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Section 1 – Overview, Learning Objectives & Checklist

Section 2 – Financial Systems & Records

Section 3 – Quiz

Structuring Your Finances


Organizing or structuring the company’s financial resources is one of management’s most important activities. A financial plan or budget sets goals for allocating its resources. We begin by discussing the capital requirements to get a company up and running. Then we develop a general operating budget to forecast income and expenditures, normally for one year. The broker has important decisions to make regarding the way fees or compensation for services and the costs of sales, including compensation of salespeople and mangers, are structured. These issues have a significant impact on the income and expenses of the organization. We also discuss annual, variable expense and monthly budgets as well as sound accounting procedures that management needs for monitoring and controlling the organization’s assets.

Learning Objectives

Upon completion of this module, students should be able to:

• Identify the capital requirements a company needs to get started and understand the importance of having adequate resources for this venture and how to prepare loan proposals.
• Understand how to develop a general operating budget using realistic projects of income and expenses.
• Understand how to use various types of budgets to monitor a company’s operations.
• Understand the importance of establishing accounting procedures to protect the financial integrity of a company’s operations.

Opening an Office Checklist (Financial Areas)

1. Financial Plausibility
• Determine that corporate funds are available
• Determine that proper business and market conditions prevail
• Check company growth statistics
• Check all Multi-list statistics
• Check national and local financial conditions
• Check national and local mortgage money availability
2. Insurance
• Order package policy
• Fire
• Liability
• Property damage
• Product liability
• Check of lease by insurance company for “hold harmless” clauses
3. Financial Arrangements
• Choose bank.
• Open escrow account, if necessary
• Arrival of check ledgers
• Arrival of deposit books
• Arrival of deposit slips
• Arrival of rubber stamps
• Enter account resolutions
• Set up accounting ledgers
4. Manager Instructions Re: Financial and Closing Procedures
• Bank deposits
• Bringing deals to closing
• Closing deals


Even the smallest real estate office needs to have a system of cost control. By establishing a budget and matching system of cost accounting, brokers can know at a glance whether or not they are running a profitable operation.
This module deals with basic accounting methods, guides you through the important business of determining costs accurately, shows you how to analyze your income dollar and how to reflect these last two factors in an operating statement. Included are details on analyzing costs for any size operation and on computing the costs of running a real estate brokerage business.


New brokers, generally having started their careers in sales, typically have a salesperson’s approach to problems and are often prone to overlook their need for a good accounting system. They may operate with only a checkbook until it comes time to prepare their income tax returns. Their tax service will inform them that their increase or decrease in cash is probably not the same as their taxable income. Because they have purchased equipment, perhaps an office building, they have spent a lot of cash that is not deductible as an expense but must be capitalized and expensed out gradually (depreciated or amortized) as the assets lose their value.
Brokers soon learn they must have an accounting system for two main reasons: various income tax reports and good managerial control. Taking advantage of the different software packages designed specifically for small one-office and large multi-office real estate firms will save time and money in getting records in a timely fashion to make better decisions faster.
While their business is small, owner-managers need only a simple bookkeeping system. They make all of the decisions alone and can adjust rapidly to new conditions. Few, if any, reports are required because they can observe most variable in the making. It often suffices for small brokers to use generalized expense and income accounts, often using as few as ten accounts to trace their income and expense. However, the beginning brokers would be wise to get some help in originating their accounting system so it can expand and become more sophisticated as they grow without starting over on a new system. Aside from the extra cost involved, switching systems sometimes causes brokers to lose the direct comparative value of their past data.
As the business grows, brokers must delegate authority. Now they must be able to control expenses on which they are not making all the decisions. Each link in their chain of command represents a span of control. Having the proper accounting records givens management the tools it needs to evaluate each span of control—such as each branch office, and so forth.
Systems are one of the most important variables because they determine how things actually get done. Financial systems are a key system because they support the company’s business strategy. These systems and records provide the means for management to track its performance in executing its financial strategies directed at achieving the firm’s long-term strategic intent.


The balance sheet is really a report of the financial condition of an enterprise as of a specific date. (See Figure 4.1.) Oversimplified, your financial position is made up of all your possessions (assets) offset by your debts (liabilities). The difference between your assets and your debts is your net worth or owner’s equity. Since assets are generally maintained at net book value (cost less depreciation to date) instead of current market value, the statement of position is accurate for tax reporting purposes but not for an absolutely true financial position. The real value of an operating company is not its net worth but the current value of its probable future earning power (liquidation value sometimes must be considered if the company consistently produces a loss or marginal profit).

