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Can’t retire? What you should know about a career in real estate

MAIN IMAGE: Mariaan Otto, RE/MAX Dazzle; Clive Levy, principal/owner Clive Levy Properties; Salma le Roux, owner IsiKolo School of Learning.

With the ever-rising cost of living, it is becoming increasingly difficult to retire comfortably at 65 and with career options at this age somewhat limited, a career in real estate offers a welcome lifeline to many senior agents.

South Africa currently has a fairly low average life expectancy of 63.6 years, this is according to the latest World Health Organisation (WHO) data published in 2018. However, this is already a higher average life expectancy than a few years ago and going forward, it is expected that the average life expectancy in our country will continue to increase.

Already many senior citizens find themselves not ready for retirement at the age of 60 but while they are healthy enough to continue working they find career options are somewhat limited. Real estate is one of the few industries where applicants over 50 can still find employment.

Salma le Roux, owner of iSiKolo School of Learning, says there are many people over 50 who enter the real estate industry as a second or third career.

“The benefits are that they have life experience, have more than likely rented or purchased a property before and have a general awareness of the property industry. Most of them have a financial cushion to carry them for the 1st few months before they start earning commission,” she adds.

Adrian Goslett, regional director and CEO of RE/MAX of Southern Africa, says real estate provides retirees with an opportunity to continue working and to be in control of their own schedules while earning an income to see them through their retirement years more comfortably.

“Real estate provides an opportunity to continue working for as long as you have the passion and energy to do so. We have many associates over the age of 50 who have no plans to slow down any time soon,” Goslett explains.

One such agent is Mariaan Otto of RE/MAX Dazzle. After a business deal turned sour and left her without a job at 65, Otto came across broker/owner Neville Brits who explained the benefits of the RE/MAX business model that allows you to be in business for yourself but not by yourself. Soon after, Otto joined as an independent contractor and has flourished under the guidance of the office, reaching Millionaire’s Club Status within her first year at RE/MAX Dazzle.

“At 70 years old, I have no intention of retiring. I want to work up to my last day as this is my world, my safe haven, my happy place!”, says Otto.

“My advice to others who want to start a career in real estate is for them to jump at the chance and use every opportunity to learn about the business. Real estate can be the ideal career that can add to your pension fund and give you the retirement you always dreamed of! The accumulated life experience helps you to empathize with and handle clients according to their needs. However, as an older person, you will need to be open to new ideas and sometimes even a new outlook on life,” Otto advises.

Others have been in the industry for decades and have no intention of retiring soon although they are far over the ‘official’ retirement age of 60. At age 73 Volente Bertotti has been in the real estate industry for 27 years and says she is still hooked on it. “Real estate is a drug! It is never stagnant,” she says. For her continuing to work in real estate is far better than any of the distractions that retirement offers, but she adds it has changed a lot over the years.

When she joined the industry, it was much easier to become an estate agent. She remembers how they sat in a large hall to write the exam set by the Estate Agency Affairs Board (EAAB) and then they were estate agents. Now Board exams are a regular feature of the job, no matter your age. “Real Estate eats sissies!” says Bertotti.

The EAAB makes provision for exemptions on some of the educational requirements for current or former agents 60 years and older, but you have to submit a body of evidence and pay a fee (currently R2 343) for it to be considered and then you hope to be invited for an interview before exemption may (or may not) be granted.

Also read: Over 60 and far from retirement

Clive Levy, principal owner Clive Levy Properties, says: “All I can say is that I am 65 and nowhere near retiring and loving it – pressure and all! I will carry on until somebody says we are not giving you our house because you are half dead already. No sign of that – I am running as fast as these legs can carry me.”

Levy says he has been in the business for 30 years and he still wakes up “like a little kid with so much excitement at the prospects of the day!”

He agrees that the profession has become more professional compared to more laid-back earlier times but on the positive side, the advent of digital technology has also leveled out the playing field between the big companies and smaller players.

“It’s all about: have you got the properties the buyers are looking for? If your properties are listed on the big portals, whether you are Pam Golding or Clive Levy Properties, a search will bring up the relevant properties according to the buyer’s search criteria,” explains Levy.

There is one thing that will never change, no matter the impact of technology and the digital age, and that is the importance of personal service and all that goes with it. Levy says 85% of his sales are resales. “There will never be any substitute for the personal touch.”

How to enter the real estate industry?

Le Roux says despite their life experience, interested seniors will be subjected to the internship requirements of the EAAB, namely logbook compilation in their 1st 12 months as a new agent, the NQF4 qualification (unless they already possess a qualification that falls within the exemption criteria of the EAAB qualification requirements – as mentioned) and then the PDE4 exam. “Hence it will take a newcomer, regardless of age, at least 12- 18 months to be fully compliant with the internship requirements and then they can become full status agents,” she explains.

Le Roux has 26 years’ experience in the real estate industry. She says agencies that accept interns will not discriminate against age if the intern has the health and mental capacity to practice as an estate agent. However, being an estate agent isn’t an easy job as it requires long hours, dedication, tenacity and flexibility. She says many people who have been in an office environment initially struggle with the flexibility of the estate agent’s daily activities while others find it difficult to carry themselves financially until their first commissions come in.

“We accept prospective agents onto our full training courses, but there is a practical component required in the qualification. Hence a prospective estate agent can enrol for the full training of the qualification with a training provider but will eventually have to join a real estate company for the exposure to the practical, as well as workplace evidence component, of the qualification,” she continues.

The initial financial outlay will be their fidelity fund certificate (FFC) with the EAAB and the training costs. They must also budget for extra petrol expenses.

Le Roux advises that an intern start with a company where there are no monthly dues payable to the estate agency- many interns find themselves deep in debt within a few months of joining the industry. Larger commission splits are not always the ideal solution for someone who is joining the industry for the 1st time to make extra money. The traditional splits with no additional company overheads tend to be the best solution for interns.

With the rising cost of living, there will be more people 50 years and older who will find they can’t retire and maintain their standard of living. Real estate offers a 2nd or 3rd career that, health permitting, could provide a welcome income for years to come – if you are prepared to bite the bullet and face up to all the requirements of this tough industry.

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