Real estate hiring bucked seasonal expectations for September, reflecting steady payrolls despite a weakening sales environment, according to new data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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More people were employed in real estate and residential construction last month than at the same time last year despite a protracted downturn in home demand and sales.

Real estate employers — a category that includes the offices of real estate agents and brokers, among other services — added a seasonally adjusted 7,200 jobs from August to September, according to the latest jobs report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

That 0.4 percent monthly rise in real estate jobs was twice as large as that of the broader economy during the same period. Employment in this category was nearly 3 percent higher than it was in September of last year.

Mike Fratantoni, chief economist for the Mortgage Bankers Association, said in a statement that these levels of hiring cannot be sustained much longer, as they remain far above normal levels of job growth. And other data point to an economy that is in the process of slowing, he added.

“The number of job openings decreased in August sharply,” Fratantoni said. “This does suggest that employers are first moving to eliminate those openings and slow the pace of hiring before turning to layoffs as the economy cools.”

As a whole, the economy added 263,000 jobs to non-farm payrolls in September, a quick pace from a historical standpoint, but part of a gradual downward trend since March, when the economy added close to 400,000 jobs.

“The unemployment rate dipped back to 3.5%, equal to the pre-pandemic low, and wage growth remains strong with average hourly earnings up 5% over the past year,” Fratantoni said in the statement. “The household sector is in strong shape, which should help to mitigate the extent of an economic downturn.”

These job gains continued despite substantial intervention by the Federal Reserve, which has been raising interest rates and trimming its balance sheet in a bid to bring inflation under control.

“We expect the Federal Reserve will increase rates by at least another 50 basis points [half a percentage point] in November and could do more if inflation fails to decelerate,” Fratantoni said in the statement.

In addition to real estate brokerages, employers in residential construction have also continued to keep payrolls steady despite big year-over-year declines in new-home sales even before the busy season of summer drew to a close. 

A seasonally adjusted 6,400 residential construction jobs were added to builder and contractor payrolls in September — roughly matching the monthly job growth rate in the broader economy. 

This segment of the workforce was approximately 4 percent larger than it was at the same time last year, as crews continued to finish work on projects related to prior sales.

Email Daniel Houston

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