successful real estate agent

Do you have what it takes to be a successful real estate agent?

Every person I’ve ever met, and probably those I haven’t, who took the real estate exam hoped to become a successful real estate agent.

Some of them will, some won’t. But have you ever thought about why?

What traits influence some people to become incredibly successful, earning 10, 20 or even 30 times the average agent?

I spend a lot of time reading. Sometimes as much as four hours per day.

Recently I came across an article that I thought was so profoundly true, that I contacted the author, Tom Corley, and asked his permission to share it with you.

Tom is an interesting guy

He’s appeared on stage with Sir Richard Branson, been interviewed by Dave Ramsey and has featured in more magazine articles than I cared to count.

He also self published a book that sold more copies than J.K. Rowling of Harry Potter fame, earning him a place on the Amazon Bestseller List.

So why does the world want to hear from this guy; a CPA and Certified Financial Planner from New Jersey?

Tom spent five years studying why some people are successful – and others are failures.

And he graciously allowed me to share his findings with you.

The article below outlines much of what asking almost 52,000 questions helped Tom discover about the traits that people, often from very meager backgrounds, used to become multimillionaires.

Tom’s original article appears on his blog, Rich Habits.

The words below are Tom’s. Where appropriate, I’ve added my own comments in italics to help you see how his findings apply to achieving success in real estate.

Defining what it means to be a successful real estate agent

Before we start, let me say that everyone has a unique definition of what constitutes success.

Since you are a real estate agent, you own and operate a business. The primary goal of a business is to make money for it’s owners and stakeholders. To the extent that your business makes a lot of money, you are successful.

On the contrary, if your real estate business fails to make a lot of money, however you choose to define that term, you are unsuccessful.

Yet given that roughly 90% of all start-ups, including real estate agents, fail, it’s safe to assume that most are not successful.

OK, just wanted to get that out of the way.

Let’s get started. . .

Can-Do Ideology

successful real estate agent

I uncovered certain attributes that millionaires had.

These attributes forged a foundation of success, upon which they built their fortunes.

Here they are:

Have a Defined Purpose in Life – Eighty percent of the self-made millionaires pursued some major purpose in life.

This was some dream or vision they were chasing.

They built goals around their dreams and never quit. Many said that they would never quit on their dream even if it meant bankruptcy or divorce. Twenty-seven percent actually failed at least once in pursuing their dream.

But they did not quit.

They regrouped, got back up and went at it again. Having a main purpose in life, I discovered, creates persistence. Persistence, I found, eventually results in good luck. Good luck usually pays dividends in the form of wealth.

This is exactly what I mean when I write about identifying the vision for your real estate business. Here’s an article that will help you in this area.

Create Multiple Streams of Income – Sixty-five percent of the millionaires in my study had at least three streams of income.

This creates a hedge against failure and poverty. When one stream suffers, the others come to the rescue.

As you think about the vision you have for your business, consider what allied services you can offer, either directly or through joint-ventures, that will enable you to provide a more complete range of services to your clients but also protect your family from real estate downturns.

Be Patient – Eighty percent of the rich in my study did not become rich until age 50. Fifty-two percent did not become rich until age 56. It takes a long time to create wealth.

It takes time to become a successful real estate agent. If your goal is to become wealthy, I encourage you to be prudent and avoid “get-rich-quick” schemes. Remember, if it seems to good to be true it probably is. A solid business strategy and plan will do more for your business over time than chasing the “easy money”.

Save Money – Ninety-four percent of the rich saved 20% or more of their income. They began saving long before they became rich. They used their savings to make more money by taking certain calculated risks.

According to, 70% of American households cannot come up with $500 in an emergency. As a real estate agent, you have the ability to earn as much as you’d like. You simply need a plan. There are numerous investment options available to self-employed individuals as outlined in this article.

Take Calculated Risks – The millionaires took risks with their savings when opportunities came up.

Fifty-one percent invested their savings to start or invest in private businesses that they controlled.

