Editor’s note: The hottest housing boom in U.S. history has resulted in a newfound obsession with real estate. Home listings information is everywhere, home television shows have exploded, and everyone’s talking about the sale price of their neighbor’s house. This three-part series examines the trend, what is behind it and what it all means. (See Part 1:There’s no escape from real estate and Part 2: Online home listings fetch millions of eyeballs.)
One person worked at Disney. Another sang opera. Yet another has multiple degrees in engineering and last worked for Safeway. There’s also the owner of a public relations firm and the artist who also owned an event planning company.
The common thread?
They’re all real estate agents now and all are relatively new to the field.
The real estate boom over the past few years has brought a flood of new real estate agents to the industry. They’ve come from diverse backgrounds, some with relevant experience, but many without. They have a variety of reasons for deciding to try their hands at selling houses, and not all center solely around the real estate boom. But the booming market certainly didn’t escape their notice.
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The earnings potential, along with the flexible schedule afforded by a real estate career, has drawn people such as Lili Tseng into the field.
Tseng was working as an auditor for Disney in Los Angeles when she decided she needed to switch careers. Bored with accounting, she wanted a field with good earning potential, flexible work hours and autonomy. She researched headhunting and real estate.
In the midst of her research, she and her husband began house hunting in Northern California in anticipation of relocating. Tseng saw a chance to find out more about the field by asking their Realtor directly.
“When we were looking for houses, I’d keep asking her questions. What’s the lifestyle of a Realtor like? How much can I make?” Tseng said.
She soon ruled out headhunting and began working in Prudential California’s Antioch office. She’s since found the professionalism and organization skills learned in the corporate world have helped her in the real estate industry.
Source: National Association of Realtors
In the past, many of those switching to real estate as a second career often came from a teaching background, said Craig Cheatham, EVP of the Association of Real Estate License Law Officials. They sold houses part-time during summer vacations and would eventually switch to full-time. Retired military personnel often turned to real estate as a second career as well.
But times have clearly changed. A recent Internet request for real estate agents who’d come into the industry from a different career within the past couple of years turned up dozens of replies. They included former pilots, interior designers, stockbrokers, attorneys and executive recruiters.
“It’s just amazing,” Cheatham said. “People are coming out of every type of industry.”
And that has impacted the overall number of real estate licenses issued. ARELLO estimates there are now about 2.4 million real estate licensees. That compares with 2.28 million a year ago. But not all who have licenses practice real estate sales, Cheatham said.
The National Association of Realtors now has more than one million members. Just five years ago, there were 761,181.
Economic uncertainty and the prospect of layoffs have prompted some people to seek out real estate, especially with the relative ease of entry the industry has, Cheatham said. That combined with the tremendous recent performance of the real estate market brings intense interest from those seeking another line of work, he said.
Desiree Halac is one of those. An opera singer who has performed all over the world, including as a soloist at Carnegie Hall, she began selling real estate last November. She’d been working occasionally as a Spanish-English translator in the court system to help pay the bills, but considered real estate after she and her partner separated and planned to sell their apartment.
That prompted Halac to take mortgage and real estate courses and she eventually bought back the apartment. By then, she was hooked on real estate, a career path she had considered before.
“I said, ‘Hey, why not do this finally?'” said Halac, an agent with Bellmarc in New York City.
The real estate income has allowed her to not feel compelled to take singing jobs she doesn’t want just to make ends meet. And the flexibility of her schedule has enabled her to continue performing in the evenings and weekends.
Although she tries to keep the two jobs as separate as possible, they’ve overlapped occasionally. Sometimes clients will notice reviews of her performances. Other times the overlap is even more dramatic.
“I would come to my office in my dress and then run to Carnegie or wherever to perform,” she said.
Like Halac, A.J. Kher began seriously considering a real estate career after his own experiences with property. He bought a house last year and saw the amount of human interaction involved in a real estate transaction. Kher knew he wanted a job where he could work with people more.
An engineering by training, Kher had been working for Safeway, including managing the development of the company’s Web site. He began selling real estate part-time, but soon realized it was a full-time job.
Despite his engineering background, Kher has found certain skills transferable to his new career. For example, he said, the technology side comes easy to him. Learning new software and accessing the MLS are intuitive, said Kher, who works in Prudential California’s Pleasanton/Stoneridge office.
Brenda Clevenger didn’t have Kher’s technological edge when she began in real estate about 18 months ago, but she did have extensive marketing experience. She was reading the newspaper one day and noticed an ad for a real estate career night seminar. Eager to earn more income than what her then-waning public relations firm was bringing in, Clevenger went to the seminar. She was hooked.
“I was like, sign me up now!” said Clevenger, who now works for Realty Executives Area Realtors in Gladstone, Mo.
Years of experience in designing public relations campaigns have helped Clevenger market herself. But she acknowledges the transition has been more humbling than she originally bargained for.
“I thought, oh, I have a master’s degree in communications, I’m going to switch over to this and blow everyone’s doors off,” she said.
Another small business owner and artist, Noel Russell, made the switch to real estate after deciding she wanted a more flexible schedule than her event planning businesses gave her.
Her ex-husband kept encouraging her to consider real estate, given her personality and good business sense. But she kept resisting until earlier this year when he and others finally persuaded her.
Russell, who works for Keller Williams Realty in Ft. Worth, didn’t go into the field because it’s a hot market, but she was definitely aware of it.
“It just seemed to be kind of a buzz word–real estate,” Russell said.
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