assist a realtor, work in a real estate environment in escrow or as a property manager.

When she first started out, Joyce sold subdivisions and worked with a developer. She later went on to work as a real estate officer in the trust environment. This also gave her a different perspective of the business.

She learned about the industry from different points of view; the attorneys, developers, and the banks. She learned how to close construction loans at the optimal time with the least amount of interest. She managed the escrow for these deals and did all the paperwork. She worked in property management; dealing with tenants, working with trusts and estate properties, and all the paperwork that went with that.

Having this knowledge made the transition to full-time realtor much easier for Joyce. Instead of learning the sales end and then having to backtrack through all of the other stuff, she already understood it and could really appreciate what she was selling.

“Having that background gives you more confidence, I think,” Joyce says.

Part of selling a house or property is buyers’ counseling—talking with buyers and letting them know what the buying consists of. Without a thorough knowledge of the business side of things, you can’t properly do this.

You’re also introducing them to a loan officer. Joyce is very particular about who the loan officer is. Having worked on that side of things, she knows what goes into it and who is “sharp” enough to get the job done.

The best way to learn is on the job

Although having that back-end knowledge was helpful in her transition, that’s not all she needed to become the successful realtor she is today.

You have to learn the business of selling—and there’s no better way to learn that than on the job. Joyce was given no formal training upon entering the industry, but that didn’t stop her from figuring out how to go about sitting open houses, prospecting, and making sales.

“In those days, it was simpler. Now it’s more technical and you have to be more akamai (intelligent, witty), savvy about what you’re doing. But I think back then, you could just wing it. So, what happened was, I was thinking, gee, next week I have to have an open house. So, I would go to open houses and I would look at how they conducted themselves. Then I would mimic the ones that I thought looked professional or were doing it right.”

Not only do you have to be able to think critically and determine what works and what doesn’t, but you also have to be creative. You have to see what is working for others and then tweak it to make it your own.

There are scripts that tell you what you need to say to buyers, but it’s not enough to just memorize the words. No one is going to buy a house from a paper. They’re buying the house from you. You have to be able to take the information on that script and make it human.

The best way to learn is to shadow someone. Joyce suggests starting out by assisting a realtor.

Building your business will take time

A common misconception about working in real estate is that once you get your license, you will make a ton of money. It is possible to end up with a sizeable income, but it definitely doesn’t happen overnight. You have to build your business.

Taking the pre-license class will help you pass the test, but once you’re out in the real world it’s “a whole other ballgame.” You’re working with documents and other paperwork and you have to learn how to prospect, find your leads, and figure out what to say.

“I would say it took me at least three years full-time before I started to get referrals,” Joyce says, “when I first started out, I would never miss an open house. Every Sunday. Even Super Bowl Sunday because I don’t really care for football anyway. People would say, ‘You’re gonna go? It’s Super Bowl. No one’s coming.’ But all it takes is one and I’d make the sale.”

For about ten years she consistently advertised on the inside cover of the magazine Homes & Land. It was exposure and over time people recognized her and associated her with real estate.

“I would go to the bank or wherever and they would say, ‘Oh, you look familiar,’ and then they would say, ‘Oh! You’re in that magazine!’ So, you have to spend money on marketing. It’s an investment.”

Working for certain bigger companies, there are a lot of perks. They train you, provide you with the necessary tools, and often work with a referral company so that as long as you’re part of that team, you’ll be able to have a steady income. Still, it’s really important to be assertive, innovative, and dedicated to the job to build your brand and business. You get out what you put in.

Homework time! Joyce talks about learning the business side of real estate before going into selling. See if you can get an internship at a real estate firm or if you can shadow someone in the industry. Joyce also points out that as a realtor you need to have a lot of connections. In order to continuously find leads, you need to have a lot of contacts. Join the JCC, civic organizations, alumni associations, church, etc. Be social!


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