FIGURE 4.1 Balance Sheet

BK Realty, Inc.
Balance Sheet
as of December 31, 200X

Current Assets Current Liabilities
Cash $ 96,555 Deferred
Deferred Payable (closed
Commissions transactions) $ 3,875
(closed Note Payable-
transactions) 6,150 Short-Term 29,950

Total Current Income Taxes
Assets $102,705 Withheld 21,525

Total Current
Liabilities $ 55,350
Fixed Assets Long-Term Liabilities
Furniture and Note Payable-
Equipment $ 86,100 Long-Term $ 20,910

Less Depreciation 19,065 Total Long-Term
Liabilities $ 20,910
Net Furniture and
Equipment $ 67,035 Total Liabilities $ 76,260

Improvements 32,595 Owner’s Equity

Less: Depreciation 13,530 Common Stock $ 88,560

Net Leasehold Retained Earnings 23,985

Improvements $ 19,065 Owner’s Equity $112,545
Total Fixed Assets $ 86,100
Total Liabilities &
Total Assets $188,805* Owner’s Equity $188,805*

* The balance sheet is called this because total assets and total liabilities plus owner’s equity must balance (be equal).

Balance Sheet Relationships

When financial people look at balance sheets, they often note three common relationships.
The first common relationship is current ratio. This ratio measures the firm’s ability to pay its bills. This is the arithmetic ratio of total current assets to total current liabilities. The formula is CA ÷ CL. For example, if a firm’s net current assets (current assets are assets readily converted to cash, such as marketable securities) are $50,000 and its short-term debts are $25,000, then it has a 2 to 1 current ratio which is considered healthy. As assets decrease and/or liabilities increase, the ratio decreases to less than 2 to 1 which increases risk to solvency. Bankers, who tend to be conservative when lending money to firms, like to see a ratio of at least 2 to 1.
The second common relationship is working capital. In this case, $50,000 less $25,000 equals $25,000, total current assets less total current liabilities. (The formula is CA – CL.) Working capital is additional liquid assets above the amount owed that can be used by the firm to implement its strategies.
The third common relationship is equity ratio. If this company had total assets of $100,000 with total liabilities of $45,000, the equity ratio is $100,000 less $45,000, equaling $55,000 equity or 55 percent equity ratio. The formula is TA – TL = Net Worth ÷ TA = Equity Ratio. As the ratio approaches 100 percent or 1, the firm has less debt, resulting in less financial risk.


The income statement, sometimes called a profit and loss (P&L) statement or operating statement, portrays the ongoing operation of the company in terms of dollars for a specific period. The income statement must reflect total sales commissions and revenue by each principal division of the company.
The expenses should reflect both operating and nonoperating expenses. Operating expenses are those costs necessary for the operation of the business. Nonoperating expenses are costs that are not due to the actual operation of the company (i.e., interest and debt and/or income taxes).


Net income may be defined as the earnings that management has produced during a specified period for all those who have invested capital in the enterprise. It might also be described as being made up of revenues, a positive factor, minus negatives, which are expenses, deductible losses and income taxes. Do not be confused because the word cash has not been used. Cash often has little or nothing to do with the calculation of net income, especially under accrual-based accounting systems or for any enterprise that owns nonliquid assets.
Net income is the income remaining after all expenses have been paid. The income after deducting only operational expenses (does not include interest and taxes) is called Earnings Before Interest and Taxes (EBIT).

Example: Gross Revenue
– Operational Expenses
= Earnings Before Interest & Taxes (EBIT)
– Interest
= Earnings Before Taxes (EBT)
– Taxes
= Net Income

EBIT measures the business decisions and the efficiency of the company’s operations. If EBIT is a negative number, the operation has produced a loss. If EBIT equals “0,” the company has broken even. If EBIT is a positive number, the company has made a profit from operations.

It is typical for business people to misuse the term expense when they talk of the expense of buying equipment or buildings. Buying buildings or equipment is a cost for an asset. The depreciation of those assets is an expense. Costs of making or buying assets are not expenses; they are “costs of” the assets acquired. Expense means that you have given up something of value to obtain revenue.
Gross revenue or gross income is the total dollars that a firm takes in from all available sources. Gross revenue is 100 percent of the income to the company. Expenses will represent a percentage of gross revenue. If gross revenue is $1 million and commissions paid to salespeople is $530,000, then 53 percent of gross revenue is commissions paid to salespeople. If $80,000 is spent on advertising, then advertising expense is 8 percent of gross revenue.

