Q: For the past 20 years, I've worked as a combination legal assistant, paralegal and office manager. Now my boss is retiring and closing the office.
One option I'm considering for a new career is real estate. The other is as a daily money manager assisting the elderly or disabled and other busy professionals with bill paying and organization of their personal finance, estate planning, etc.
Here are my questions: Given how the Internet has changed real estate, what do you think of the future of real estate agents, at least for the next 10 to 15 years, when I personally would be affected? And are you familiar with daily money manager professionals, and in which field do you think I'd have the most success?
A: Real estate has provided a wonderful living for many agents over the years. We were thinking specifically about Ilyce's mother, Susanne, who has been a Realtor for 30 years, and was able to raise her children on her earnings after Ilyce's father died when they were teenagers.
It is a career built for type A, personality-driven people, who love to connect with others and help them buy and sell their single largest asset. So, if you're somewhat shy and retiring, you'll probably want to try another option.
But the profession isn't all signed deals and celebrations. We have witnessed the drama of real estate firsthand, as prospective buyers lose homes to other bidders and sellers gripe that their agent isn't doing enough to move the property. The last seven years have been extraordinarily painful, as millions of Americans went underwater with their mortgages (that is, their homes became worth less than the mortgage amount), completed short sales, went into foreclosure or bankruptcy, or otherwise had their financial lives destroyed.
Expect to spend a good portion of your week working, and working hard. Real estate is a 24/7/365 business in which you're at the beck and call of your customers. If they want to see property at 7 p.m., you'll have to find a way to get sellers to clean up their homes and then exit stage right so that you can walk your buyers through.
In our experience, the best real estate agents have a positive, optimistic view of the world, are extremely knowledgeable about the local housing stock, rules, restrictions and the other details that go into residential real estate transactions, understand how mortgages work, and are extremely intuitive about what makes people tick (and what they're really asking for, no matter what they say). For the foreseeable future, we see real estate agents as an integral part of the home-buying and home-selling process. While their roles may change, they appear to be a part of the deal for some time to come.
Daily money manager is another service-oriented profession, but one that could easily have regular hours (of the Monday to Friday, 9-to-5 variety). In the best-case scenario, you're handling "the books" for people who no longer can or want to have direct control over their money. It's a position of huge trust, and we wonder how you would charge for this so you could make it work financially. (Maybe a flat fee?) It sounds like a good opportunity, but you don't have the potential to make the same kind of huge money that would come with selling real estate.
There is certainly a growing need for money managers and with the real estate market beginning to make a recovery, there's an opportunity for you to get in now and then grow over the next 10 to 15 years. But at some point you may get sick of the hours and competition. There isn't as much competition in the money manager area, at least to our eyes, and so your ability to grow the business into something that's worth selling or passing on to someone (for a piece of the action going forward) is more likely. But if you work with a diverse group of people, you'll need to make sure you keep good records to avoid having your clients (or relatives of your clients) believe that you are taking advantage of them.
Real estate agents must keep up their licensing and take continuing education classes. I don't know what's available for money managers, which seems like a less regulated area, but you'll want to know the latest versions of Quicken and QuickBooks, not to mention TurboTax and other software that those who hire you will expect you to have mastered.