How Much Should I Pay My Real Estate Assistant?

That’s probably the number one question I receive, and it’s one of the top questions I see posted in real estate Facebook groups. Let me be clear here – I am talking about full-time administrative/operations team members, not part-time or virtual assistants.

First, let me tell you what the answer is NOT.

  • It’s NOT minimum wage.
  • It’s NOT what was posted on the Lab Coat Agents’ blog last year about hiring an assistant: “In general, an assistant might get anywhere from $12+ an hour.” (Anyway, not unless it’s WAY on the PLUS side of $12/hr.)*
  • It’s NOT the rate high school babysitters charge. (In my area of Northern VA, that would be $15/hr.)

*Note: The author may have been talking about part-time as well as full-time assistants, but agents read the article and don’t distinguish between the two.

The reason I start with examples of what NOT to pay your assistant is because these numbers are exactly where the conversation ALWAYS starts: “Those are $12/hour tasks,” or “That’s a $15/hour job.”

I hear these comments from agents on a daily basis. Then, what follows is a list of expectations. Those expectations boil down to: “I expect them to be fast, totally on top of things, give incredible customer service, set up systems that grow my business, build my database, and a whole lot more.”

The next comment I get in every conversation is: “I want someone like you – not just an empire protector, but a builder – someone who’s a driver, who can keep up with me, who is always available and can anticipate my needs.”

(BTW, these are all REAL things agents have told me recently.)

So let me get this straight. You want someone who you will fully rely on to ensure your livelihood, to totally run your business, who is super smart, fast as a whip, executes and is strategic – who will do everything from copying and getting breakfast to building high level systems to scale with tomorrow’s technology. And you want to pay them what you pay your 14-year-old babysitter who has no life/business experience.

Got it.

ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!?!

Secondly, let me tell you how NOT to determine what to pay your assistant.

  • You DON’T post on your Facebook page and ask.
  • You DON’T post in Facebook groups and ask.
  • You DON’T just ask a few REALTOR® friends.

When you post on your Facebook page, or even in real estate Facebook groups, you will get a variety of answers and suggestions – many of which will include the answers listed above. What you don’t know when you read these answers is:

  • Who is responding?
  • What is their production level?
  • Are they profitable?
  • What is the job description of their assistant?
  • How long has their assistant been with them?
  • What part of the country do they live in?

So, you have no way to know if you are comparing apples to apples, or apples to waffles.

For example, some assistants are purely paperwork handlers in transactions, while others actually negotiate price changes for listings and inspections for contracts. Some assistants file copies of bills, while others are totally responsible for the bottom line of the profit & loss statement. Some assistants work with a single agent; others lead teams.

The amount an assistant can earn in one area (for example, in Northern VA where I live and the unemployment rate is less than 3%, the amounts are higher) may be VERY different than in an area like Idaho Falls (where my partner, Stephanie Brackett, leads a team of 30, comparable income may be a lower number). A recent thread I saw had multiple responses about what to pay an assistant – many of them saying $30K. That’s $14.40/hr – less than a babysitter earns in most areas, and certainly NOT a salary anyone could support themselves on in many areas of the country.

As an example, I know a team who hired two admins last year. Both had ops experience, neither had real estate experience, and each one was in their 20s. Both were hired at the top of the real estate pay range for their area – $60K. The team lost at least one candidate during the hiring process because she was offered 25% more than the top of the range – $75K. And one of the hires left after a month for a job outside real estate for a LOT more money. I also know another EA who recently left a real estate team for a job outside real estate – also doing operations – in a field she had no experience in. The salary she was offered? $120K. So obviously, $30K was not an answer that would make any sense in these areas of the country.

So, how do you figure out what to pay your assistant? Here are the 4 Steps I followed for the 23 years I was the COO of one of the nation’s top real estate teams, and for the 10 years I led offices in multiple states for a national mortgage company.

1. WRITE A JOB DESCRIPTION

Before you can decide what to pay someone, you need to know what they will be doing. Once you have a list of their duties, star the most important ones and make sure you have a clear understanding of how you will measure results. (Use Pareto’s Law – the 80-20 Rule – to figure out which activities are the 20% that give you 80% of your results. Otherwise, all duties will be weighted equally and you won’t have clarity for step #2.)
(Side note: If you are hiring a new assistant, you’ll want to accelerate their learning curve, save yourself time, and help yourself earn more money by enrolling them in our Ops Boss™ Training Center.)

2. DO A SALARY SURVEY

Survey the top teams in your office, along with the top teams at other companies in your area. Here’s the script I used when I called the agent/owner:

“Hi John. I’m doing a salary survey about real estate assistants. I’d love to include you and I’m happy to share the results with you (confidentially, with no names on them, of course). Would you like to participate?” (It’s VERY rare for someone to say “no” when you reassure them of confidentiality and offer to share the results. Everyone wants to know what everyone else is paying.)

