Editor’s note: From fast-food franchise owners to local news anchors to former Olympians, real estate has long attracted people from all walks of life who’ve opted to try their hand at selling homes. In this special three-part Inman News series, we caught up with some of these real estate pros to share their stories. (See Part 1: Newscasters, fast-food chain owners enter home-sale biz and Part 2: Pro athletes race for home sales.)

For 16 years, Nancy Locken sold real estate well enough to earn a living. But she began feeling drained by the demands the field placed on her time.

“I really had just kind of gotten burnt out and it wasn’t as enjoyable as it once was,” Locken said.

Something clicked for the Minneapolis resident when she visited a children’s bookstore several years ago, and she knew what her next career adventure would be. She now owns Auntie Em’s, a children’s bookstore and coffee shop in Minneapolis.

Owning and running Auntie Em’s is demanding, Locken said, but she doesn’t find it nearly as challenging as real estate. For one thing, she said, she’s no longer on call 24 hours a day.

In recent years, the ranks of real estate agents have swelled as the housing market has become red-hot and shown no real signs of slowing. Many of those drawn to real estate enter the field as a second career. They see it as a way to be their own boss, set their own hours and, in many cases, expand upon the sales, marketing or people skills they learned in their first careers.

Did you have an unusual career path? Take a survey.

But not everyone finds the increasingly competitive field a good fit. Agents do end up leaving the business, though it’s not a trend that attracts much attention. The National Association of Realtors, for instance, doesn’t track how many leave, nor does the Association of Real Estate License Law Officials.

Locken’s feeling of being burnt out on the industry in fact falls into one of the top three reasons real estate professionals leave the field, according to a recent study by the Alberta Real Estate Foundation. Also topping the list were industry-nature reasons, such as unreliable source of income, too competitive, and negative perception of the profession. Another oft-cited reason dealt with reasons surrounding industry players, such as lack of professionalism, scruples and customer loyalty.

Personal reasons included burn out, frustration and no sense of accomplishment. Other factors were emotional exhaustion, lack of family time, personality mismatch, lack of time out and a narrowing of the social network.

Many of those who do exit real estate don’t veer too far from the industry. Some parlay their experience into successful careers in related industries such as mortgage, title and home staging. A simple Google search for former Realtors and real estate agents turns up a real estate Feng Shui master, real estate lawyers and those who now run real estate-related Web sites.

And then there are those like Linda Searles who leave the field entirely. Perhaps not entirely, Searles said, since she is still providing shelter. Now, however, she provides shelter for wild animals.

Searles, who had worked as a real estate agent in the Scottsdale, Ariz. area for about 18 years, now runs the Southwest Wildlife Rehabilitation and Educational Foundation. The center rehabilitates and releases injured, orphaned or sick mammals that are native to the Southwest. When they can’t be released, they remain at the center and help educate the people who visit the center.

Searles had been taking care of smaller animals out of her home for many years, and in 1994 decided to take the plunge and start a nonprofit group dedicated to that mission. The foundation broke ground in 1995 and “then it just started to consume too much of life and I didn’t have time for real estate,” she said.

She enjoyed the real estate business and was able to make a living at it. But she didn’t throw herself into it and acknowledges that she would have done better in the field if she had. She was raising a son, however, as well as working with animals in her spare time. She also didn’t feel as though she was making a difference in the world by selling real estate.

“At the end of the day, I made some money and had a good time, but I didn’t make a difference,” Searles said. “With this, I make a difference. And for me, just for me, that’s a better feeling than buying a new car.”

While ARELLO doesn’t track why people leave the profession, EVP Craig Cheatham said that what he hears anecdotally matches up with the reasons cited in the Alberta study. And because a real estate career doesn’t require a lot of commitment to enter, unlike professions such as medicine and law, it is easier for people to leave the field when they realize it doesn’t suit them.

That ease of entry and exit may eventually help Locken, the bookstore owner. She has put her license on a referral basis, which means it remains active as long as she pays her fees and keeps current with her continuing education. She can’t actually practice real estate with that status, but it makes it much easier for her to return if she chooses to.

For now, however, she’s content with learning about children’s books and using her entrepreneurial experience to help make her business successful. That’s a set of skills she developed as a real estate agent, even if she didn’t put them to full use then.

“I was probably not as successful as I could have been if I had applied myself 100 percent,” Locken said.


Send tips or a Letter to the Editor to samantha@inman.com or call (510) 658-9252, ext. 140.

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