Last week, I bumped into an old friend from high school whom I hadn’t seen in years. It was one of those awkward “chance encounters” that so many people have at a supermarket, or gas station, or restaurant.

Or, in this particular case, the crowded parking lot at a shopping mall.

I had just finished throwing the last JC Penny bag of back-to-school clothes into my minivan when my long-lost acquaintance pulled her shiny new Mercedes-Benz into the parking spot beside me.

I put my head down and started looking for my keys, hoping that she wouldn’t recognize me.

Unfortunately, she did–and instantly started the same kind of one-sided conversation like we used to have in high school.

After about 10 minutes of telling me how great her life is, and how great her attorney/husband and her three children are, and even the new grass in her back yard, she finally asked about me.

“So,” she asked, “What have you been up to?”

Figuring that I had only 30 or so seconds before the guy who had been patiently waiting for my parking space for several minutes would finally boil over and start shooting, I quickly blurted out that I had gotten married several years ago and that next week would mark my first anniversary as a real estate salesperson.

“Oh,” she said, giving me that type of sympathetic nod that’s usually reserved for people who have just lost a loved one. “How’s that going for you?”

I wasn’t sure whether she was asking about my married life, or my fledgling career as a real estate agent.

So, I answered “OK”–which was the best response I could quickly think of at the time, no matter which of the two topics she may have been asking about–then bade her farewell and left as quickly as I could.

As I sit at my computer today and reflect on that chance encounter last week, I realize that “OK” is still probably the best description of my feelings as I near the end of my first year as a rookie Realtor.

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Much earlier this year, I mentioned in this column that I had quit my job at a government agency in Spring 2003 so I could study for my state’s real estate exam and then pursue a full-time career as a salesperson.

It seemed like a good idea at the time: I was fed-up with the government bureaucracy, my labor union, the lack of opportunity to advance my career and the meager 2 percent or 3 percent annual pay increases I could “look forward” to until the day I retired two or three decades from now.

Starting a new career in real estate sales seemed to offer boundless opportunity. It would not only be exciting, but would financially reward me for my hard work while also provide the flexible type of schedule I craved to spend more time with my children.

And with even the worst homes in my neighborhood selling for record prices just days after they were listed, I asked myself, just how hard could “being a Realtor” really be?

The answer is plenty.

For starters, I never thought that a lot of other 9-to-5 working stiffs like me would also quit their jobs at about the same time to start real estate careers of their own.

But the number of new licensees has skyrocketed by more than 30 percent, pushing the National Association of Realtors’ membership ranks to more than 1 million–a figure that doesn’t even include the hundreds of thousands of others who have a license but don’t belong to NAR.

Making matters worse, at the same time that the number of salespeople went soaring to record highs, the number of homes for sale in my own community and most other parts of the nation dwindled down to record lows.

The bottom line is that more agents are chasing fewer listings, a situation that gives a decided advantage to veteran Realtors who have a long list of referral clients who want to buy or sell a home instead of rookies who are just starting out in the business.

I don’t begrudge the success that my more experienced sales colleagues have enjoyed. They have certainly earned it, and they definitely deserve it.

What I wish, though, is that somebody–anybody–would have sat me down before I entered this crazy business and said something like, “Do you really know what it’s like to be a real estate agent?”

Nobody mentioned that it would cost almost $10,000 to get my license, pay a “sign-up” fee to be part of a big brokerage chain, take the company’s mandatory sales-training classes, and then purchase the required errors-and-omissions insurance to “protect” me in case I screw up a deal in my first year on the job.

The good news is that, now that I have become a real estate agent, I no longer have to sit behind a desk from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.

The bad news is, I’m now “on call” 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Over the past 72 hours alone, I had to make one listing proposal at 6 in the morning because the seller needed to be at work by 7:30, and then write an offer at 11:30 p.m. because the prospective buyer had to work overtime and offers on the house would be fielded the next day.

Such is the life of a rookie Realtor.

It’s not bad.

It’s not good.

It’s just, well, “OK.”

***

Got tips, ideas or advice for the Rookie Realtor? Send them to Rookie@inman.com.

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