Expenditures from Gross Revenue

Commissions and fees comprise the single largest category of expenditure form gross revenue. These expenses take more than one-half the gross income, regardless of the company’s size or type of operation.
Owner/brokers should distribute listing and sales splits to themselves the same way they do to regular salespeople. Personal income from managerial duties should appear in summary value of the service provided.


The cash basis of accounting means that revenue is acknowledged when cash (or something of value) is actually received. Expenses are recognized only in amounts for which cash has been paid. The cash basis is normally used for small businesses because the accounting is simple and less costly. Current income taxes can be saved if all expenses are paid as incurred. When large receivable and payable are accumulated, the profit or loss picture can be greatly distorted through cash basis accounting.
The accrual basis of accounting dictates that one accrues revenue when the service is rendered or the sale is made. The time of collecting the cash proceeds or commission from the sale has no direct bearing on the timing or the amount of the revenue. To keep the accrual system as realistic as possible, a reserve could be established for lost sales if past experience warrants it. Expenses are recognized in the same manner, when they are incurred or become payable, and not when cash is paid out. The accrual method allows brokers to match expenses with revenues in the proper period thereby portraying a truer profit or loss position. Be careful of trying to get the best of two worlds by reporting revenue on a cash basis (when the sale is closed) but accruing expenses and charging them out at the end of the accounting period. The Internal Revenue Service will normally demand that you consistently stay on an accrual basis. All external expenses and revenues are funneled through your receivable and payable accounts when you employ pure accrual accounting. However, many firms operate as if on a cash basis until the end of the accounting period, at which time all expenses and revenue are adjusted to the accrual basis. With the proper procedures established, accounting time can be saved through the adjusted accrual methods without distorting the interim statements.
It is best to seek professional tax assistance before deciding which method to follow.


Brokerage owners must always presume that embezzlement could happen to them. Signing all checks can help prevent embezzlement, but the following steps are also recommended.
Full audits with interim unannounced reviews should be conducted by outside sources such as an independent CPA firm.
All bank statements and canceled checks should be returned to the owner, not to the person in control of accounting and not to the person who balances out the checking account each month. Each statement, together with the canceled checks, must be examined monthly when received by the owner and should at least appear as if they have been examined carefully. Occasional calls about checks to the person balancing the books each month helps support the fact that the owner is looking at every check. This simple procedure alone will probably do more than any other to prevent embezzlement.
Different people should handle the deposits and checks with a tie-in between deposits and checks. Checks should not be written to pay out salespeople’s commissions unless there is evidence of a commission deposit having been made for the company on that transaction.
Two people should sign checks and two other people should handle bank deposits.
The ratio of commission payout to gross revenue should be watched. If there is a change in this ratio, the owners may have a problem.
Be sure check protection systems prevent digits being added without it being obvious. For example, leaving space behind the figures and wording on a check could make it easy to change $100.00 to $100,000.


To run a business successfully, management must be able to plan, coordinate and control its business operation. A budget is a financial formula to operate within for a future period. Budgets are usually projected for each expense line item monthly for the next full year. To exercise the proper control, management must make continuous reviews and comparisons to the budget so that undesirable variances can be noted and corrective action taken.
Steps in Preparing a Budget

Budgeting can be done as an “incremental” process—using last year’s budget as a base form which to start. Alternatively, budgeting may be a “zero-based” process—starting from scratch each year to validate every expense in the budget. Or it can be a combination of incremental and zero-based, which is probably the best option.
Assuming top management has decided what must be done to reach their objectives, they should now call in the various people responsible for attaining these objectives and have them work up their own budgets (with a minimum of direction from top management). Often top management can subtly influence middle or lower management to project a budget for both sales and expenses just about in line with what they want. It is important that the budget be set by the chain of command responsible for attaining that performance. People who set their own budgets are much more likely to stick to them than those who have budgets set by someone else.
The budget must be prepared with two considerations in mind:

1. It must be broken down to areas of one person’s authority, such as branch offices or departments.
2. It must be complied to comply with the established accounting framework to accumulate and measure the data.
In order to control expenses for budgetary purposes, standard expenses must be determined. Therefore, management must not only know how much the actual expenses and revenue are at the present time, it must know through standards what they should be. Expense and revenue standards can provide these measures to gauge present performance. Generally we look to the past for these standards of performance and expense to obtain the desired future performance. Using these past revenue/expense/profit relationships, a realistic budget can be prepared to obtain a planned profit for the future.


