Few people in the real estate business will tell you that these are the brightest days of their careers but they are quick to point out some solid reasons why they are holding on.
Relatively low interest rates, a large inventory of houses and the lucrative Baltimore-area real estate market -- these are market indicators that usually translate into a healthy business climate, real estate agents say.
"There really isn't any excuse except for mind-set," said Mary Bell Grempler, of Grempler Realty in Towson. "If you work hard you'll find that there are buyers out there."
Granted, there aren't as many as there were during the glory years of the late 1980s, according to several real estate officials interviewed, but the hustling agent should be able to find enough sales in today's buyer's market to survive.
Jean Tallman, a 20-year veteran of the local real estate scene and an agent at Prudential's Severna Park office, says she has never seen a worse market than the current one and believes her experience, more than anything else, is what keeps her afloat.
"I always keep six months' living expenses in liquidity so if things turn real sour I can last it out," she said. "It took me a long time to put that money aside but I don't have to panic now if the money from my last settlement is all used up."
There are so many more real estate agents now than there were when she started in 1969, she says, and they are all fighting for the same market share.
"I don't think I would get into the real estate market again if I were starting out now," she said.
One sign of troubled times is the recent merging of some smaller real estate firms into larger ones. Giddings Associates Inc. of Severna Park was merged into Prudential last summer and Long & Foster announced in August that it would be acquiring Anderson-Stokes Inc., a well-known agency on the Eastern Shore.
Like politicians, some real estate agents say part of the answer to making sales during slower times is to increase your name recognition -- by distributing more brochures, making more cold calls, knocking on more doors or increasing your advertising.
One Realtor remarked that she has begun using her own money toadvertise her skills -- in addition to the advertising already offered by her company.
But some real estate agents, particularly those who haven't been in the business long, are finding that the only way to make ends meet is to take another job -- something they don't want their bosses to know about.
"It's not something I want to do either," said one agent from a local real estate company. "But things are so slow you don't really have a choice."
Those agents that are taking second jobs often look to fields that will employ and better their real estate skills, such as home decorating, property management or consulting.
Jean Ehlers, an agent with O'Conor, Piper & Flynn in Howard County, says buyers are wary of today's market because of negative reports on the economy by the media even though interest rates and other market indicators are positive.
"Prices are coming down," she said. "Sellers are more and more willing to make deals."
Jan Johnson, a real estate agent with Long & Foster, says the current market may be slow but that should make real estate agents work "harder and smarter."