Published by Kartik Subramaniam
One of the most difficult skills for new Realtors to learn is budgeting. Along with good time management, the two skills are probably the core requirements for first-year success in this challenging profession. What does it take to create a realistic budget for a new agent? In one word, the answer is "planning." Approach the task in much the same way as a family might make an annual or monthly budget, with research and tracking. Here are the three steps to building a budget that can work for any new agent and is adaptable as time passes.
Carefully log every penny you spend for two weeks running and then apply some honest analysis to what you come up with. Logging of all the money you spend will reveal where there are "leaks" in your current monetary habits and will also show what expenses are absolute necessities. The effectiveness of this step, the only one that takes place before making a pro-forma budget, is based on the ancient adage, "Know thyself." Until you know what you spend, when you spend it, and why, there's no way to make a realistic budget.
List every monthly expense and use a worst-case scenario to estimate average monthly income. If there's more income than expenses, you're still not off the hook. Be certain to go through each expense item and determine whether it can be reduced or cut out entirely. Are you spending too much on eating out, clothing, gifts? If so, snip those expenses down to levels that make sense.
After working with all the data in a spreadsheet and getting a feel for what an "average" month looks like, write out a separate document called "Pro-forma Monthly Budget," and save it to your desktop. For the next two months, allow yourself to fine-tune the pro-forma budget with new revelations or data your forgot on the first go-round. At the end of 90 days, you should have a pretty accurate and useful monthly budget that can serve as a guideline for at least the first year of your practice. In several months, your skills and network will have changed enough to require another round of budget-making. Remember, budgets help you identify ways to cut costs and increase profits, and those are good things. The budget is your friend, not an entity to be feared.
Real estate agents can take a tip from personal budgeting theory: it's essential to have an emergency fund in place that can cover at least three months' of expenses. Every smart family has a fund like this and so should every real estate professional. Especially in a field where income is notoriously volatile, an emergency fund will help to smooth out the natural income vicissitudes.
There's no reason to reinvent the wheel, so do some online research about typical real estate agent budgets to get ideas about common expense categories that might not occur to you as a new agent. Be careful, however, not to assume anyone else's categories or specific dollar amounts will apply to you. Always do the hard work of tracking and analyzing before you begin to create your own personal budget.
Remember, the real estate business is a marathon not a sprint. Being able to weather the storm is more important than ever now.
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