When Pat McIntyre Paul took her first real estate class, the instructor told her to look at the persons on her left and right. By the end of the year, the instructor said, one of them would no longer be in the business.
That was 20 years ago, but the real estate industry's hefty turnover rate continues today, especially among those just starting out.
In fact, Paul was one of the people who didn't make it. Trying to work as a part-time agent and raise her children at the same time was too difficult. But two decades later, with her children grown, she's trying again and has survived her first year.
In an effort to help agents new to the profession, the Maryland Association of Realtors (MAR) has started a Rookie Realtor Society. The idea came from a Realtor who suggested that the MAR offer a place for new Realtors to meet, exchange ideas, talk about problems and learn from others' mistakes. That Realtor has since left the business, but the program for which she laid the groundwork is now in place.
"At first you are spending much more money than you're making," said Paul, an agent with Coldwell Banker Stevens in Annapolis. "It takes a good six months before you make a dime."
The National Association of Realtors (NAR) estimates that nearly 20 percent, or 100,000 to 150,000 agents each year, drop out. Commonly heard reasons for the high drop-out rate include the complexity of the job, the absence of a guaranteed salary and the time required to build up business.
"Each day is so different. One day you're working in one area and you think you got that down. Then the next day is a whole new ball game," Paul said. "You can ask other agents in your office, but usually when Realtors are in the office they are there to get something specific done. Most of our work is in the field. So you're infringing on their time."
Today's Realtor has typically been in the business for 13 years and is 52 years old, according to NAR statistics. There seems to be a direct relationship between the time served and income earned for Realtors. In fact, the median gross income for a Realtor with 16 to 25 years of experience is $26,000 greater than for a Realtor with one to five years of experience. Sales agents with 16 to 25 years of experience earn 130 percent more than agents with one to five years of experience.
The turnover rate of Realtors has been an accepted part of the business, until recently.
"You go to real estate school and learn the laws of real estate. But it doesn't teach you how to sell real estate or how to learn about the business," said Doug Poole, the chairman of the society and the manager of Re/Max American Dream in Hunt Valley.
"At the meetings, the rookies can ask questions and not get frowned upon. It is also a chance for them to find out there are others out there that are in the same boat as they are."
Modeled after the Young Lawyer's Association, which is sponsored by the American Bar Association, the Rookie Realtor Society gives agents with less than four years' experience a place to go every month to get questions answered.
The meetings are free to rookie members of MAR, and the rookies themselves usually suggest what topics will be discussed.
"It's not just looking at how to make $1 million, but looking at things like how do I run a successful business," Poole said. "Just because they are rookies doesn't mean they don't have knowledge."
There are a few common mistakes that new Realtors make, said Jean A. Thompson, an agent with O'Conor, Piper and Flynn ERA in Timonium and a member of the board of the Rookie Realtor Society.
The one blunder she sees most often from those new to the business is not keeping the communication lines open and following up with clients.
"Agents assume when the buyer calls that they are now wedded to them and this is not the case. Keeping in touch - communication - is the No. 1 biggest problem area," Thompson said. "We need to make them understand how important that is."
Another problem made by rookies is assuming that the work is over once the contract is signed. In fact, Thompson says, it has only begun.
"The work really begins after you sell a house. You have to get all of the applications and paperwork together, all of the inspections must be done and you must have everything in place in a timely manner," Thompson said.
The Rookie Realtor Society started off with a bang and has continued to generate interest.
It started as part of MAR's public relations and communications division, but gained stature after more than 100 people showed up for the first meeting.
"We were hoping for about 20 people. It knocked my socks off the first time," Poole said. "Not only did we have a lot of people, but the enthusiasm was overwhelming."