When Jesse Anglen told his friends and family that he was thinking about a career change earlier this year, his choice had them asking, “Are you crazy?”
In the midst of the economy’s downward spiral and a shaky housing market, the 23-year-old father of an eight-month-old baby girl – with a little boy due in February – decided to pursue a career as a real estate agent. As the sole provider for his family, Anglen, a maintenance worker for an apartment complex at the time, knew there were many risks involved and the rewards were uncertain.
After all, he said, the news coming out of the housing market was gloomy at best and downright depressing in some circles. On top of that, market conditions are far removed from the house-selling highs of 2005 and 2006, when buyers were eager and even more sellers were more than willing to help them land a home.
“A lot of people said it doesn’t make sense to get into the business when everyone else is trying to get out of it. I didn’t have a lot of encouragement,” recalled Anglen, who was also shopping for a house at the time. “After all, I had a good, steady job and everyone else it seemed like was jumping ship.”
With encouragement from Anglen’s real estate agent and the owner of Hope Realty, Paul Sohrweide, Anglen attended the North Idaho Real Estate Academy in June and received his license later that month. Since becoming certified, Anglen has made seven transactions under Sohrweide’s guidance and has several pending. It’s been enough to make a living and, more importantly, he said, to provide for his growing family.
“I’m definitely in it for the long haul. It feels really good to have made some sales. I’m really glad I got into it – maybe a big sigh of relief, like this is going to work.”
Not all agents are so lucky, however.
While many have been able to make it their living in North Idaho, many others have had to become part-time agents with second or third jobs to supplement their income. And there are those who’ve been forced to leave the business altogether.
The housing market’s ebb and flow is evident in the number of applicants to the area’s licensing institutions. At North Idaho College’s Workforce Training Center in Post Falls, the real estate program experienced a boom in the ’90s through the mid-2000s of about 40 to 50 aspiring agents for each of its six annual classes, while recent numbers have dipped into the single digits, said real estate pre-licensing instructor Fred Albi. The classes have taken a hit as well, down to four a year instead of the usual half-dozen.
“The market is continually changing and eventually slowed and wasn’t able to support all of the students who entered the field during the boom,” said Albi, who has worked for 38 years in the law field and owned a real estate brokerage in the 1980s. “That’s just human nature, though; when the market is really strong, people want to jump in and make their fortune, and when it’s not, they want to get out.”
That domino effect was mirrored at the real estate academy.
“During our heyday, we had 20 to 25” applicants, said academy administrator Mike Sawicki.
But in spring 2008, the numbers began to tumble before leveling out at around eight to 10 people in recent months, “just enough that we can keep our doors open,” Sawicki added.
During the boom period in the North Idaho housing market, membership in the Coeur d’Alene Association of Realtors jumped to an all-time high of 1,130, up from roughly 900 annual members, said Kim Cooper, spokesman for the association.
“That was at a time when, maybe, you didn’t have to work quite as hard. But even then we had agents who didn’t make any sales,” Cooper offered. “Now we’re experiencing – from what was an anomaly in ’05 and ’06 – what is a more traditional market.”
The secret to making it work during lean times, Cooper went on, is service. “If you are ethical and keep in contact with (potential homebuyers), you should be able to do fine.”
In nearly four decades in the business, NIC’S Albi has witnessed the housing market repeatedly rise and fall – sometimes crashing more spectacularly than others, such as with the current recession. But a few things remain consistent, he explained: the market always climbs back from even the lowest of lows, and people will always need a roof over their heads.
That’s why he’s encouraging anyone who’s ever considered entering the market on the seller’s side to take a second look. While most people don’t consider entering the industry during poor economic conditions, the housing market is beginning to show signs of resuscitation, however faint, he added.
“If there ever were a time to enter the real estate field, that time is now when the market is rebounding,” Albi said. “People will always need somewhere to live; that’s the nature of the business.”
While activity is still considerably below the highs of three to four years ago, home transactions aren’t as off as they were even a few months ago, according to Cooper, with sales in the Coeur d’Alene area down 2 percent from the same time last year. That’s a positive sign compared to the 14 percent drop seen in the August year-to-date statistic, and inventory remains almost even compared to last September’s figure, which currently stands at 4,462 residential listings.
However, that bump in sales is partially due to a tax credit for first-time homebuyers, Cooper said. The program, which offers up to $8,000 for qualified first-time homebuyers and is set to expire on Nov. 30, helped spur sales at the lower end of the market for homes at or under the roughly $250,000 price point, he added.
“We’re closing the gap, but we’ll know more about it when the tax credit expires,” he said.
Despite the economic freefall, some brokerages have been able to grow. At Hope Realty, owner Sohrweide has added more than 20 new agents since he and his wife bought the company just over a year ago. The reason, he said, is they offer hands-on training and a smaller, more tight-knit working atmosphere for those willing to commit to a business plan and their clients’ needs.
Yet, even with the most optimistic hopes of a rebounding market, first-time agents shouldn’t go in expecting to immediately make sales. While the startup fees are relatively minimal at about $1,000, it takes serious commitment, and who you know can make all the difference, North Idaho Real Estate Academy’s Sawicki said.
“You have to be disciplined to be good in real estate. You can’t just sit back and collect checks,” he said, adding that having a few months’ salary saved up is a good idea. “The other thing that helps is their own sphere of influence … . It all depends on the individual circumstances.”
While dedication to the business is one thing, no one knows when the housing tide will turn. Until it does, keeping a positive outlook is another part of the profession.
“In 12 to 18 months I think we’ll see a turnaround in the market,” Albi said, offering as an example that the last five months have shown a national increase in the sales of existing homes. “People that commit to the industry do well. They do well in good times, and they do well in bad times.”