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The real estate industry encompasses the many facets of property, including development, appraisal, marketing, selling, leasing, and management of commercial, industrial, residential, and agricultural properties. This industry can fluctuate depending on the national and local economies, although it remains somewhat consistent due to the fact that people always need homes and businesses always need office space.

In the United States, real estate has a long history. After the Revolutionary War, no longer under England's thumb, the federal government sold and granted land to private owners for their own use. This practice continued as the country expanded westward, most notably starting in 1862 with the Homestead Act, which allowed private ownership of U.S. land in exchange for improving and developing the land for at least five years. The U.S. government distributed more than 300 million acres of public property to private landowners through the Homestead Act, creating the basis for the real estate market.

The real estate industry evolved as the United States evolved from an agricultural society to an industrial one. Several shifts occurred during the transformation of the Industrial Revolution. For one, urban centers swelled as people moved to cities to work in factories. These workers needed places to live, and they had money to spend. In addition, as the United States increased its wealth through industry, banks and other financial institutions stopped their practice of lending only to the wealthy. Suddenly, the middle class and blue-collar workers were able to secure mortgages. Home ownership became more common.

As cities developed, the need for real estate transactions increased. Office buildings, retail centers, hotels and restaurants, and residential housing boomed, and someone was needed to develop, sell, and manage it all. Soon, urban sprawl would create the need for suburbs, and with that more housing, town centers, and eventually, businesses.

Today, the real estate industry is one of the most lucrative sectors of the U.S. economy, and it continues to provide opportunities for interested and motivated individuals. Since many professions within real estate are based on sales, success depends on effort. This is an industry for hardworking, goal-oriented people who are always ready to take on more. However, the hard-charging lifestyle is balanced by some flexibility: Those who succeed in the real estate industry often set their own hours, are not limited by a fixed salary, and can be their own boss.

Professions within the real estate industry vary. Brokers and agents lease and sell properties. Real estate developers buy land, build property on it, and sell it to interested parties. Building managers act on the owner's behalf and deal with day-to-day issues of properties. Appraisers must assess the value of properties before they can be sold. In addition, support staff, office managers, real estate attorneys, loan officers, and others are essential players in every real estate transaction.

The real estate industry is an important element of the economy. In the mid-2000s, the industry faced major challenges when the commercial real estate market peaked and then fell in step with the recession. The economy recovered, as did the real estate market, in the years after the recession. In 2018, the U.S. commercial real estate market contributed $1 trillion to the economy, more than 6 percent in gross domestic product. The pandemic, which began in 2020, slowed down growth in the real estate industry because of the global shutdowns, but the demand for housing increased during the pandemic and continues to grow. The U.S. commercial real estate industry has since grown to more than $1.2 trillion. Whether the economy is strong or weak, people will always need a place to live, work, and shop, and there will always be a steady need for real estate professionals. Their degree of success simply depends on their motivation, geographic location, and the tides of the market.