As the severity of the coronavirus pandemic set in this spring, it began to feel a little like the end of the world. Millions of people went on unemployment, millions more missed their housing payments, and the odds of a quick recovery slowly evaporated.
As this chaos was unfolding, Inman set out to understand how it was impacting the ranks of the real estate industry. Were people leaving real estate in the same way they were being forced out of other industries? Or were agent ranks staying strong?
To find answers, Inman requested real estate licensing data from 32 states. And while not every state responded or was able to provide detailed and useable data, enough did that some patterns emerged:
- The number of people with real estate licenses in the U.S. has mostly held steady during the pandemic. This isn’t especially surprising, but it is worth mentioning that a handful of states have actually seen upticks in their licensee count.
- More significantly, some states provided data on how many people have applied for licenses this year. And in most cases that data shows a drop in the number of license applicants in the first months of the outbreak. However, the numbers also generally indicate that there has been an increase in new applications in late spring and early summer.
What does this mean?
If you just want to see the state data, scroll down. But it’s also probably worth asking what these trends mean, and if they’re likely to last.
For starters, experts who spoke with Inman said that the overall numbers are likely holding steady because there’s little reason for agents to formally give up their licenses, even if they see a decline in business during the pandemic.
“There’s not a strong incentive to drop your license to save the small amount of money that it takes to get it,” Victor Lund, founder of consulting firm the WAV Group, explained.
Mike DelPrete agreed. DelPrete — a real estate technology strategist — argued in April that the following months would see a reduction in the number of agents working in the industry. But he also noted that as independent contractors, agents “don’t issue a press release when they’re out of work; they simply disappear from the workforce.”
Asked about agent ranks, DelPrete told Inman this month that it’s “easy to stay licensed even if you do no deals.” He added that “the real numbers would be [National Association of Realtors] membership,” though he believes it will take several more months for any trends in that data to become apparent.
At least for now, though, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) said its membership numbers are holding steady.
“We’re seeing an increase in membership and 2020 could set an all-time high surpassing 1.4 million members,” NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun told Inman in an emailed statement this month. “In June 2020, NAR had 1.397 million members, up 1.7 percent from one year ago.”
So what explains the increase highlighted in both the application data Inman collected and in Yun’s comment?
For one thing, it may have to do with people from other industries losing their jobs and opting to give real estate a shot.
“There’s always a strong influx of real estate agents when there are higher levels of unemployment,” Lund said. “The income opportunity is great and the commitment is low.”
Russ Cofano — the former president and general counsel of eXp Realty — made a similar point.
“A lot of people that are in travel, hospitality, service, they may be thinking, ‘gosh, I could sell a couple homes and make 30 grand,'” he told Inman. “So I’m going to get my license.”
But Cofano also said that many people who rush into real estate during times of economic uncertainty may not stick with the job. He explained that agents’ work has become harder lately, and that he was “very bearish on the number of agents going into the pandemic.”
So, even if there is an uptick now, Cofano thinks that within “five years there will be a significant reduction in agent count nationally.”
“I think those people will be in and out,” Cofano added of many new entrants into the business.
That trend may slow somewhat thanks to the fact that homes are now selling quickly and the real estate market has become relatively hot in recent months. But the experts who spoke to Inman said that regardless of what is happening in the immediate term, they still expect to see fewer agents working in real estate in the future.
“Fact of the matter is, with less deal volume this year there will be less agents,” DelPrete said. “The pie is smaller.”
Below you’ll find data from 20 states that had detailed licensing numbers. Keep in mind, though, that every state maintains its numbers differently, and things like date ranges, activity status and many other factors were not uniformly documented across all the different data sets.
California is the most populous state in the U.S. and has a massive number of real estate agents. According to data that the state’s Department of Real Estate provided to Inman, there were 324,680 active licenses for agents, brokers and officers in in June 2019. The numbers saw minor fluctuations over the ensuing months before ultimately settling at 322,911 — or very slightly down — in June of this year.
California had also already been seeing a downward trend in the number of real estate exams it was administering even before the pandemic. However, the numbers fell off even more sharply in March as the pandemic began. (More recent data wasn’t yet available.)
Colorado classifies agents and brokers as the same thing. Over the last year, the state’s agent ranks have stayed relatively the same, according to data from the Division of Real Estate. There was a slight dip in the total number of agents in early spring, then a similarly slight uptick in the early summer.
Florida has a number of different types of real estate license, but according to data from the state’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation, there were 198,375 current sales licensees in July of 2019. By June of this year, that number had grown to 206,687. This puts Florida’s numbers roughly in line with other states that saw only small fluctuations in the number of licensed real estate professionals.
The number of brokers in Florida similarly saw modest growth over the last year, starting at 41,159 in July 2019 before hitting 41,655 in June 2020.
Significantly, there were also 3,952 requests for a sales associate exam in June of 2019, but 4,906 in June of 2020.
Idaho saw a small but steady increase in the number of active, licensed brokers and real estate salespeople over the last year, ultimately hitting 11,367 so far in July.
Significantly, when factoring in inactive licenses, a report the Idaho Real Estate Commission provided to Inman shows that May of this year had 14,074 real estate licensees. That’s an all-time high that beat the previous record set in September of 2007.
Illinois also has several different types of real estate license, but the most common carries the title of “broker.” The state’s data shows that in July 2019, there were 48,297 active brokers licensed in the state. By July of this year, that number had ticked up to 50,241.
