Real estate is a seductive industry.  I don’t know how many times I’ve heard veterans tell me, “Yeah man, I’m considering getting my real estate license and making some serious money.” They always have a friend of a friend who got out of the military, and has since found wild success flipping houses or working under a major brokerage.

It seems like the perfect job: After years in the military, you’re finally your own boss. You make obscene amounts of money after making decisions that you know are the right ones. You don’t need a college education, just an easy 63-hour course (in Florida) followed by a 100-question exam—a small price to pay for the limitless amounts of cash to come.

It’s true, there are many veterans who have found success as realtors, and it’s certainly not impossible. Most of them will probably tell you that they love it. They will also probably tell you that it wasn’t as easy as they initially thought.

One such success story is Danny Crist, a realtor down in Tampa and a former Army Ranger from 3rd Battalion. He has been working in real estate since 2013 and now operates Liberty Advantage Real Estate, a veteran-centric sales team. But that doesn’t mean it’s always been smooth sailing.

“I’ve never been poorer and I’ve never been richer than when I became an entrepreneur.” Financial stress always seems to bleed over into every other facet of life, and many people leave their real estate aspirations behind in the spirit of stability.

Crist would go on to explain many of the other difficulties in breaking into the real estate market. After all, there must be a reason why most real estate agents don’t keep a license beyond a year or two.

The mandatory state exam can be difficult for some, and can prevent you from getting your license. Still, some find it easy enough, but go on to realize that neither the class nor the test helped prepare them in any way for their prospective career. Add to that the fact that the competition is fierce, since it takes little work to dive right in.

Although entrepreneurship is a romantic idea, it’s also a brutal grind. Sure, veterans intimately know what a brutal grind is like, but now no one is going to give you the tools you need to succeed. There is no graduation, and it never ends. Clients will jump ship just as you thought you were about to close. Crist remarked, “In just a few years I’ve had millions of dollars of real estate transactions dissolve through no fault of my own—commissions that I was really counting on to finally give me some breathing room.”

The real estate market is out of your control, and it can always take a turn for the worse. At the start, “living below your means is absolutely crucial.” Crist lived in a small one-bedroom apartment for years, building up a solid financial base before he moved into his current house.

“I didn’t make a dollar for the first six months. I spent thousands of dollars in that same time period.” Although he has garnered significant success since, that is a long time to go without any income whatsoever. Crist mentioned how the majority of “rich”-looking real estate agents are actually far less successful than their image would suggest.

Like anything worth having, dedication and years of hard work will pay off, as it has for Crist and many other veteran realtors out there. It’s just not the fairy tale some make it out to be.

From Ranger to realtor

Crist shared with me some of the secrets to his success. His advice could be of use to many prospective realtors, especially those with a military background.

  • You cannot expect loyalty in the business world the way you can expect it in the military, especially in real estate. Crist says, “Your mother or best friend might be asking you for advice while they are working with another real estate agent because they deliberately chose not to ask you to represent them.”
  • You will have to deal with large amounts of stress among your clients. After all, it’s likely the largest financial transaction they have made in their entire lives. Despite their often unwarranted outbursts or shortsighted decisions, you must always be the calm voice of reason. If the clients don’t feel like you can keep the peace, they will find someone else.
  • Save money. You’re going to need six months of living expenses in the bank before you start, if not a an entire year.
  • Be frugal with advertising expenses. Although it may not sound as exciting as a billboard or commercial on TV, networking is always the best tool at first. The market is saturated with advertising scams that offer “just the cost of one commission,” and they almost never pay off. If you spend your money on finding leads, you will most likely find little business, and soon come to realize that you just burned through the money meant to pay your electricity and water bills.

  • Do something every single day to find clients. In the military, you have someone telling you what to do and when to do it. It was absolutely demanding, but that’s not the case anymore. Here, it’s all up to you. That discipline will be the only thing that gets you a consistent flow of money, since the pipeline from getting a new client to holding a check in your hands can take months, or even a year.
  • Crist tells fellow veterans who are breaking into real estate, “No one cares that you’re a veteran. It sucks, but that’s the way it is. They really don’t care.”
  • There are many financial ups and downs. When you’re in a slump, it will seem tempting to just work part time and find another job. But it’s important to realize that things aren’t going to get easier. If it’s not working now, how is working less going to help you find success? If you stop giving it your all, then you’ve already given up.
  • As said earlier, real estate agents who advertise themselves as wild successes are probably lying. So take heart: They might be struggling just as much or more than you. There are many successful real estate agents who don’t have their faces on billboards.
  • Build relationships with people and nurture them.  Everyone is a potential client or may know a potential client. Who would you want representing you in the sale or purchase of your home? A complete stranger, or someone you consider a friend? These networks need to be built, and you need to build them.

Crist found success, but he had to learn these things the hard way. Still, as many of us know, nothing worth having is easy to get.