Thinking about a career in real estate? If you answered yes, you’re likely attracted by the idea of earning handsome commission checks and working flexible hours. But have you considered whether you’re a better ‘fit’ for selling residential or commercial real estate? The two paths differ in terms of work environment, training required and even the personality types that excel at each. Read on for a comparison of the two, so you can properly prepare for your ideal real estate career.

A Primer

Commercial real estate is property designed for business purposes — think office buildings, hospitals, retail spaces and the like — while residential real estate involves the buying and selling of properties used for dwelling purposes. While a skilled, assertive salesperson can excel in either field, there are several distinct differences to consider before choosing your path. (Psst:  It’s not necessarily an either/or. Many real estate professionals pursue both, either sequentially or simultaneously.)


Commercial real estate offers bigger pay days, but fewer transactions. While virtually everybody needs a place to live, there is a much smaller pool of folks looking for commercial space—and commercial deals typically demand more time and attention to detail than residential deals. That said, commercial real estate professionals have the potential to earn more than their residential counterparts:  an average salary of about $85,000, according to Indeed.

Residential property transactions tend to occur more frequently but with smaller deal sizes (commission checks) than commercial transactions, with residential real estate agents earning an average salary of around $42,000, according to (Note: Location and agent experience impact earning potential for both commercial and residential real estate agents.)

Required Training

Compared to commercial real estate, residential real estate has a lower barrier to entry and a higher rate of early success, especially if you’re someone who naturally “networks” with friends and associates. For these reasons, the residential market attracts a wide range of practitioners, from stay-at-home moms and part-time students, to semi-retirees and side hustlers. A college degree is not required, but you do need to possess deep knowledge of the local communities you’re serving, including surrounding schools, businesses, amenities and public transportation.

Commercial real estate firms generally seek candidates with finance or business degrees and a proven track record in sales. A candidate’s understanding of market factors, return rates, and analytics can also be critical assets in getting hired and, for these reasons, a career in commercial real estate requires a greater upfront investment of resources than its residential counterpart.

Work Hours and Environment

The work environments for residential real estate and commercial real estate are quite different, and that’s based on the type of customer you are selling to. While residential agents can get away with more casual attire and last-minute texts in order to get their clients into the “perfect home” right now, a certain level of professional decorum is expected and required of the commercial real estate practitioner.

Commercial real estate typically happens in an office environment, with clients who are all-business, as opposed to residential real estate in which clients are often friends and neighbors you know from your non-professional life. Further, commercial transactions typically occur within regular business hours, Monday-Friday, while residential real estate agents are likely to have unconventional, flexible hours—nights, weekends and whenever your clients are available.

Personality Traits

While the practice of both commercial and residential real estate requires a real estate license, the ideal personality traits and skill sets of the two can be quite different. A commercial real estate agent’s focus is on data and revenue. In general, his or her value comes from the ability to assess the current and future value of commercial properties, find qualified buyers and renters, and negotiate sales and leases.

A career in residential real estate requires in-depth knowledge of the local area in which you’re selling, including schools, shops, transportation and more. Further, selling residential real estate is best suited to individuals who are comfortable putting themselves “out there” to connect with potential clients, and who possess keen interpersonal skills to help manage the often-emotional side of buying and selling homes.