Interest in Real Estate License Grows with Economic Downturn

When economic times get tough, it seems, at least anecdotally, that many displaced professionals across the nation are turning to real estate as a career alternative.


While the rest of the economy suffers, low interest rates have continued to drive sales in the real estate industry. That’s an enticing draw for people who have either lost their jobs in the past several years or are interested in a career change.


Although it’s unclear just how many new real estate agents have started working in the Memphis area since the economy began to slow down, it looks like the industry’s ranks are increasing statewide.


According to Paula Wade, spokesman for the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance, the state issued 4,796 new real estate licenses in fiscal 2002 while renewing 21,216 existing licenses. The previous year the state issued 4,606 new real estate licenses — none were renewed during the year since they expire every two years.




Crye-Leike, one of the largest real estate companies in the Memphis area, hasn’t allowed the number of agents under its local umbrella to balloon despite a growing pool of agents. But it has noticed a change driven by the surge in the agent pool.


“We have noticed a change in the level of professionals that have been coming through the Crye-Leike College as of late, that’s for sure,” says Steve Brown, vice president and general manager.




On a national scale, the ranks of industry groups like the National Association of Realtors have been swelling. NAR reached an all-time low membership of about 695,000 in 1997 but has since rebounded to about 810,000. The highest the organization has ever seen was 823,000 members in 1989.




Membership in the Memphis Area Association of Realtors in the past two years averaged about 3,500 people.




MAAR spokesman Ashley Frazer estimates about 60%-70% of the agents in the Memphis market are members of her organization.




In the Memphis area, many of the newly licensed agents joining the Crye-Leike team come from backgrounds as teachers, nurses and other professionals, Brown says. Many are displaced professionals who have turned to real estate as a career alternative after losing their jobs, but many others are merely dipping a toe in the water.




“They’re people who are seeking an alternative career, because they are not so sure about the one they have,” Brown says.




People from career fields like education and health care make good real estate agents because they possess skills and habits that make for a successful real estate professional. Among those qualities for success are that they’re “used to planning and action-oriented days,” Brown says.




But not everyone who gets into the industry finds that it is a perfect fit for them. Most people don’t realize how hard one must work to become established in the field and remain successful, Brown says. Seeing the success of proven agents can give a deceptive perspective of the industry to people considering it for a career.




“If people think you get to drive around in a Cadillac, take people to lunch and make a six-figure income, they are sadly disappointed,” he says.




It is a competitive business where only the truly motivated agents succeed. In the Memphis market, about 15% of the agents garner more than 80% of the business, Brown says.