When I was a student at the University of Maryland in the 1970s, I had a great marketing professor named William Nichols. Dr. Nichols had a theory for one path to success for young people: Find an entrepreneur who is nearing the end of their career and go to work side by side with them. Learn their business, become indispensable, and when that person retires, you’re in a perfect position to take over.
He was talking about small-business owners. Entrepreneurs. But right now young people have another huge opportunity to jump in the trenches, learn the craft, and be in a great position to take over an entire industry in a few years: real estate.
Why? Because my fellow Realtors and I are aging. According to member surveys by the National Association of Realtors, the median age of the American Realtor is 57, compared with a median age of 41 for American workers overall. Only 11 percent are under 40, and a miniscule 2 percent of Realtors are under 30.
Think about it: Half of all Realtors may be retired in 10 years. But when that happens, we’re not going to suddenly have half as many people buying houses. The nation is going to need more Realtors in the future, and that’s a huge opportunity for young people.
When I look around the industry, I see peers who have all been in the business like me since they were in their 20s and 30s. And just as we took over the industry in the 1970s and ’80s from the generation ahead of us, there’s a pending transition coming.
Don’t push us all out the door yet, but the truth is there are agents approaching retirement who are already making plans to head south. Who’s going to sell to their clients when they retire? Young people who jump on board now are going to have the advantage of learning from those experienced agents while they’re still here, and then taking over their business when they move on.
The news is always buzzing with stories about how horrible the job market is for young people. Many are back home, living in their parents’ basement to keep their financial obligations low while they pay off their student loans.
But our industry is beckoning. We’re hiring. You don’t even need a high school diploma to make a six-figure salary (although at least a GED is required in most states). Success in real estate is less about formal education background and more about drive. Do you have the passion and tenacity for the job?
I have done a lot of different things in my working lifetime, but it was when I got into real estate that I really started to have fun. A real estate career offers so much freedom, opportunity to express your creativity, and no limit on how much you can make.
There is no glass ceiling … but no glass floor either. You have the ability to make your own schedule without ever being tied down to a desk at a cubicle, but your income is totally tied to your personal productivity and not just for showing up to work. You get to be out and about all day and in fact that is when you make your money, showing houses for sale to buyers, or meeting sellers at their home to take a listing.
The classic problem with real estate as a career for young people has always been that it takes a while to get up to speed and make money. The learning curve can be a little steep. You need to come up with about $2,000 to $2,500 to get started, which is not insignificant, but it’s hardly the cost of starting most small businesses or getting professional education credentials such as going to law school.
Once you are licensed it may take a few months for everything to jell into an actual paycheck. But once you get rolling, it is a great and noble profession — facilitating the American dream.
The market has picked back up of late, but over the last seven years the number of agents in the industry has declined. Meaning there are fewer agents now at the same time we have more clients to serve as the market picks back up.
I hope some young people see that for the golden opportunity it is and take advantage of it. I know I’m glad somebody gave me this same advice three decades ago.
Jon Coile is CEO of Champion Realty Inc., a HomeServices of America company, and chairman of Rockville, Md.-based Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc. (MRIS), a multiple listing service serving the Mid-Atlantic region including in Maryland, Washington, D.C.; Northern Virginia, and parts of West Virginia and Pennsylvania.