Career change? Ranks of Realtors in Maryland and Virginia are on the rise

The pandemic has meant career changes for millions of Americans, and one popular career path is becoming a residential real estate agent.

The National Association of Realtors reports more than 156,000 Americans received a new real estate license in 2020 and 2021, pushing the total number of real estate agents in the U.S. to a record.

In the District, the number of licensed agents actually fell 5.9%, the largest decline when compared to states.

“In D.C. proper, that did happen, but if we look at Virginia and Maryland, there are more agents there. And it could be that people in the suburbs said ‘Oh, there’s a lot of people moving here. Maybe I should be a Realtor here,’” said Jessica Lautz, vice president of demographics and behavioral insights at the National Association of Realtors.

As of January, there were 2,862 licensed agents in the District. In Maryland, the number of licensed agents was up 2.1%, to 27,145. In Virginia, the number of licensed Realtors was up 5.41%, to 34,925, according to NAR’s monthly membership report.

Selling residential real estate can be a great “be-your-own-boss” job, but it is not a 9-to-5 job.

“No, no. We know from our members that being a Realtor means that you are essentially on call 24/7 to your clients. It is not easy,” Lautz said. “And you are working with a very tight real estate market and with buyers who really want to lock in low interest rates.”

With record-high home prices and commissions that are based on selling prices, real estate agents can make good money. But the majority of their business comes from referrals and repeat clients. It is not lucrative work when you are first starting out.

“When we look at those who have two years of experience or less, we know that they are making under $10,000 as a gross income. You have to find your base. You have to find your niche,” Lautz said.

The standard real estate commission is still typically 5% to 6%, split by agents on both the buyer’s side and seller’s side, though a good share of that commission goes to the brokerage the real estate agent represents.

Even for seasoned Realtors, the competition is tough. In fact, with the number of homes for sale at record lows in many parts of the country, consider this: There are currently more licensed residential real estate agents in the U.S. than there are active listings.

A recent NAR survey of its members asking why new members had joined real estate found the top reasons were to be an entrepreneur, love of homeownership and the reward of helping families find a home.

Jeff Clabaugh

Jeff Clabaugh has spent 20 years covering the Washington region's economy and financial markets for WTOP as part of a partnership with the Washington Business Journal, and officially joined the WTOP newsroom staff in January 2016.

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