Great Recession sheds real-estate agents, attracts newcomers to the business
The new crop of agents has had to seriously think about what they will need to do to succeed in a slow real-estate market.
Special to The Seattle Times
So you wanna be a real-estate brokerReal-estate brokers:
• Are required to complete 90 hours of education, including a 60-hour course in real-estate fundamentals to obtain a license; must be at least 18 and possess a high-school diploma or equivalent.
• Prospective brokers, which has replaced "agents" in professional parlance, are also required to take and pass the Washington Real Estate Examination.
For more information, visit:www.dol.wa.gov/business/realestate/
According to a survey conducted this year by the National Association of Realtors of its members, the average broker has 12 years of experience, and nine out of 10 say they are sure they will remain in the business. The organization estimates it accounts for about half of all licensed realtors in the U.S. The association's typical member is 56 years old and works 40 hours per week; 57 percent are women.
— Blythe Lawrence
Barring a miraculous turnaround, 2011 will not be remembered as a great year to become a real-estate professional. Even so, for determined new agents, brokers and market analysts, there are upsides even to a downside.
"As an agent, you learn really good discipline from working in a down market," said Joe Spencer, president of John L. Scott Real Estate. "You learn how hard the business is, how many hours you need to work. In the boom of 2004-06, quite frankly, it wasn't hard to run into a buyer because everyone was a buyer."
Stuart Gordon remembers those days well. In 2006, as a newly minted grad with an economics degree and an interest in real estate, he got a job with Washington Mutual handling commercial mortgages and real-estate loans, and later moved to loan giant Countrywide Commercial.
The market — and his job — busted in 2008, but Gordon decided he wanted to stay in the business. He wavered about whether to do an MBA, which might have opened up different avenues, or focus more on real estate with the newly created master's in real-estate program at the University of Washington. He opted for the latter, but not without some nervousness.
Will I be able to find a job? he wondered.
There were 23,748 brokers active in Washington state last year, reflecting a 7 percent decrease from 2009 and 27 percent decline from the number there were in 2007 when the market was at its peak, according to statistics provided by the Department of Licensing.
Active associate brokers, though down slightly from headier times, have not fluctuated dramatically in this state. But in the Greater Seattle marketplace, agent count has dropped roughly 25 percent since a high point in 2007, Spencer said.
"This isn't the first time it's happened, or the first place it's happened," he added. "Nor is it a stark contrast of what has occurred in other down cycles."
Unlike some who jumped in during the mid-00s, the new crop of agents generally has thought seriously about what they will need to do to succeed, said Cheri Brennan, spokeswoman for the Northwest Multiple Listing Service, a cooperative with 22,000 real-estate brokers.
"The short answer is yes," Brennan said when asked whether it was possible to make a living as a real-estate agent when the market was down and the economy slow. But "they need to approach it as a profession," she counseled. "People have this perception: 'I can go in and sell one house a year,' and that's not true."
Though the turnaround is likely to take longer, new agents like Barbara Dailey of Coldwell Banker Bain are embracing the slower market as an opportunity to learn about the profession the hard way.
Dailey interviewed for a job in real estate more than 15 years ago but followed her husband when his job took him to Europe. When she returned to the U.S., she picked up with an old dream.
Dailey said she is realistic about the market, but optimistic about her chances for success. "There are a lot of people who are very interested in buying," she said. "I think they take a lot more time now than they have in the past."
New agents are entering the market because they see it as an opportunity for employment, said Bill Riley, president of Washington Realtors in 2010.
"They may have been laid off from a high-income job and see real-estate sales as a way to match that income," Riley said. "With some of the more marginal agents leaving, new entries see this as a good time to jump in while there is less competition. These new real-estate professionals also see this as getting in on the ground floor of the next real-estate cycle."
Windermere has taken steps to make sure new agents receive support. The company has expanded its in-house training department and created an online-training center to coach new agents, said Windermere spokeswoman Sonja Riveland.
Gordon, one of 14 grads from the UW's inaugural Master in Science in Real Estate this year, already has gotten a job as an analyst for Metzler Realty Advisors, an affiliate of a German investment bank.
The boom and the bust linger in his memory.
"It was good to see both sides," Gordon said. But he added: "When things are down, that's usually the best time to get into an industry."
Blythe Lawrence: firstname.lastname@example.org
Information in this article, originally published July 1, 2011, was corrected July 5, 2011. A previous version of this story said Barbara Dailey is an agent for Windermere. She is now an agent for Coldwell Banker Bain.
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