Real estate has never been a business that attracts young people

Broker Notebook

According to the National Association of Realtors’ most recent member survey, the median age of Realtors in 2012 was 57, up from 51 in 2007.

Just in case anyone forgets the difference between “median” and “average,” that means about half of all Realtors were older than 57, and half were younger.

Senior businesswoman image via Shutterstock.
Senior businesswoman image via Shutterstock.

There are people who see this as a problem. If it’s a problem, it’s not a new one. Becoming a real estate agent right out of high school or college is not all that common.

“Realtors frequently have had careers in other fields prior to real estate, the most common being in management, business and financial professions, followed by sales and retail,” NAR analysts observed. “Only 6 percent indicated that real estate is their first career.”

I’ve talked to several people under 30 who don’t have jobs, or who don’t have the jobs they want, and was unable to get any of them fired up about a career as a real estate agent.

The objections they have start with the lack of benefits and the lack of a steady paycheck. They don’t like the uncertainty of not knowing when the next payday will be.

The young people I’ve talked to believe that even being an employee at a startup company gives them more job security than being a self-employed, independent contractor.

Some say the bar to entry in real estate is too low. The bar is low until the new agent runs out of money."

Starting out as a real estate agent is tougher for young people who have no experience, and who may not have even had the experience of buying their own home. If they come from a real estate family, they may be able to start by working with a mother or father until they have some experience. Younger people may find being a real estate agent more attractive if they could get paid some other way than on a 100 percent commission basis.

The agents that I talked to who started as real estate agents right out of high school or college told me what a hard time they had finding clients. They felt that it was because of their age.

But most agents struggle to find clients when they start out, regardless of their age. I remember feeling as though no one took me seriously in my first job after college, and it wasn’t in any way real estate related.

Being a real estate agent is expensive. Many who try have to quit because they cannot afford to go for months without making money. Some people who like the real estate industry find other jobs in the field that are less risky.

Some say the bar to entry in real estate is too low. That may be true, but it takes money to stay in real estate, market houses and prospect for clients. The bar is low until the new agent runs out of money.

Even for people who are career changers and have a decade or more of work experience, choosing to be a real estate agent is a somewhat terrifying option. No one really knows if they can do it until they try, or if they will make enough money to survive. It takes energy, commitment and time to build a client base. It’s never an easy job, even when the market is good.

Considering the fact that there are always more real estate agents than we really need, I don’t think there will be a shortage anytime soon, even without a  steady influx of young people.

Brokers and agents will retire, quit or die. But when we do, I am confident that there will be a whole new group of people who will take our places. Most will be over 40, and they will be making career changes, bringing their experience into real estate.

There will always be the small group of people who will choose real estate as their first career, but I don’t see any sign that recruiting efforts will cause  an influx of young people to bring down the median age.

My theory is that the median age of Realtors has been going up because people are living longer and working longer. There isn’t any reason why we have to retire at a certain age.

NAR members are getting older because this isn’t a job that attracts young people, and it never has been.

I predict the median age will go up a bit more before it levels out. There are plenty of people who plan on working into their 70s and 80s and beyond.

Teresa Boardman is a broker in St. Paul, Minn., and founder of the St. Paul Real Estate blog.


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