Here are the questions I ask:

  • Is your assistant paid hourly or on salary?
  • Are they licensed?
  • Do they receive per-deal bonuses? If so, how much per deal, and approximately how much will that add up to for them this year?
  • Do they receive profit share or other sorts of bonuses? What are they? Approximately how much will that add up for them this year?
  • What are the top 2 things they are responsible for?
  • How many people are on your team?
  • Are there any other benefits provided (health insurance, paid time off, coaching, paid training, paid licensing fees, referral fees, trips to company conventions, holidays, 401k, etc.)?
  • Anything else you want to share?

Build a simple Google Sheet to capture the responses. (Add a column for total compensation for easy comparison.) When your survey is complete, share it back with the participants.

3. RESEARCH PAY RANGES FOR OTHER ADMIN/OPS POSITIONS OUTSIDE REAL ESTATE

When you’re hiring an assistant, you’re not just competing with other REALTORS® for talent, you’re also competing with other industries. Unemployment rates are the lowest in almost 50 years. I’ve been hiring for admin roles since the 1980s and have NEVER seen such a tight job market. Check out Indeed, Wizehire and Glass Door to see what others are paying for similar roles.

4. PAY AT (OR ABOVE) THE TOP OF THE RANGE OF YOUR SALARY SURVEY

This should be a no-brainer, and is the secret to retention. Most operations staff who worked for the team I was on stayed with us for 5 years or longer. If your mindset is to get away with paying as little as you can, you’re going to get what you pay for.

My favorite quote from Gary Keller in “The Millionaire Real Estate Agent” is this:
“Many of the discussions I’ve heard at real estate seminars & classes on the subject can be boiled down to this philosophy: ‘How little can I pay someone and not have them leave?’ I’d like to advocate the exact opposite approach: “When you make it your business to hire talent, I want you to ask yourself, ‘How much can I afford to pay them, so I can keep them as long as possible?’”

So, do you want to get the most – or pay the least? I’d choose to get the most. When you hire talent, you should expect them to be an investment, not just an expense. (And that’s a topic for another day – how your assistant can create opportunities for you to earn more money and can, in fact, leverage their systems to bring more GCI to the team. Anyone you add to your team should be a multiplier. This is the 3X Rule we teach in our “BE A BOSS” class.)

Final Note: This post applies to full-time operations staff on real estate teams – whether that’s a listing manager, executive assistant, administrative assistant, transaction coordinator, client care manager, marketing director, or any of the other one million titles we use for admin staff. It wasn’t meant to address other options – virtual assistants, part-time assistants, outside transaction coordinators – all of which are awesome options.

There’s also a separate class of operations leaders – those who operate at the COO (Chief Operating Officer) or even CEO (Chief Executive Officer) level of large, high producing teams. Compensation for these roles can vary widely and be seriously more involved, because these roles are much more strategic, leadership oriented, and often tied in with profitability and growth of the team. Compensation may include higher salaries, coaching, event travel, an education budget, a percentage of net, bonuses based on profit growth, equity in the business, equity in buildings, opportunities for business investment, and a whole slew of other benefits. Of course, the principles of the 4 steps would still apply. It just takes a little more research to find the right apples to compare.

Ops Boss Coaching™ is here to bring clarity. We’re here to make your life easier, and to raise the bar for operations professionals. Here’s how:

Ops Boss™ Training Center where assistants gain confidence and lay a foundation to operate the business like a boss. Includes 3 ninety-minute group coaching calls/month, PLUS an on-demand video training library, PLUS checklists and more.

Be A Boss Class – A half day class taught around North America where agents and admin learn the difference between an “average assistant” and an Ops Boss™. It includes things like accountability, goal setting, mega mindset, and the 3X Rule (how to generate income to the team through systems).

One-on-One Coaching – Forty 30-min calls a year. This is one-on-one coaching for Assistants, EAs, Directors of Operation and Chief Operating Officers who are ready to go to the next level and get bossy.

Ops Boss™ Leader Retreat – Once a year weekend event for high level operations leaders. It is All Ops, By Ops, For Ops, and will be held Oct 18-20, 2019 just outside Washington D.C.

Being an Ops Boss™ means taking ownership of your side of the business, being accountable to RESULTS, and striving to be the best you can be – personally AND in your career. Don’t misunderstand. There’s nothing wrong with being an “average assistant” and earning “average wages”. If you would like to be more, we want to help you (or your assistant) be an Ops BOSS™!

  • CeCe says:

    Absolutely fabulous, Christy! I’m adding this as a must-read in my resource packet for agents who think they are ready to hire an admin.

  • Linda S says:

    Great article! Offers great points of view and action steps. Thank you!

  • Candice says:

    Nailed it! I’ve shared with all the Admin’s in my office and then some.

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