Ninety-four percent of the rich don’t gamble because gambling is requires random good luck.

The rich rely on a different type of good luck – opportunity luck. This is a type of luck they create through their habits, hard work and by pursuing their dreams and goals.

successful real estate agent

Be Optimistic and Enthusiastic About Life – Seventy-one percent of the self-made millionaires in my study were optimistic about life.

They believed in themselves. They enthusiastically pursued their dreams and goals.

Their optimism infected everyone around them. They became magnets for other success-minded people.

Control Your Thoughts and Emotions – Eighty-one percent of the rich made a habit of controlling their thoughts and emotions.

Not every thought needs to come out of your mouth and not every emotion needs to be expressed.

Doing so damages relationships; relationships that could otherwise open important doors for you and members of your family.

Offer Opinions Backed by Facts – Rich people do their homework.

When they express an opinion it is usually backed by facts. Facts that they accumulated through years of self-education and experience.

Become a Niche Expert – The rich in my study were experts in some niche.

This expertise was gained through self-education and the school of hard knocks in a specific area.

They were by no means a jack of all trades.

I built my business, and earned over $15 million, by focusing on two small niche markets. Most of the truly successful real estate agents I know also have a niche focus. It is much easier to become an authority on a niche market than trying to be everything to everyone. Learn more about selecting a niche market.

successful real estate agent

You Can’t Succeed on Your Own – The rich build teams.

They find apostles for their cause – individuals devoted to them and who share their vision and purpose.

Their team players benefited financially from their success. You need the cooperation of others to help you succeed in life. The rich are good at forming teams of people who cooperate together, focused on pursuing a singular dream or purpose.

No successful real estate agent does it on their own.

This does not necessarily mean having a real estate team, although that may be an option you want to consider. I never had a team or even an assistant. I did, however, have a team of advisors I counted on for everything from marketing, legal and financial counsel.

Mistakes Have Value – Mistakes are the byproduct of taking calculated risks.

The rich see mistakes as nothing other than learning experiences. Mistakes teach you what not to do. They learn from their mistakes and they don’t repeat them.

The lack of mistakes doesn’t mean you’ve perfected your craft. It simply means you aren’t pushing yourself hard enough.

Be Open-Minded – You can’t learn anything if you are closed minded.

Being open to new ideas, new ways of doing things and the opinions of others is critical to growth.

Success requires growth. You must grow into the person you need to be in order for success to visit you. You must be open and tolerant to the opinions of others.

Give First – In order to get you must give.

You must give value to others either in the form of service or through some product.

Giving comes first.

It was no surprise that 79% of the rich in my study volunteered for charities or non-profit groups. They made a habit out of giving their time, money and expertise.

Finish What You Start – The rich don’t quit.

They stick to something until they succeed, go bankrupt or die. Eighty-percent were focused on achieving some goal and 55% spent one year or more on one goal.

This is one of the primary reasons I’ve seen in my career for why people fail. They simply don’t have the tenacity to keep going. I made a lot of mistakes, both in the real estate development and brokerage business, yet I kept pushing forward. But the surest way to fail is to simply give up.

You Can’t Get Rich if You’re Unhealthy – “You can’t make money from a hospital bed.”

That’s what one millionaire told me during my research.

The rich exercise every day, they moderate their consumption of junk food, they drink alcohol in moderation, they avoid fast food restaurants, they floss every day and most don’t smoke cigarettes. Consequently, 82% of the rich had no health issues. Zero.

Don’t Be Cheap – The rich are generous with their time and money.

Because they operate from an abundance mindset they are not afraid to donate their time and money.

There is a difference between being cheap and being frugal. Many of the rich in my study were frugal with their money but were still generous to others.

A successful real estate agent also knows they must invest in themselves as well. To develop new skills, to refine their business strategy. Investing in themselves is an investment in their business – and that has more potential for return than spending money on material possessions in an attempt to appear successful.

