Kim, a successful real estate broker in the Seattle, Washington area, is a GED success story. At 17, after her parents divorced, she passed the GED. But, in her forties, after working primarily in the restaurant industry, she found herself in transition once again and decided to pursue her real estate broker’s license. In the interview that follows, Kim tells GED Board all about the risks and rewards of self-employment.
Can you tell us why you got your GED?
When I was in high school my mom and step dad divorced, which had a few effects, one of them being that we had to take a few steps down the financial ladder. I started working when I was 15. Regular school took up too much time, so I elected to attend an alternative school where I could take classes anytime between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.
However, between the chaos of home life and several moves, I couldn’t even cope with that. At 17, I decided to get my GED and then enrolled at a university for some night classes, which was more my mom’s idea rather than mine.
How did you get started in Real Estate?
I started by working in the restaurant/food industry and stayed in that field for a while. The job was flexible, dependable and I liked the activity. Fast forward to my 40s, and I found myself divorced and in in need of a better career for myself and my children. With my restaurant job I couldn’t keep up with my condo mortgage payments, and so in a moment of desperation, I reached out to a realtor to explore selling my home. As we were discussing the situation, she mentioned that I would be good at selling real estate myself and referred me to her broker.
That was in 2004 and scary as it was to make a leap to a commission only position, I dove in!
My first year I only managed to sell a half dozen or so houses, but by the second year I made President’s Gold – an award given by the company.
It sounds like you were pretty lucky to have stumbled upon a perfect career for you
I believe if somebody is looking for something and if they are outgoing and keep their eyes open they will find opportunities. For me, personally, it was just a bad set of circumstances. I needed to provide for my family and needed a serious career.
What was the biggest obstacle you faced?
There are a few days that stand out in my mind.
Prior to getting my real estate license, I had gone to a temp agency in Renton to look for work. After testing and interviewing I was told that I ‘had no skills’. They couldn’t ‘place me’.
But I thank God they said that, because my next stop was the broker’s office for an interview, where I heard a much different response. The broker who interviewed me said that I was so relationally oriented that I was perfect for selling real estate!
It just goes to show you that you have to look in the right place.
The second incident that I remember is when my first sale flopped. I was so terrified and worried about not being able to pay bills. My broker was extremely supportive and loaned me money so I could pay my bills. I was so touched that somebody believed in me and did that. He believed in me and never had a doubt that I could succeed.
Tell us more about getting started with your real estate career
What used to be called the ‘Real Estate Agent’ is now called the ‘Real Estate Broker’. So, I’m a broker and also an agent. They just changed the title a little bit. I have a managing broker who manages my office and we have maybe 40 agents in my branch office. Some people make $30,000 while some make over a million dollars a year. There are no benefits or salary.
To practice in Washington, you need to receive about 90 hours of training and then pass the Broker Licensing Exam. You can meet the pre-license training requirement at a community college or other approved real estate course providers. They are not very expensive and are often offered online. I called the Rockwell training center and took the classes. After that I took my clock hours, took the state exam, and went right to a brokerage.
They had on the job training. It was pretty self-driven. It happens really quickly. I don’t know the exact number but, probably upwards of 75% or 80% quit after the first year, because not everybody who goes into it understands what it is.
Some people jump in and think they are going to make some quick money. But I think anybody who’s properly informed and has enough background has a better chance to success. So, be sure to talk with a few active agents before going into an interview and then go to different brokerages.
The business builds over time. The first year, you probably won’t sell too many houses. By the second year, the sales typically double. Once you build it up, then it stays pretty consistent, or you can grow it.
The beauty of this, is that you can build a team and grow it as big as you want. There are a lot of things you can do with a real estate license now, a lot more opportunities than when I started 10 years ago. And there are a lots of very successful brokers without a college degree.
So, your potential as a Real Estate Broker will be pretty clear by the end of the first year?
Yeah, that’s a good measurement. Try it for a year and continue or quit based on how you did.
Tell us more about a sales career
There are lots of companies out there and no matter what the company is, they need sales people. They need someone to handle people, be creative, do marketing, drive sales, and keep customers happy.
A lot of sales positions are independent contract positions which is almost like self-employment. All contract positions in real estate or pharmaceutical companies are self-driven. I think for many people who get a GED, who think a little more outside of the box, or are creative, or just weren’t a good fit for regular high school – sales will be a perfect fit for them.
What if you’re not ready to go commission only?
Many sales jobs offer a base salary plus a commission – although those jobs have caps on how much commission you can earn.
Another possibility is that, instead of jumping in with two feet, you can keep something on the back burner with a consistent income and then do sales on the side.
I have a feeling that if you’re very sensitive to rejection, it might not be a good choice.
Yeah, not at all. You need to be able to roll with it a little bit (laughs).
Tell us more about self-employment and entrepreneurship
What drives me every single day is the ability to grow my business and the flexibility during the day. I probably cannot go back to a 9 to 5 job because I’m so used to being able to use all my skills and at a job sometimes I felt I was put in a box. Also, now there is no cap in my income.
Isn’t being self-employed or being an entrepreneur much riskier than holding a regular job?
I think the recession was hard on a lot of people in a lot of fields. I think that feeling safe just because you have a job is false security. When you work for someone else, they can just tell you that you are fired, or the business is closing, or for whatever the reason, you have no job.
If you are in a business for yourself, you are a little bit on the line. And it’s a little bit more stressful. But you also have only yourself to depend on and rely on. It’s a double edged sword.
No, I don’t have any benefits and no, I don’t know if I will get paid next month. But I have been doing this for 10 years I know that if I get up and go to work, I will get paid. And it’s been a good year for me even coming out of recession.
Real estate is an expensive field because there are lots of fees and expenses but I will never go back to the 9 to 5 job.
Do you have any other advice for GED students?
I felt high school was a waste of time for me. I thought there was something wrong with me because I didn’t fit in that box. It hurt my self-esteem for a long time. [But school is not everything. You are more than how you did in school and] when you are starting new, you need to be exposed to a lot of different avenues.
I went to a temp company once and they looked at my resume and said “You have no skills” and right after that, I went into a brokerage where they said “you are perfect fit to make six figures in no time.” I didn’t believe it at first but they told me this is the plan and this is what you are going to do.
I think for people with a business head, they should get whatever they need, like a GED or online education. And get busy and get out there in the field because that’s where the success is.