Before becoming a journalist, I took a stab at a career as a real estate agent. From having a flexible schedule to working independently, many aspects of the job appealed to me.

But as my fingers glide across the keyboard behind my desk at National Mortgage News, you may be able to guess that things didn't pan out as planned. Perhaps my biggest downfall was being unprepared to take on the real estate career ahead of me. There are a number of "surprises" I wish I had foreseen before diving in. Today, I realize working as an agent equates more with being a business owner than it does working as a freelancer at your own pace.

Mortgage loan officers and real estate agents serve the same customer and play complementary roles in the home buying process. And the right partner can be a key source of referral business. But the LO/agent dynamic is often strained by a lack of understanding about the difficulties that professionals face — when the reality is that many of those challenges are felt on both sides of the mortgage and real estate equation.

With that in mind, here's a look at the six things I wish I knew before becoming a real estate agent.
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It'll cost you
As a real estate agent, it's your job to invest in yourself as you would a business. Even before launching your career, expect to pay hundreds in prelicensing through coursework, a state exam, fingerprinting, a background check and the license itself. It's similar to the NMLS licensing and exam process for loan officers.

Upon initiation, you'll pay membership dues for state and local real estate boards, your local multiple listing service, errors and omissions insurance, and perhaps the National Association of Realtors. Dues vary by state and must be maintained annually; they may be paid in monthly installments or required as a lump sum once a year.

As you conduct business as an agent, you'll be responsible for brokerage fees, continuing education costs, your marketing expenses, and most likely your listing signage. You'll also want to provide clients with quality service by supplying a professional photographer and possibly a home stager.

Additional costs to expect include office space and supplies, client lunches, catered home tours and client closing gifts.
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It takes time
To say that I was ready to start making some money in real estate would be an understatement, especially after all I spent before having my first client.

The harsh truth: it'll probably be months before you're sitting at your first closing table. Make yourself readily available to clients and invest in your brand and your network. Keep up appearances so even when your client may choose not to move forward, he still gives you one of the greatest gifts in real estate: a referral.
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Your friends may not want to work with you
Don't get offended, but the people you were counting on most to support your real estate career probably won't. Sound familiar, loan officers?

Choosing to purchase a home is among the top decisions a person makes in his/her lifetime, so it's understandable your friends may want to work with a more experienced professional. Try and at least get a piece of the pie by referring friends to a trustworthy agent; you'll instantly get 25% when the transaction closes and you won't have to do a thing.

Sell yourself to potential clients by describing how being a newer agent only means you have nothing but time to dedicate to nurturing their property and will always be readily available to them. Give yourself an edge by explaining that building a reputation is important to you, so you're determined to provide clients with quality care and attention.
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Your schedule won't be that flexible
I thought an upside to a career in real estate was the ability to work on my own time, but I was pretty much working according to everyone else's.

You may not work under someone, but you will work for many; they're called clients, and they'll be the ones paying your mortgage. Be prepared to work seven days a week at not-so-favorable hours. Clients often want to schedule showings late at night after getting home from work, or on weekends on their (not your) days off. From viewings and tours, to photo shoot, inspection and listing appointments, prepare to work week days, evenings and weekends, sometimes with little notice, and often times for no profit.
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You'll waste a lot of time
Where effort doesn't always equal reward, targeting the right clientele minimizes damage. It's inevitable that clients will cancel, or not cancel, when you find out the hard way that they're not showing up to a viewing or appointment.

But even loyal clients have their faults.

Early on, I found myself showing homes to buyers insistent on a specific budget and list of home requirements. Keep in mind that client budgets and what buyers are eventually approved to borrow are often two different figures, so you may be wasting time researching and previewing homes in completely wrong price brackets.

My take-away: Don't work with buyers who aren't prequalified for a mortgage. Clients may be eager to start searching, but it's a waste of everyone's time if they're looking at homes in the wrong price range. Plus — you won't want them comparing cheaper homes to the ones they once thought they could afford.

Educate buyers on the importance of knowing numbers before you even start scanning your local MLS.
You may want to work on a team
Something I learned a little late in the game was the benefits of working on a real estate team within a local brokerage. Successful agents often have enough listings to share the wealth. Though your checks get cut, if you choose to work as part of a real estate team, your annual fees are usually taken care of and you'll have a steady flow of business. This is a great way to work under an established agent and learn the business.

On a team, you'll always have someone to guide you, and you'll build your reputation as an agent. Then, when you're ready to fly solo, you'll have solid experience and a growing referral network to work with.