This article is part of a larger series on How to Become a Real Estate Agent.
To become a commercial real estate broker, you’ll need to earn a sales license and gain experience before completing real estate broker coursework. The process is similar to becoming a residential agent. However, specializing in commercial properties like office buildings, hotels, industrial centers, and retail spaces involves different obstacles and expertise than residential real estate. You must create commercial marketing materials and branding, build a commercial-centric network, and obtain specific certifications and designations.
Whether you’re starting as an agent or ready to start becoming a broker, you’ll need a real estate school approved in your state—one that provides high-quality educational materials. Consider Real Estate Express, one of the only online real estate schools with courses for every U.S. state. It offers self-paced and livestream courses, as well as study tools like flashcards, e-books, a dictionary, and instructor question-and-answer sessions.
Here are the details on how to become a commercial real estate broker in four steps:
1. Earn Your Real Estate Salesperson License
The first step to becoming a commercial real estate broker is becoming a real estate salesperson in your state. Most states will require you to have experience as a salesperson for at least one to two years before becoming a broker or managing broker in your location. So before you embark on your broker’s license, gain experience in the industry with a commercial real estate license.
Each state has different requirements for the licensure, but the process generally includes:
- Meeting legal requirements (age, education, citizenship)
- Completing real estate prelicensing coursework
- Passing the state real estate exam
- Choosing a sponsoring broker
- Submitting your real estate license application
When you’re looking for a sponsoring broker to hang your license, it is in your best interest to find a brokerage specializing in the commercial niche rather than residential. Some brokerage will have divisions for both or will choose to focus specifically on commercial properties. In order to gain the experience, mentorship, and knowledge you need to build a commercial real estate business, you’ll need a strong background in the industry, starting with your first role as a commercial salesperson.
Pro tip: Some states don’t have a clear process, and it can be difficult to determine the concrete steps you need to take to get a license in your state. Take advantage of our step-by-step guides and learn how to get a real estate license in your state.
2. Gain Experience as a Commercial Real Estate Agent
Since you must have at least one to two years of experience as a real estate salesperson in order to obtain a broker’s license, commercial real estate agents should double-down to learn everything they can from their brokerage about the commercial industry. You should focus on gaining experience with branding, marketing, and working with commercial properties so you become an expert in all aspects of the business. That way, when it’s time to start your own commercial business, you’ll be ready to take on the challenge.
Brand Yourself for Commercial Real Estate
As a newly licensed real estate agent, most people will assume that you work with residential properties simply because it’s the most common and familiar. Plus, commercial clients will not work with an agent who isn’t specifically branded as a commercial agent or expert.
The best first step to branding yourself and becoming known in the commercial real estate industry is to network and make connections. Start by joining a commercial real estate brokerage or associations like the National Association of Realtors (NAR), Urban Land Institute (ULI), and the Commercial Real Estate Development Association (NAIOP). These will help you connect with other commercial professionals who are actively making connections and closing transactions.
As you get into commercial real estate and make connections, consider creating a complete branding plan to keep your marketing consistent and build your brand more efficiently. Make sure to add the title of “commercial real estate agent” to your real estate bio and social media profiles.
Include the following in your branding plan:
- Business cards
- Color palette
- Brand fonts
- Direct mail templates (flyers, brochures, letterhead)
- Social media templates (vertical posts for Pinterest, rectangle images for Facebook, etc.)
- Landing page templates
If building a brand isn’t your forte, it’s extremely easy to find and hire a branding or graphic design professional on Fiverr. Fiverr is a freelance platform where you can search for a branding professional, look through their previous work, read reviews, and conduct an interview before handing over any money. There are hundreds of freelancers who offer branding packages that include a variety of branding elements, like a logo, brand colors, fonts, and even templates for flyers, social media, and landing pages.
Work in a Niche Market
As a real estate agent, you are licensed to work with both residential and commercial properties. It also isn’t required for you to have commercial real estate experience before getting a broker’s license, but it will massively simplify your future transition to becoming a commercial real estate broker if you gain experience working with commercial clients and properties.
Although commercial real estate is a specialty in itself, it still encompasses a wide variety of property types, like offices, retail buildings, multifamily homes, industrial properties, hospitals, hotels, and land development. The most efficient way to gain experience in the industry is by focusing on a niche market within the commercial landscape. You can expand your area of expertise at any time, but specializing can make you the go-to salesperson for specific needs of business owners, like restaurant owners or factories.
Consider choosing a specialty based on your past experience, location, or interests. For example, if you have a background in working at or managing restaurants, it would be smart to focus on buying, selling, or leasing restaurant space. Alternatively, if you have experience in the corporate world or work in an area with plenty of office buildings, that may become your focus.
Unfortunately, pinpointing clients with such specific needs isn’t always easy. By using a commercial real estate database, you gain access to extensive market and contact data that can help you find and reach potential clients and properties. For example, Reonomy and ProspectNow use artificial intelligence and predictive analytics to help you advertise to clients and business owners at the most optimal time in the sales process. Learn more details about the best commercial real estate databases for you.
