How to Choose a Real Estate Brokerage to Work For

A comprehensive guide to becoming a licensed California real estate agent

Choosing the right real estate brokerage to work for is one of the most important and exciting steps you’ll take toward becoming a successful California real estate agent.

The brokerage you choose will impact your pay, your training, and can even your reputation, which means it’s important to know how to choose a real estate brokerage to work for so it works for you and your career.

Until now, one of the biggest decisions a real estate agent would make at this stage was choosing between a franchise or an independent brokerage. However, these days real estate agents also have the option of joining a virtual real estate brokerage.

In other words, there are plenty of options and real estate companies to choose from when it’s time to take this key step in your career.

But before we dive into the pros and cons of each of these options, it’s important to understand some of the vocabulary used around brokerages and how most brokerages work.

1. What Is a Broker?

In California, a broker is a real estate agent with more training and experience, who is allowed to work for themselves or start a real estate broker company with agents working underneath them.

To become a California broker, real estate agents must either have a college major or minor in real estate, or spend two years in the real estate field in addition to eight college-level real estate courses. The broker exam is also open to lawyers who have passed the bar exam, even if they haven’t taken any college-level real estate courses or spent time in the real estate industry.

California brokers have more experience and expertise than a regular real estate agent. That means knowing how to choose a real estate broker to work for also means knowing how to choose a broker or brokerage that lines up with the type of real estate career you want to pursue.

Are you interested in helping first-time home buyers? Veterans? Want to work in commercial real estate? As you start to look for a broker agent or brokerage to partner with, you’ll want to see what they or their company is known for so you can get the experience you’re looking for.

2. How Does a Brokerage Work?

A brokerage is like a real estate agent’s “home base.” Some of the largest real estate brokerages provide agents with everything from mentorship to “done for you” marketing materials, while your smaller local broker may not provide as much marketing materials, but may have a solid reputation and a more personal connection to their community that you can leverage as you get started.

Since the brokerage or broker provides the office, marketing materials, and training, real estate agents must share their commission with their broker or brokerage. This is called a “commission split,” and it’s something you’ll either negotiate when you get started with your brokerage, or you’ll be offered their standard commission split for real estate agents who are new to their team.

Once you get some experience under your belt, your broker will usually increase your commission split.

So, now that you know some of the basics about what a real estate broker is and how the broker-agent relationship can work, it’s time to find out how to choose a real estate brokerage to work for and get answers to some of the most important questions that will help inform your decision.

3. How Do I Choose a Real Estate Broker to Work For?

The best way to answer this question is to work backwards from your career goals, as well as taking an honest look at your expectations for company culture.

Typically, brokerages are known for certain strengths and niches. For instance, a popular large real estate brokerage may be best known for selling higher-end homes in the traditional real estate market, while a mom-and-pop real estate brokerage may be best known for helping first-time home buyers or sellers, or out-of-state buyers.

Think about who you see yourself helping and what type of experienced real estate agents you’d like to partner with for mentorship and co-listing opportunities while you’re starting out.

More importantly, think about where you want to spend a lot of your time, since (in many cases) you’ll be working closely with your team to get training, ideas, and support.

The Benefits of Working With Brokerage Firms in California

Working with a franchised brokerage has quite a few benefits for new agents. Getting connected to a bigger team automatically sets you up with a larger professional network, and franchises typically have their own marketing department that helps garner brand awareness and credibility with prospects.

Some other benefits of joining a franchise are that they often provide more training, and some even offer base pay and benefits.

Potential Downsides to Working With a Franchised Brokerage

While you may get more training and marketing support, you may not get as much individualized attention as you might at a smaller, independent brokerage. This isn’t always true, and each franchise location will have its own culture, but it’s something to keep in mind.

Another downside is if you like to get more creative with your marketing, or you plan on outsourcing some of your marketing work (like blog content, paid ads, etc.), your brokerage may not allow outside help.

Again, this could be true of some smaller, independent brokerages as well, but it’s more common to run into stricter marketing guidelines at franchised brokerages as a way to uphold brand integrity.

Benefits of Working for an Independent Brokerage or Partnering With an Independent Broker

For some, opting to work with an independent brokerage or broker is appealing because it often comes with a bit more flexibility. Again, real estate agents may have more leeway for creative marketing or outsourcing some of their marketing, and agents may receive more personalized training and mentorship than they might with a franchise.

Another benefit of working with an independent brokerage or broker is the ability to leverage their reputation in the community. Independent brokerages may have to work a bit harder to compete with large real estate agencies, so there’s a chance that your local broker has stronger connections to the market you’d like to work in.

Plus, some clients simply like to support local businesses, and may choose their agent based on the fact that they don’t work with a large, corporate company.

Potential Downsides to Working With an Independent Brokerage or Partnering With an Independent Broker

While more flexibility can be a big benefit for some agents, others may prefer the structure of a franchise. Again, this is a personal preference, which is why it’s important to take an honest look at what you feel would best support you during the first few years of your new real estate career.

Another potential downside is not receiving base pay or benefits, and having to work a little harder at marketing your services and listings. However, because independent brokerages and brokers all work differently, you’ll need to thoroughly research them to find out what you would and would not receive as a new agent on their team.

Benefits of Working For a Virtual Real Estate Brokerage

The option to work with a virtual real estate brokerage is still fairly new, but many agents who have opted to take the leap into this new territory are enjoying plenty of benefits for doing so.

One of the most significant benefits is the higher commission split. Typically, commission splits are based on the brokerage’s overhead to “sponsor” their agents. So if a brokerage is paying for office rent, supplies, administrative costs, company advertising, and other expenses for running a brick-and-mortar business on top of providing training and marketing materials to their agents, it makes sense that they would ask real estate agents to pitch in a bit more from their commission to cover the larger costs.

On the other hand, virtual real estate brokerages don’t have to worry about that hefty overhead because they don’t provide a brick-and-mortar office for their agents. That means agents get to keep more of what they make.

Another advantage is that because there are less overhead costs, some virtual brokerages may offer healthcare and retirement benefits.

Potential Downsides to Working For a Virtual Real Estate Brokerage

Working virtually isn’t for everyone, and if you prefer to meet with your team in person and like the structure of having a brick-and-mortar office to go to, then a virtual brokerage may not be the best option for you.

Plus, you may need to work harder to connect with your teammates, find a mentor, and stay on top of your training.

Which Real Estate Company Is Best For You?

With so many different options, you can see how making the “right” decision is different for everyone. Overall, you’ll want to choose a brokerage that aligns with your values and the way you like to work.

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