Fear Nothing – The rich have made a habit of overcoming their fears.

They are not superstitious and believe they can overcome any obstacle that is put in their way.

The chief reason for failure is lack of preparation. Tennis great, Arthur Ashe, is quoted as saying, “One important key to success is self-confidence. One important key to self-confidence is preparation.” 

No Excuses – The rich believe they are the architects of their lives.

They don’t give excuses, they don’t rationalize failures and they don’t blame anyone but themselves for their circumstances in life.

They take individual responsibility for their lives.

Don’t Gossip – Most gossip is negative. It damages relationships and keeps doors closed.

The rich make a habit of not saying anything behind the backs of others. If they have a problem with someone they go to that person to remove the problem.

Encourage Others – Rich, successful people are great cheerleaders.

They encourage other success-minded people who are pursuing a dream or some purpose in life. Their own success makes them understand that all things are possible in life.

Can’t-Do Ideology

It was sad to see so many poor individuals in my study who had just given up on life.

Their mindsets were so polluted by their upbringing that they could not get out of their own way.

I uncovered certain attributes that the poor in my study possessed and which were responsible for forging a life of want and unhappiness.

Here they are:

Lack of Purpose – The poor had nothing they were pursuing in life.

No purpose, no dream, no goals.

I should qualify that last sentence.

They had dreams but they were not taking any action on their dreams. As a result they felt stuck. Only 3% of the poor in my study were pursuing some dream.

It’s difficult to become a successful real estate agent if you don’t have goals or a purpose. Once again, having a clear vision of what you want to achieve, and then creating a plan for its achievement, is a powerful motivator.

successful real estate agent

Live Beyond Their Means – Most of the self-made millionaires in my study came from poor or middle-class backgrounds.

Somehow they were able to overcome adversity in life. One way they did this was they got into the habit of saving money. They were blessed, in a sense, because they had parents who taught them to save 20% of their income when they were very young.

The poor in my study were not so lucky.

They were never taught by their parents, and never learned in life, the importance of saving money.

Ninety-five percent saved less than 10% of their income. Many not only didn’t save, they went into credit card debt just to meet their living expenses.

Eighty-eight percent had more than $5,000 in credit card debt.

There’s a big difference between being rich and looking rich. As Robert Kiyosaki, the author of Rich Dad, Poor Dad explains, “An asset is anything that puts money in your pocket over time.” With very rare exceptions, this excludes cars, boats, homes and other popular symbols of wealth.

If you need help getting out of the paycheck-to-paycheck routine, check out this article.

Pessimistic – Another attribute of the poor that really dragged me down was how negative and pessimistic they were.

I asked them if they thought optimism was important in life and 78% said no.

Seventy-one percent of the self-made millionaires in my study said yes to this question and that optimism was critical to their success.

What a world of difference between these two groups in terms of thinking.

When you allow pessimistic thinking to take over your life, you tend to align your behaviors with your thoughts. This is called cognitive dissonance. When you align your behaviors with your thoughts, you don’t take the necessary actions that will lead to your success.

You assume it won’t work.

Instead, try your best to live by the line from the Anthony Hopkins movie, The Edge. Faced with adversity, the antagonist in the move, played by Alec Baldwin, wanted to give up. Hopkins responded with, “What one man can do, so can another.” Successful real estate agents  are not necessarily smarter than you – they just have the belief that they will, ultimately, succeed an do not allow anything to deter them. 

successful real estate agent

Negative Emotions Not Controlled – The poor had no control over their emotions.

Anger, sadness, worry, fear, unhappiness and mistrust ran rampant in this poor group.

They made a habit of expressing every emotion to whoever was in earshot.

Anger is perhaps the most costly emotion. Almost half of the poor in my study admitted to getting angry regularly and I believe this was causing them some relationship problems. Who wants to do business with someone who is always pissed off at something? Who wants to do business with someone who is sad or depressed all the time? Who wants to do business with someone who doesn’t trust you?

