Competition heats up in real estate industry

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Maryland's real estate industry continued to get more competitive as the number of people holding real estate licenses grew 14 percent in the past fiscal year, according to the Maryland Real Estate Commission.

A total of 44,418 people held active licenses in the fiscal year that ended June 30, up from 38,857 a year earlier.

"It's one of the largest industries in the state," said Steven VanGrack, commission chairman. At the current rate, he said, the number could hit 50,000 in the next year or two.

Nationwide, the number of real estate agents has grown to more than a million, a 10 percent increase from last year, said Walter Molony, a spokesman for the National Association of Realtors.

The membership of the Maryland Association of Realtors has grown to 26,354, a 15 percent increase since last year, according to a group spokeswoman.

About 50 percent are considered rookies, with less than four years of experience, said Donna Turing, chairwoman of the Rookie Realtor Society, part of the Maryland Association of Realtors.

That growth is a sign that more people are seeking to reap profit from a housing boom fueled by low mortgage rates and record rates of homeownership.

But though the ranks of real estate agents continue to swell, many observers are expecting interest rates to steadily rise and to slow housing sales this year - locally and nationally.

"The housing market in Baltimore has been strong for the last several years, unusually strong, and that condition is not expected to last," said Celia Chen, economist and director of housing economics at Economy.com, an economic research group in West Chester, Pa.

The National Association of Realtors projects 7.51 million homes will be sold this year, down from the record 7.76 million forecast for 2004.

New agents face myriad challenges. The top 20 percent of agents sell about 80 percent of the homes, said Cindy Ariosa, regional vice president of Long & Foster Real Estate Inc. for the Baltimore area.

86% quit after year

Industry statistics show that 86 percent of new Realtors leave the business after their first year. And there's no way to know just how many of those who hold licenses are actually working in the business.

The national Realtors' group said the typical Realtor is a 51-year-old married woman who works about 40 hours a week and earns about $52,200. The average age has been falling during the past few years.

New agents are often unaware that they face substantial start-up costs. Many real estate veterans said the expense of getting started, which includes national and local dues, listings fees, equipment and advertising, can often be overwhelming for people new to the business.

"People don't realize they are in business for themselves," said Turing, an agent in the Arnold/ Annapolis office of Champion Realty Inc.

Many of the real estate licenses are being earned by people on their second or third career, Turing said.

Those who have experience establishing business and marketing plans are typically the most successful, she said.

Turing, who previously ran her own insurance agency, said many of her fellow rookie members are former teachers, airline pilots and stewardesses, medical professionals and, especially, people from the technology field.

"It's been an avenue for people from the computer business," Turing said.

Eric Figurelle, 35, an agent for Long & Foster in Federal Hill, turned to real estate after the Internet-based business where he worked went under. He attributes his success as an agent to the long hours - about 70 hours a week when he began - put in over the past three years in the business.

One of the more difficult periods for Figurelle was the first four months, when he didn't make any money.

Figurelle said that drought, for which he was prepared, could be a deterrent for those new to the business.

"It's not something you're just going to jump into and make it," Figurelle said.

Dora Jacobs' first three months on the job were very discouraging because she ended up spending $4,000 more than she made. But a year and about 16 transactions later, Jacobs, 28, feels that she made the right career choice by working as an agent for Prudential Carruthers Realtors in Lutherville.

For people just starting out in the business, Jacobs recommends using downtime efficiently by joining groups such as the Rookie Realtors and the community service committee.

"Get involved in other aspects of the business," she said.

Some people have found the transition easier.

Linda Dieter, a real estate agent at Long & Foster in Towson, said she made more money in her first year as an agent than in any of her previous jobs as a comptroller at architectural and accounting firms.

"I expect that I'll be doing it a long time," Dieter said.

For Dieter, who is in her mid-50s, real estate is the perfect job because it allows her a flexible schedule.

Though she is on call 24 hours a day, Dieter said she can now spend more time with her children and grandchildren.

Dieter is also preparing for a time when the real estate market will not be as strong as it is now. She has put the extra money she made this year in a savings account, and is also looking into new markets, such as apartments in retirement communities.

Veteran agents, however, are not fazed by the prospect of a slowdown. This change in the market "keeps the people in who can survive," said Bill Love, an agent with Coldwell Banker in Timonium. With 20 years of real estate experience under his belt, Love said he has lived through many dips, peaks and valleys in the market.

Fresh approach

The new agents who expect to make money quickly are usually the first ones to drop out of the business, said Debbie Barrett, an agent for Coldwell Banker with 16 years' experience. But having people who just earned their licenses can be important to an office, Barrett said, because their fresh approach can give a necessary jolt to those with more experience.

"For us, it's normal," said Debbie Barrett. "For them, it's exciting. It does bring a nice surge of energy to the office."

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