Although a target budget will be kept in focus, a flexible budget is more meaningful. This budget will reflect expenses for each level of revenue produced. The flexible budget is far more realistic and usable than a fixed budget because it takes into account both fixed and variable expenses of the operation to be controlled.
Variable expenses are caused by production. No production, no expense. In a real estate operation, the following expenses are variable: commissions, fees, management overrides—all are a percentage of gross revenue.
Fixed expenses, on the other hand, are not caused by production and exist whether one unit has or has not been produced. The following expenses are relatively fixed: sales management salaries and fees, salaries, advertising, communications, occupancy and other operating expenses (property taxes, auto expense, insurance, dues, and so on.).


Knowing how much each of these fixed and variable expenses will be incurred as a standard for the operation of each office or department, we can now measure and gauge each manager’s operation. They not only can be watched to see that they meet or exceed their production quotas but they are also measured to see that they attained these quotas or positions with all costs in proper alignment. All of this data can be set up in the form of a table(s) and/or graph(s) that can also portray very conspicuously the budgeted breakeven point, the point at which revenue equals expenses, for the office or department.
It must be understood that fixed costs do not always remain fixed but must at times be shown as a vertical rise, such as when your business grows to a point where another salaried person must be added. When a firm goes all out for volume and bigness at any cost, it will feel the effects of the limit of its personnel’s capacity or expertise and/or the limit of the market potential. When this happens, the fixed costs such as advertising and selling expense become inefficient and skyrocket upward to the point where profit eventually diminishes rather than increases with more volume. This is the opposite result of the one hoped for.

Rules of Thumb for Breakeven

The broker should know the following by the month, quarter and year:
• Number of exclusive listings
• Number of sales and sales volume in-house (own firm selling own listings)
• Number of co-op sales and sales volume, listings and volume sold by co-op
• Average revenue per unit
• Total expenses
• Number of units produced (sale equals one unit, listing sold equals one unit)

With the proper records on the number of contracts needed on average to get an exclusive listing or make a sale, calculate how many contacts per day are needed by your office to break even per month and how many contacts it would take per day on average to make your budgeted profit.


AS many budgets can be prepared as there are departments or lines of authority to fix responsibility within the framework of a firm’s accounting capability. They include budgets for sales, listings, advertising, selling and administrative expense, cash, new office development and overhead. Segmented budgets only involve management people who have responsibility and control for a given area.


1) Businesses often fail because
A) They are undercapitalized.
B) The brokers devote 100 percent of their time to sales.
C) The leadership doesn’t know how to compete.
D) They don’t use the latest technology.

2) When estimating your capital requirements, you should budget for at least how many months of operating expenses?
A) Three months
B) Twelve months
C) Six months
D) Twenty-four months

3) A loan application portfolio normally includes a letter of introduction, a personal financial statement, a budget and
A) The company’s logo.
B) A floor plan of the office.
C) Evidence of franchise membership.
D) A business plan.

4) When forecasting income for the year, begin by multiplying the average home sale price and the number of anticipated transactions. Then calculate income by
A) Multiplying the gross sales volume by your commission rate.
B) Dividing the gross sales volume by the average home sale price
C) Dividing the gross sales volume by the number of salespeople.
D) Multiplying the gross sales volume by your commission split.

5) The person who is responsible for determining how the company charges for its services is
A) The salesperson who is negotiating with the client.
B) The manager of the sales office.
C) The broker of the firm.
D) The judge in antitrust cases.

6) Cost of sales is
A) Listed as income on the profit and loss statement.
B) A fixed expense on the profit and loss statement.
C) The same as company dollar.
D) All of the transaction expenses.

7) Charging a work unit with the responsibility for generating a portion of the net income in the general operating budget is known as
A) A profit center.
B) A sales office.
C) A variable budget.
D) Company dollar.

8) It is most important to follow the accounting procedures for escrow accounts that are established by
A) The company’s auditor.
B) The computer software program.
C) The state’s licensing law.
D) The company’s broker.

9) When structuring the commission program for your salespeople, considering parity with the competition is important because
A) The salespeople evaluate your program for fairness in comparison with other brokers.
B) The licensing laws require equity with the competition.
C) The antitrust laws required equity with the competition.
D) It protects the company’s profit margin.

10) When managing the compensation of the people who work for the company, establishing internal equity means that
A) All salespeople are paid at the same rate.
B) People who work in the same class of jobs are paid at the same rate.
C) Management can pay some salespeople more than others with similar experience.
D) The company cannot have a variety of commission scales.