With the economy in decline and the housing market more so, real estate agents are leaving the industry. This is first and foremost a sad thing for anyone who loses a job or has a business fail; I never like to see anyone suffer or have financial problems. Overall, however, there is a silver lining to that cloud for the consumer and the licensees who remain active in the industry.
Not all, but a disconcertingly high percentage of the ex-agents should never have been agents in the first place. In the market run up from 2002-2005 we saw an unprecedented number of new and reactivated licensees enter the market to share the bounty. However, while the short term profit may have been favorable, we are still paying the price of the inexperience and, often, the negligence of practitioners who were able to outrun their mistakes in the irrational exuberance.
I remember well the calling cards of new agents who could hardly believe their good fortune at their involvement in a high-dollar transaction. Deals got screwed up left and right, but who cared? Another offer was a week away. And if you had a neophyte representing you in a purchase, it was never their fault your offer wasn’t accepted, you just lost a bidding war. We had people who never sold a house in their life collecting commissions on multimillion dollar sales like it was candy land. Just like the stock market spike of the late 90’s, many of people looked far smarter than they really were.
I know this because I am part of the cleanup crew. People listing their homes for sale today are horrified to discover that decks, finished basements or bathrooms they were told were legal at their purchase are, in fact not in compliance. Neither the last listing agent nor their buyer agent bothered to pull the property card, and the title company missed the detail in the rush of the time. I am in the midst of selling a property that last passed title in 2005 which has a submerged oil tank that would have failed a test in 1995, let alone now. It is costing my clients over $20,000. Twice in the past few months I have run across people who have excellent credit inexplicably stuck in high interest loans, most likely because a loan officer decided that profit superseded honesty. Where was their agent? Where was the advocacy? The list goes on, but I wish I had a dime for everyone who tells me that they regret using their newly licensed cousin or part-time aunt for their agent last time.
In each of these instances, an agent was paid handsomely. They did not earn that commission; it was monopoly money they used to buy homes and cars that they can no longer afford. In many cases they meant well, and their broker is responsible for the mistakes. We’ll never know in most cases, but our collective karma has caught up with the industry. Sadly, whatever price we bear is more than being shared by our clients who trusted us with their financial lives and were often hurt. We made our bed and now we are sleeping in it.
This brings us, of course, to today. One agent I know has his real estate website redirect to another endeavor. BMW’s have given way to Hyundai’s. An attorney told me recently that his biggest source of bankruptcy filings and short sales are real estate agents themselves. Enormous brokerage offices have rows of empty desks. And I am bombarded by solicitations for 2nd income opportunities from people who must know that agents are scrambling for income. Attorneys are actually thanking me for referrals.
But those of us who remain plying our trade have discovered a new environment: fresh air. It isn’t so noisy in here anymore. The overwhelming percentage of agents I am dealing with now are returning my phone calls and emails in a professional, timely manner. Oil tank tests, surveys and other due diligence are being handled in the beginning of transactions and not as part of a last minute scramble. Many agents are telling me how they remember the last decline in the late 80’s and how they coped. We are a profession again, not a pit stop for career nomads. We are conducting business, and even though the circumstances are worse, the process is civil and professional because the frosh and junior varsity are no longer clogging the field. And we know how to cope with the PR problems exacerbated by the “exes” because we always have.
Consumers now should have more confidence in the industry because by and large the pickers of low hanging fruit have left the market. Those who remain are survivors, fighters, and overall far more professional and experienced. They don’t pick apples with a broom and bucket; they know how to use a ladder. The drama may come from the outside, but far seldom from the agents themselves. It is for these reasons that I am glad the herd has thinned. I no longer have to sift through newbie’s to find a competent colleague. And these are people that know how to return a phone call, pull a property card, review a good faith estimate, and advocate for their clients. I’m not doing their work for them, or cleaning up their mess.
I salute the survivors, and I look forward to closing transactions with them. Together, we’ll help repair the damage done in the past decade and build the public’s confidence in the profession.
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