From 2004 through 2005, home-sale activity surged toward a peak in most U.S. metropolitan real estate markets. The feverish market activity lured a long line of individuals to obtain a real estate license, with the hopes of cashing in on the booming sales.

The exodus of Realtors into the business began to reverse with the slumping real estate market. According to the National Association of Realtors, all but one state association’s May 2009 membership totals trailed membership totals for May 2008, with 28 state associations experiencing a double-digit percentage drop in membership — that trend has not held for all local and state Realtor associations, though.

From 2004 through 2005, home-sale activity surged toward a peak in most U.S. metropolitan real estate markets. The feverish market activity lured a long line of individuals to obtain a real estate license, with the hopes of cashing in on the booming sales.

The exodus of Realtors into the business began to reverse with the slumping real estate market. According to the National Association of Realtors, all but one state association’s May 2009 membership totals trailed membership totals for May 2008, with 28 state associations experiencing a double-digit percentage drop in membership — that trend has not held for all local and state Realtor associations, though.

While overall Realtor membership in May trails the total for May 2008, some larger local Realtor associations and several medium-sized state associations have witnessed increases in new members during April and May when compared to the same months last year and previous months this year.

Between April and May, Realtor membership jumped more than 1 percent in California (1.9 percent), Maryland (1.6 percent), Arizona (1.3 percent), Texas (1.1 percent), and Washington, D.C. (3.5 percent), NAR reported. North Dakota, however, was the only state with a year-over-year membership increase (0.36 percent).

Overall NAR membership sank 10.1 percent from May 2008 to May 2009. Georgia had the biggest year-over-year membership drop in May (-21.4 percent), and Washington state had the biggest monthly drop in May (-7.5 percent).

A large local association in Southern California has seen a growth in membership compared to last year.

"We’ve had 1,195 new members (as of mid-June) this year, which includes transfers," said Erik Weichelt, president of the San Diego Association of Realtors (SDAR), adding the association is the third largest in California and the 13th-largest local association in the nation.

During the first five months of 2008, SDAR saw 75 to 95 new members join the association each month, which compares with at least 90 to 120 new members that have joined the association during the same period this year.

The increase in new members has resulted in a rarity for local associations: SDAR’s total membership, at 9,710 members, has experienced a net gain from June 2008 to mid-June 2009.

Sales have been surging in the San Diego area compared to last year’s pace — the sales pace in the San Diego region for single-family resale homes rose 89.1 percent in May 2009 when compared to May 2008, while the median sales price fell 19.8 percent, according to California Association of Realtors data released June 25.

The Sacramento Association of Realtors’ total membership has declined 5 percent from May 2008 to May 2009. And despite the overall loss in total membership, the association reports hundreds of new members this year, including 128 in April alone and 431 through the end of May.

"Retention is higher and so is amount of new members. It’s quite a bit better than we anticipated," said Nelson Janes, executive vice president of the Sacramento association. The association has 5,500 Realtor members.

The increase in new members, compared to the same period list year, can be attributed, in part, to the record number of transactions that are currently occurring in Sacramento, as the market was one of the first in the nation to feel the decline in activity and is now one of the first to improve.

"Sixty percent (of transactions) are distressed properties. They’re turning fast — there’s a lot of business out there," Janes said.

According to CAR data, sales of single-family resale homes in the Sacramento region grew 4.8 percent from May 2008 to May 2009, with the median price down 22.4 percent compared to May 2008 but up 8.1 percent from April 2009.

The recent increase in new members joining several local California Realtor associations is one reason Robert Kleinhenz, deputy chief economist for CAR, forecasted that CAR will see 20,000 to 22,000 new members join the association this year, which compares with around 20,000 new members in 2008.

Even so, the association expects a net loss in members this year — CAR expects a total of 166,000 by year’s end, which means a loss of 38,000 to 40,000 existing members. Kleinhenz said that the association’s membership retention is still faring better than during downturns in the ’80s and ’90s. …CONTINUED

"When the general economy isn’t doing great I think people look at a real estate career or a moonlighting real estate career as something they can turn to," Kleinhenz said.

There are some positive signs for housing in California. CAR reports that the statewide median price rose for the third consecutive month in May, and was up 4.2 percent from April to May — this was reportedly the largest monthly increase for the month of May, dating back to 1979, CAR reported. The May median price was still down 30.4 percent compared to May 2008.