The Indiana Professional Licensing Agency provided Inman with data showing a gradual increase in the number of active and licensed brokers over the last year.
Like other states, Iowa does not appear to have seen a major change in the number of active or inactive brokers and salespeople over the last year. The data the state provided to Inman shows that in August of 2019 there were 9,907 active brokers and salespeople. In June of this year, there were 9,855. (The state did not provide January data, hence its absence in the graph below.)
However, the state also provided a yearly breakdown on the number of broker and salesperson applications it has processed. That data shows the state processed 1,057 applications last year, up from only 562 in 2011.
Through June 1 of this year, Iowa had processed 492 applications — which is nearly on track to match 2019’s numbers. Iowa didn’t have a month-by-month breakdown of these numbers so it’s unclear how new applications fared during the pandemic, but the takeaway from the state is that new license applications are not down overall this year compared to 2019.
Data that the Kansas Real Estate Commission provided to Inman shows that the number of real estate licensees — both active and total, including those who are inactive — has been steadily climbing, albeit by small amounts.
The state’s data additionally showed that as of this July there were 16,498 active agents, which is more than any previous month over the last year.
The Louisiana Real Estate Commission was among the agencies that provided month-by-month new licensing data to Inman. The data includes the number of new brokerage, corporate and sales licenses, and it shows that there was a drop-off in April. But the numbers have been climbing since, with June seeing a comparable number of new licenses to several months last fall.
Louisiana also provided yearly totals showing that, so far, in 2020 there are 21,933 licensed real estate agents and brokers in the state. That compares to 21,941 in 2019 and 21,632 in 2018.
Michigan’s Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs told Inman it did not have the ability to pull out month-by-month statistics for prior years, but the agency did provide data on active agent licensees during the pandemic itself. That data shows the number of active real estate license holders in the state has ticked up very slightly during the pandemic, from 53,829 in April to 54,036 in July.
Data from the North Carolina Real Estate Commission only goes back three months. However, the data does at least indicate that the state has seen steady, if small, growth in the ranks of real estate licensees — including both brokers and firms — over the course of the pandemic.
The Oregon Real Estate Agency provided Inman with several data sets, the most illuminative of which show how many new brokers’ licenses the state has issued over the last year.
The data shows a normal ebb and flow of new licensee numbers last year, with upticks in the summer but a slowdown in the fall. The number of new licensees ticked up again in early 2020, presumably as people entered the industry in anticipation of an active spring.
But the numbers then fell off a cliff in April and May of this year, with only 72 and 74 new brokers in those two months respectively. That drop, of course, corresponded with the coronavirus outbreak.
The most significant thing to note here, however, is that June saw an almost complete recovery, with 167 new brokers in the state. That’s only three fewer than there were in June 2019.
Oregon also provided the number of overall active and inactive brokers over the last year. As was the case in other states, those numbers showed only slight fluctuations, even through the pandemic.
Pennsylvania’s Real Estate Commission didn’t provide a month-by-month breakdown. However, the numbers the state did send Inman show that in July 2020 there were nearly 1,500 more people licensed as “standard” real estate sales people — the basic license that best corresponds with the general term “agent” — than there were at the same time in 2019.
Data from South Carolina’s Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation spanned more than a year, though the figures only represented a handful of months. Still, the data shows that the state has recently seen a small uptick in the number of salespeople with active real estate licenses. The uptick was small, but with 29,835 active licenses, this month actually had the highest number of any time period in the data set.
According to data Inman obtained from the South Dakota Department of Labor and Regulation, there are currently 3,432 active licensed real estate professionals in the state.
As was the case with other states, South Dakota saw a decline in the number of new licenses issued during the pandemic, though the decline appears to have begun in February — before COVID-19 made a significant impact in the U.S.
In any case, the number of new licensees in South Dakota jumped back up in June, with 51, though it isn’t currently on track to see similar growth during July. Perhaps owing to the state’s relatively small population, the new license numbers are also just generally less consistent from month-to-month than those in other states.
Data that Tennessee’s Department of Commerce and Insurance provided to Inman show that the number of licensed agents in the state has mostly held steady. In fact, the state saw a minor uptick in March and April — when the pandemic was in full swing — followed by a similarly small dip in May. (The data did not include June numbers.)
The Texas Real Estate Commission’s data shows both how many licensees there are in the state, as well as how many license applications have been submitted over the last six months. The application data indicates that there was a drop in the number of applicants in March and April. However, that drop had already begun in February so it’s not entirely clear what role the virus outbreak played in shaping the numbers.
Either way, however, Texas’ application numbers saw a rebound in late spring similar to what happened in other states.
The state has also seen steady growth in the overall number of broker and sales licensees, with nearly 10,000 more on the books this June compared to June 2019.
Data that the Utah Division of Real Estate provided to Inman shows that the state mirrored what happened in a number of other areas: Some fluctuations, but overall an upward trend. In fact, in June of this year there were 20,402 people with active sales and broker licenses — more than at any time in the last year.
Virginia’s Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation was only able to provide Inman with licensing data from 2020, so it’s not possible to say how the current numbers compare to those from a year ago. However, over the course of the last seven months the state has seen a small drop in the number of active, licensed real estate salespeople.
Wisconsin’s Department of Safety and Professional Services provided Inman with the number of applications it received from people wanting to become both brokers and real estate salespeople. The numbers show a spike early this year, before a noticeable drop off in March and April, the latter of which only saw a total of 34 applications.
However, the numbers have since begun to rebound and June actually saw 277 applications — more than any month except February since last fall.