Shattered Dreams: Realtors ride out tough housing market

Housing market stilling feeling effects of slow economy


Realtor Beverly Langley, who's been selling homes for nearly three decades, says the business isn't what it used to be. "You can't just wait for the phone to ring," she warns, adding, "It just doesn't work that way anymore." Langley estimates that 40 percent of realtors in the Washington, D.C., region have left the business since 2006.

Paul Bishop, vice president of research for the National Association of Realtors, says it's true there are fewer realtors in the business. For those who have hung on, Bishop says, "They are working just as hard as they did before and not earning as much." Statistics show employment numbers and wages for realtors peaked in 2007, and since then there's been a steady rate of attrition.

Along with instability in the mortgage markets, Langley says government regulation is making her job tougher as well. She points to the Dodd-Frank legislation aimed at reforming Wall Street. "The appraisal process changed drastically as a result of that bill," Langley laments. She says that -- and other provisions -- have made it difficult for prospective buyers to get the financing they need. In 2011, the National Association of Realtors spent more than $22 million lobbying the government for changes on issues ranging from mortgage industry regulation to foreclosures.

While kinks in the housing market are worked out, Langley isn't wasting time. She says she's found ways to succeed during the housing bust, and it's mostly pegged to good old-fashioned hard work. Langley says the workweek is at least 60 hours long, and successful realtors must be willing to take on any client. Langley cold calls homes listed as for sale by owner, works on foreclosure listings, and is trying to leverage social media as well. "We're doing everything we know to do."

Brian Summerfield, online editor for REALTOR magazine, also suggests capitalizing on technology. His online tips include getting away from the traditional office setting. Because so many buyers are using the Internet to search for a home, Summerfield suggests conducting meetings virtually -- or at a neighborhood coffee shop with Wi-Fi. He says realtors can operate anywhere as long as they've got "a good Web presence."

Bishop says profits are there for realtors who are willing to ride out the market's fluctuations.

"They really are small business people who face a lot of the difficulties that many small business people face, but at the same time they can gain the rewards a lot of small business people see."

Bishop adds it's that opportunity for self-made success that attracts so many to the business.