Rarely is real estate sales chosen as a first career

Heaven knows that real estate sales lacks the glamor of, say, school crossing guard, exterminator, barista or subway conductor.

Of course, there exist those brokers and agents whose social credentials rival Britain’s royal family and whose transactions involve properties in the double-digit millions from the outset of careers that have been their first choice.  But the rest of us have tended to select real estate for a second, third or fourth career when the economy or age has left us with few options.

Although many starting out in the industry may feel like second-class members of the community, many do rise in status as they gain success.

I got to thinking about these things and their implications after coming across two articles on the same day.  Perhaps you saw the one in the New York Times on a class of 20 New Yorkers studying to become real estate agents, though you probably missed a piece in the Real Deal about our increasing age.

The Times profiles a 46-year-old Postal Service employee, a 25-year-old construction worker, a 47-year-old casino trainee, a 29-year-old immigrant of six months’ residency, a 30-year-old flight attendant laid off by a Nigeria-based airline, a 19-year-old Fordham student and a 46-year-old contractor whose business has failed.

In the Real Deal, writer Lucy Cohen Blatter notes that the median age of residential real estate brokers and agents in the U.S. has grown from 52 in 2008 to 56 in 2011.  At the same time, experience rose from 10 years in 2010 to 12 last year.

Blatter acknowledges that older, experienced agents generally have staying power in bad times, explaining why the average age has gone up nationally.  Here in the Big Apple, industry insiders said they also have witnessed a graying of the sales force despite the visibility of a few young hotshots with enviable track records.

Our ranks have thinned to half of our number in the five boroughs during 2008 and 2009.  Then, we were 3,245 strong, the Department of State reports.  Between 2010 and 2011, the number of licensees fell from 1.952 to 1,519.

(Thank you, Lehman Brothers, the Congress and the European Central Bank, among others.)

I applaud the students seeking to improve their lives in the 75-hour class chronicled by the Times, but I have written previously (and none too originally) about the low threshold for entrance into what some call the “profession” of real estate.  I refer to the length of the training and the ensuing test of 100 multiple-choice questions that prospective licensees must pass.

Is the test easy?  The Times gives an example of the advice teacher William Bih offered his students at Flushing Mall in Queens:

When you take the state examination, whenever you see ‘all of the above,’ that’s the answer.  Don’t even waste your time reading the question. This is 200 percent guaranteed.

Based not only on the ease of entrance into real estate sales, I can’t help but wonder how qualified many newcomers will be to build a business, master marketing, and shepherd buyers and sellers through the complexities of transactions involving hundreds of thousands of dollars and even millions.

I also wonder from my curmudgeonly perch how well youthful optimism and energy counterbalance the wisdom and skills acquired over the years by older agents.  (True, older agents have their own challenges such as keeping up to date and resisting the tendency to become hidebound.)

The wealthy buyers who can afford New York City homes — frequently baby boomers — often “don’t want to buy a $2 million apartment from a 22-year-old kid,”  Esther Muller, who runs the Academy for Continuing Education, told the Real Deal.

At the same time, Kathy Braddock, co-founder of Charles Rutenberg Realty (with which I am affiliated), noted in the magazine that those boomers aren’t likely to encounter many such “kids.”

As a panelist on a recent career panel at Harvard, she asked the audience of undergraduates how many of them thought their parents would be proud in the event the students entered the field of residential real estate brokerage.

Just one student raised a hand.

Tomorrow: Turn-offs

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Malcolm Carter
Licensed Associate Real Estate Broker
Senior Vice President
Charles Rutenberg Realty
127 E. 56th Street
New York, NY 10022

M: 347-886-0248
F: 347-438-3201

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