Commercial Marketing & Lead Generation Strategies
Even with the best education and mentorship, real estate professionals do not have immediate marketing success after getting licensed without additional effort. It takes time to build effective marketing and lead generation systems that attract the right type of clients and don’t require hours at the computer. When you’re learning how to get into commercial real estate, leave room for trial and error.
There are a variety of ways to generate commercial real estate leads, like using commercial databases, advertising on social media, and building a custom website and landing pages. Make sure you start with a robust commercial real estate customer relationship manager (CRM) to get the most mileage out of every marketing, networking, and lead generation opportunity.
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3. Get Commercial-specific Courses, Certifications & Designations
As with all real estate licenses, you must maintain your license by meeting continuing education requirements according to your state. Continuing education requirements vary by state, so familiarize yourself with local requirements and set aside time to take the courses. There may be continuing education topics about commercial real estate, but they could be limited.
Regardless of the legal requirements, it’s important to continue learning and improving your craft throughout your career, whether you are an agent or a broker. There are a variety of commercial real estate courses that you can take, plus certifications and designations to earn at any point in your career. A few widely respected courses and designations are:
- Development Specialty Track (The Ward Center for Real Estate Studies)
- Certified Commercial Investment Member (CCIM Designation)
- Discovering Commercial Real Estate (National Association of Realtors)
- Land University (REALTOR’s Land Institute)
- Certificate of Advanced Study in Commercial Real Estate Development (NAIOP)
- Certified Commercial Advisor (National Association of Real Estate Advisors)
If you intentionally seek opportunities to learn, grow your knowledge base, and improve your personal skills, you’ll naturally be rewarded within your career. When you improve skills like sales, communication, relationships, and marketing, you’ll become more productive with less stress, gain respect, and increase your income. Real estate broker salaries tend to be higher than the average agent’s salary, but that isn’t automatic. It only comes with an excellent business plan and expertise.
4. Obtain Your Broker’s License
After the required period of time as a real estate agent, you’ll be qualified to start the process of becoming a real estate broker. Make sure you look into the specific requirements in your state, but getting a broker’s license typically follows the same steps as getting an agent’s license:
- Meet legal requirements (age, citizenship, experience)
- Complete prelicensing education
- Take the broker’s exam
- Submit your license application
Although every state requires aspiring brokers to complete real estate education courses, the requirements can vary wildly, with a range of 60 to 150 hours of required coursework. Since the requirements to become a broker are more demanding, make sure you choose a course format that best fits your learning style.
For instance, online real estate schools like Kaplan and Real Estate Express provide a variety of self-paced reading material, live webinars, video courses, and live online classes. Keep in mind that most course providers also require you to pass an exam for their school as well as the state licensing exam.
After you have passed the test from your real estate school, register for your licensing exam through your state’s real estate commission website. When test day arrives, make sure you follow the exam center’s requirements by bringing your ID and leaving personal items and calculators at home.
Make sure you’re fully prepared and can confidently start the exam by using an exam prep course like PrepAgent, which provides a money-back guarantee and has thousands of 5-star online reviews. PrepAgent includes online training and study tools, state-specific practice questions, and live webinars to ensure that you have every possible resource to pass your test on the first try.
For more tips to feel confident on exam day, take a look at our article on how to pass the real estate broker exam in eight (8) steps.
Optional Step: Build Your Commercial Real Estate Brokerage
With a broker’s license, you can choose to continue working at a brokerage or start your own. Before starting your own brokerage, make sure you understand the pros, cons, and if you’re ready to handle all of the responsibilities that it entails.
Start by making sure you have an understanding of real estate laws and regulations specific to commercial transactions and businesses. Some information will be included in your licensing courses, but you are ultimately responsible for understanding the industry and equipping any team members or agents to do the same.
If you’ve followed these steps to get into commercial real estate, by the time you earn your broker’s license, you already have sales experience, a network of commercial professionals and clients, and a functioning lead generation and marketing system in place. This is a valuable time to invest more into your brokerage branding and marketing, which could include:
- Search engine optimization (SEO)
- Content marketing with blogs or video content
- Email marketing campaigns
- Social media marketing
- Advertising campaigns
As a broker, it’s especially important to have a robust real estate CRM to organize, automate, and manage all of your contacts, conversations, and deals. LionDesk is a real estate CRM that is equally powerful and user-friendly for individual brokers and teams. It offers particularly efficient tools for commercial real estate professionals, like call management and tracking, lead import integrations with real estate platforms, and digital and print marketing collateral. Try LionDesk free for 30 days.
Commercial and residential real estate brokers earn the same license, but their focuses are on different types of transactions with their local real estate market. Since brokers can work independently of other professionals or manage other agents, the process of becoming a commercial real estate broker is long and challenging. However, by joining groups of other commercial professionals, establishing a marketing system and brand, and using every opportunity to learn, this could be the right career move for you.