They Have an Opinion About Everything and Everyone – The poor are not afraid to express their opinions, I found.

The problem is that, because they don’t read (98% don’t read to learn), they are expressing opinions not based on facts.

And when they expressed opinions about others, often it was very negative. “Rich people cause poverty.” “Our politicians don’t do enough for the poor.” “My parents were drunks.” “My kids are lazy.”

I heard it all.

Ironically, they had a lot to say about the government and politicians not doing enough to get them out of poverty.

I say ironically because many were on unemployment, welfare, receiving Social Security disability benefits or just plain old Social Security benefits.

The rich in my study, on the other hand, blamed themselves for anything that went wrong in their lives. Not Wall Street, not the government, not the politicians. Themselves!

OK, this is a major sore spot for me. I see agents every day going on sites like Facebook and asking for career or business advice from total strangers. The problem is, 90% of agents will fail within their first 5 years, so if you are asking a complete stranger for advice, you don’t know if they could be weeks away from throwing in the towel! 

Yet these people are more than willing to share their opinions about how you should run your business – even if they’ve never been successful in their own business. Take the time to ensure the people you are getting advice from actually know what they’re talking about. 

Repeat Mistakes – The poor do not learn from their mistakes.

They were too closed minded to listen to others or were simply not aware of the bad habits they had that were dragging them down.

Mistakes repeated become habits. Habits are hard to change if you’re not aware of them.

Albert Einstein was reported to have said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same things over and over and expecting different results.” If you want to become a successful agent, listen to the people who have already done it. Don’t surround yourself with people who are also struggling. While it may be more comfortable, you’ll never expand your thinking and develop the necessary skills you need to achieve success.

Closed-Minded – I think this was perhaps one of the worst attributes of the poor in my study.

They just did not want to listen to anyone’s opinion that differed from theirs. As a result there was no way they could learn from others.

This keeps you stuck in life. You can’t grow as an individual if you’re closed-minded.

Me First – The poor want things given to them first before they reciprocate.

This me first attribute gets you nowhere in life. It’s an entitlement attitude that keeps you down. The rich gave first and did not expect anything in return.

What a difference in attitudes.

Jack of All Trades – Being a jack of all trades really comes in handy when you live in the wilderness but gets you nowhere in today’s society.

The poor are average at many things because they can’t afford to pay someone to do it for them.

But this is mindset that begins in childhood and carries over into adulthood.

When it comes to your career, this mindset is destructive. When you and a million others can do something, what value do you really have? The rich focus on becoming experts in one thing, one niche, and as a result they are of more value to society and can command more money.

Again, find a profitable niche you can focus your efforts on and become an authority.

successful real estate agent

Bright Shiny Object Syndrome – The poor never complete what they start.

I call it bright shiny object syndrome because they are constantly moving from one thing to the next. Ninety-one percent were not focused on any single goal. Ninety-four percent admitted to not setting any goals at all.

Unlike the rich, they just don’t stay focused on seeing one thing through to its conclusion.

They don’t persist.

They move on when the going gets tough.

That’s too bad because I found from my study that it is those hurdles and obstacles that force individuals to discover their true genius and creativity. When your back is pushed against the wall, that is when you have breakthroughs and grow as an individual. Desperate times result in discovery. We only uncover our true potential when our backs are against the wall and we are forced to overcome insurmountable obstacles in life.

Unsuccessful people quit when the going gets tough. That’s why they never succeed at anything.

At the heart of this syndrome is lack of confidence and belief in yourself.

You may know it by another name – “Oh, look. There’s a squirrel!”

I think this may be the most pervasive threat to success in the real estate business. Every day I see agents looking for the next “shiny object” that is going to make them a success.

And it doesn’t exist.

While there are numerous ways you can do something such as lead generation, you can’t give up after a single attempt because you didn’t see the results you had hoped for.