The sales pace for single-family resale homes in California was up 2.9 percent from April to May, and up 35.2 percent compared to May 2008.

Recent salesperson license data from the California Department of Real Estate (DRE) also suggests that an increasing number of people are considering real estate as a career, as the number of people sitting for the license exam has increased on a monthly basis.

According to the department, 1,843 people sat for the salesperson exam during April 2009, which compares to 1,696 people sitting for the same exam during April 2008.

Additionally, 2,030 individuals took the salesperson exam during March of this year, compared with 1,482 during the same month last year.

The increase in salesperson exams administered could be due, in part, to a jump in sales activity.

Similar to California, Maryland has also witnessed an increase in the amount of people sitting for their license.

"The number of people sitting for their salesperson license has been steadily increasing since January (of this year)," said Mary Antoun, CEO of the Maryland Association of Realtors.

This increase has translated into a continuous monthly rise in new members since the start of this year.

In January, the association added 129 new members. That number has risen to 138 during February, 162 in March, and 258 during April.

"We’ve always found an influx of people look to real estate after they lose or leave a job," Antoun said, adding the increase in new members is also a sign that the market is improving.

However, during May 2009 home-sale activity increased only 0.3 percent when compared to May 2008, and the median price of a home in May 2009 was down 8.3 percent compared to the same period last year, according to Maryland Association of Realtors figures.

From January through May the Greater Boston Association of Realtors in Massachusetts experienced a membership drop of about 20 percent when compared to the same period last year, according to John Dulczewski, executive director.

This drop has occurred while 2009 Massachusetts’ sales activity continues to trail 2008 figures. According to Massachusetts Association of Realtors data, sales activity declined 15.3 percent during May 2009 when compared to May 2008.

However, from the end of March through May the association added 146 new members, which is an increase from the 129 new members who joined during that period last year.

One new member is Melanie Thompson, a Realtor with William Raveis Real Estate of Lexington who joined the association in February. …CONTINUED

Thompson said she took a pension buyout at her previous job and looked to real estate as an alternative career.

"I was interested in real estate and combined that interest with my experience in sales (in other industries)," Thompson said.

"It’s important when you start in a new industry to be exposed to as much of the learning process as possible. I thought it would be better to learn the industry in a down market, and once things start to turn around I’ll have my infrastructure."

Mary Devlin, a Realtor and partner in Devlin-Forde Realty of West Roxbury, also joined the association in January.

Unlike Thompson, Devlin has been licensed for seven years. She decided to join the association in order to utilize the services and training courses they provide, and to be in the loop in terms of communication with other Realtors.

Rob Authier, CEO of the Massachusetts Association of Realtors, said he’s seeing an increase in the number of young people who are becoming involved at the local association level.

While total statewide membership in May 2009 trailed membership totals from May 2008 by 6 percent, Authier said he’s seeing a slimmer year-over-year decrease each month.

The number of association members could grow if more valuable services, such as a health insurance program, were included with a membership, he said, noting that a significant amount of Massachusetts licensees don’t join an association.

Similar to the local and state associations previously mentioned, the Phoenix Association of Realtors and the Tennessee Association of Realtors have both witnessed an increase in new members from April to May.

In some cases, the new Realtor members are actually former members who had let their memberships expire and are now rejoining.

"There’s been a significant number of people coming back that didn’t re-up with us last year," said Diane Scherer, CEO of the Phoenix Association, adding the association has seen a year-to-year increase in the amount of new members in April and May.

During April 2009 the association added 182 new members, compared with 168 during April 2008.

In May 2009 the association added 175 members, an increase of 43 members compared to May 2008.

Steve Harding, executive vice president of the Tennessee Association of Realtors, said that while the number of individuals sitting for the license exam is still down, the recent membership increase he’s seen in April and May is a sign that sales activity and business is improving for past members who previously couldn’t pay dues.

Unlike Tennessee, license exam activity was up in New York entering this year. The state of New York administered more than 700 agent licensing exams during December 2008, compared with 565 exams in November, according to a Feb. 13 New York Times article.

Erik Pisor is a freelance writer in California.

***

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