By Toby Welch

Working in real estate has numerous perks – being in control of your schedule and independence, among other benefits. But it comes with the downside of an irregular paycheque. According to a 2019 Redfin third-party survey of 500 real estate agents, the No. 1 complaint of those who work in the industry is the unpredictable income.

Kim Hardie
Kim Hardie

Kim Hardie, a salesperson with Re/Max Saskatoon in Saskatoon, Sask., has had fellow agents ask her how to cope with a fluctuating income.

“I would suggest that if they are struggling, reassess what they are doing to gain and retain business. Invest more time in open houses, as that is where active buyers are. Look at how they are keeping in touch with past clients to nurture that relationship for future referrals. Work on private listings – here, we have a website that is full of for sale by owners. Work on social media campaigns. Always look for business. Schedule days to focus on certain things. If you’re working hard and staying focused, then the repeat business will flow in.”

Hardie offers tips to navigate the future hard times: “Try to put aside money in a savings account when you have good months and extra income. Also, a lot of agents have another income-generating business that is not so time-consuming, so they can focus on real estate.”

Having savvy financial management skills is a key component of mastering an ebb-and-flow income. Budgeting without knowing when and how much you will be paid is tricky. Consider having different bank accounts for personal, business, savings and tax uses. And create a budget for your personal expenses that remains the same month to month, no matter what your income. That will help build your savings account during flush months instead of the money being spent needlessly.

Brandie Yurkiw
Brandie Yurkiw

Brandie Yurkiw, a real estate agent with Sutton – Harrison Realty in Brandon, Man., suggests agents stay positive and always think outside the box. “I like to attend functions that our brokerage has set up at different venues. Just getting my face out there and talking/prospecting always feels like I am continuing to meet new opportunities through networking. Have those daily consistent tasks that you do and continue to do them faithfully day in and day out. It all comes together when you are consistent and positive!”

Stéphane Bisson
Stéphane Bisson

After 30 years in real estate, Stéphane Bisson, a broker and agency manager of Keller Williams Distinction in Gatineau, Que., offers the following three points for agents to avoid an income that fluctuates too drastically:

“We as agents need a pipeline full of qualified leads; it’s not about being the best one month but being the best every day.

“Agents need to time-block for lead gen and lead follow up.

“After closing a transaction, we need to ask for referrals and keep following up with our customers.”

Sally Cliff
Sally Cliff

Sally Cliff is broker of record at Northern Pride Real Estate in the Englehart area of Ontario. “My biggest advice would be not to pre-spend your commission. You’re having a tight month and have a large commission on the horizon, don’t blow your budget or think you can just pay it back next month with the big payout. Anything can happen. I have found it easiest not to even think about what’s coming and only rely on what’s in hand. The obvious answer is to save six months of expenses ahead but that isn’t always realistic.”

Building an emergency fund is essential. Consider designating a portion of each payday into the fund. Build up the nest egg when you are experiencing extra-profitable periods. Having this reserve will help you get through the lean months and keep your financial stress to a minimum.

Ron Sally
Ron Sally

Ron Sally, broker of record and owner of Re/Max Millennium Real Estate in Woodbridge, Ont., shares how he would reply if an agent said they were struggling to deal with the up-and-down income.

“I would ask them what made them get in the industry in the first place. Was it the flexibility of time, more money, commitment to helping people? I would ask what they feel that they are lacking or struggling with to do more deals. I would ask them about their personal schedule and day-to-day routine. I would ask them what’s stopping them from doing more deals. I would advise them to put more time and energy to generate more business through online/in person resources. I would advise them to meet more people and have more conversations about real estate than ever before. The goal is to put yourself out there more into the universe about what you do. The rest will follow as a result.”

Sally offers tips on navigating the feast or famine income: “The best thing to do is first be honest and realistic with your financial situation. You have to scale back and cut costs immediately. If you have a partner/wife/husband, having that conversation with them is super important. They have to be part of the journey and process. They say in business to always make sure to have six to eight months of expenses saved up and keep trailing behind that to save yourself when the going gets tough. When you make the most money in real estate, we should follow the same advice we give to our clients about saving and investing.”

Cliff is a strong believer in the power of positive thinking, “This industry can get everyone down from time to time. I think it’s the same for any job, really. If I have to take time to remind myself of all the good things, I’ll do that. Keep constant positive chatter going on.”

With the right mindset, navigating a real estate career with a ping-pong income is more than manageable.


  1. You make some really good points. If more people were aware of what it takes (and how long it may take to get your first cheque) after spending a lot of money to get your license, many would think about it twice and we would probably have a smaller drop out rate. As to the accounts you are suggesting, it’s probably a good idea for people who are not money/math savvy. What I do with the CRA, I send them a portion every time I get a commission cheque. Some people may say that they would not want the government to hold their money but latest by the second year (if half way successful) they want quarterly payments anyway. So for me it’s “out of sight, out of mind”.

  2. As an industry asking new entrepreneurs to enter our profession we must begin talking truth to success and that starts before anyone is asked to abandon their current job and begin paying desk fees.

    1) Accept the fact over 60,000 members of CREA did not sell one home in 2019.

    2) Demand proof of any other income story you are told to believe before commencing.

    Next is to start with a minimum 12 months of accessible cash being available to pay your household expenses and 1st year business plan expenses. This can be a HELOC but be sure you have this and make it your ONLY source of cash in your 1st year. This means you spend NO COMMISSION earnings in your 1st year you bank them.

    Next is to create 3 separate bank accounts for the following when your first commission check arrives:
    1) CRA Tax Account of 30% of your Commissions earned plus 100% of all GST/HST collected
    2) Household Expense Account equal to 50% of your Commissions earned
    3) Business Expense Account equal to 20% of your Commissions earned

    Commissions Earned do not include GST/HST.

    Never allow your Brokerage or Broker Owner handle your CRA funds ever!

    At the end of your first year you have the following years CRA taxes already paid and stored in an Account remembering that current year contributions are always predicated on previous years income. GST/HST are current year only.

    At the end of your 1st yr you now can step back and get a true picture of your last year in the business. If you start and then follow this strategy with each passing year you are afforded the freedom to look at your business as a vehicle to pay you an income. You then can evaluate if this career justifies supporting your family the next year.

    As an industry this recommendation is detested by the real estate brokerage industry and the mls systems and trade associations we all pay for each year. Our business is built upon misleading new entrants to enter the business in enough numbers to maintain staffing levels in the 3 main business groups our commissions end up paying plus the top of pyramid most franchise brokerages now operate.

    If you know a young person looking to become to run a Real Estate Sales Business please just tell them the truth.

    Simply provide them any actual data you have that debunks 60,000 members of CREA did not sell one home in 2019. I know you can’t because CREA has hidden that data for 40 years.

    The Truth will set you Free and sales pitches to generate new recruits will eventually lead the profession to financial self-destruction.

    All the Best!

Leave a Reply