But here’s the difference; a successful real estate will take the time to learn why it didn’t work. They will establish a set of realistic objectives for their lead generation campaign and then measure the results. If they missed the target, they’ll figure out why. Then they’ll try their campaign again. They don’t give up just because it didn’t work the first time. Or the second.

Unhealthy Lifestyle – I always get into a lot of trouble when I say the poor don’t eat healthy.

The enablers of the poor, and there are many out there, always argue that the poor can’t afford healthy food.

There are simply too many articles and studies out there that destroy this argument. As an example, here’s just one: If you want to eat healthy you can, at least in America.

Worse than poor eating is a lack of exercise.

Seventy-seven percent of the poor do not engage in regular cardio exercise. Poor eating and lack of exercise is why we have an obesity and type II diabetes epidemic in America.

As that rich person said in my study, “you can’t make money from a hospital bed.”

Cheap – Most of the poor in my study were cheap with their time and money.

Because of their scarcity mindset they were more interested in what they could get from others than what they could give to others.

As a result, when things go wrong in life, as they often do, they’re on their own.

The government is their only salvation.

If you don’t have money, give your time. But the poor didn’t do this.

Only 12% volunteered five or more hours a month. If you look at the data on the rich, 72% of the rich volunteered five hours or more a month. Volunteering puts you in touch with many successful people. Most of the charities and non-profits are run by successful individuals.

What better way to build relationships with successful people than volunteering.

Successful people have many contacts with other successful people. They can open doors to help you start a business, find working capital, get your kid into a great college and do many other things to help you and your family.

The poor were never taught this Rich Habit by their parents, so they don’t engage in this volunteering activity.

Gamble Too Much – Seventy-seven percent of the poor in my study gambled every week on the lottery.

They are relying on random good luck to bail them out in life rather than the opportunity luck that the rich rely on.

Gambling involves risk you have no control over. The rich rely on calculated risk. They take risks they have some measure of control over.

successful real estate agent

Gossip About Others – Seventy-nine percent of the poor gossip about others.

Since most gossip is negative, this is a very bad idea. Gossip is talking about others behind their back. What you say almost always gets back to the other person. It damages your relationships, as a result. Many of these relationships could help open doors to you and your family, or bail you out in a time of need. Who wants to help anyone who bad mouth’s them behind their back?

Work Hard Not Thinking – The poor go to great lengths to not think.

Seventy-seven percent watch more than an hour of TV a day. Seventy-four percent spend more than an hour a day on the Internet. Ninety-eight percent don’t read every day because their time is occupied with TV, the Internet or other time wasters.

This is also a strong indictment of some folks in the real estate industry. As Don Marquis, the American humorist, wrote, “If you make people think they’re thinking, they’ll love you; but if you really make them think, they’ll hate you.”

I know this to be true.

I’ve asked a few thousand agents, “If I had a home in your market that I wanted to sell, why would I use you over any other agent?”. To date, not a single agent has provided an answer.

As odd as it might sound, I encourage you to keep a list of “things to think about”. Then, when you have a quiet moment, away from the phones, the kids or even the barking dog, just sit and think about those items.

I spent about 7 months “just thinking” about the real estate business before I ever sought my first listing. But that thinking paid off in spades. It enabled me to identify the two niche markets I would pursue, how I would position my services to compete effectively and how I would generate leads. 

It’s never too late. If you’re not sure what to think about, here’s a list to get you started.

So what does this all mean?

There’s a lot of value in what Tom discovered that can be applied to those of you who want to become a successful real estate agent.

Focusing, being optimistic, having a vision for your personal and business life and pursuing that vision with great tenacity, saving money and taking care of your health.

All of these things seem very logical.

So why don’t more people do them?

I think it comes down to one thing; mindset.

If you don’t have the right mindset, you favor immediate gratification over the achievement of long-term goals.

You don’t listen to other people who push you to think and act outside of your comfort zone.

And you don’t act in a manner that is consistent with achieving your long range goals, because, quite honestly, you’ve never set long range goals.

But there’s a new year around the corner. Maybe its time for a change.