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Too Many Realtors, not enough Properties?

In 2019, the number of realtors in the housing sector is nearing an all-time high. It’s unclear whether this will be a long-term trend or an extended market correction. There are 1.367 million realtors currently working today. The all-time peak was 1.371 million in the fall of 2006. This saturation of the real estate sector has been perplexing to some within the field since typically, the quantity of working agents directly correlates with how many sales are taking place. Despite the current slowdown, real estate remains crowded, with realtors trying to make sales in a highly competitive tightening housing market.

Why are there so many realtors?

Why are people choosing to become realtors despite it being a difficult time to enter the field? It could be that they actually aren’t—they just began their real estate training when sales were higher, and decided to stay the course despite the slowdown. Sales and realtor participation are correlated, but there's a lag, and it could be that as sales continue to slow, so will the numbers of actively practicing realtors.

Another possibility is that there is a glut of what Bill Lublin of Century 21 Advantage Gold calls “zero” realtors—realtors who make no sales—that is thereby artificially inflating the number of realtors. If this is the case, then the problem may not be as dire as it seems.

Many realtors don’t work real estate full time, but as a source of supplemental income, in addition to other part-time or even full-time work. Part-time and contract-based jobs are becoming more popular, as they allow employers to cut costs, while young millennials prefer the flexibility afforded by freelancing compared to working a 9-to-5. So it’s very possible that many of the 1.367 million realtors active today only devote 10 or 20 hours to real estate per week. 

For younger generations, or many people looking for an alternate career path, a real estate career is a comparatively lucrative option. A real estate career:

  • Allows young people to make their own schedules, work on their own terms, and be their own bosses.
  • Has a relatively low barrier of entry, with training taking as short as five weeks.
  • Gives young people the ability to live in hot metropolitan areas

Forecasting 2019

The combination of a tightening real estate market with an increasing number of people entering the field has made housing extremely competitive from a sales perspective. However, there’s more than meets the eye, and high quantities of part-time and/or “zero” realtors may have made the problem seem worse than it is. The slowdown has not affected all markets to the same degree; for instance, certain 18-hour cities—hip cities that are not as dense or expensive as Los Angeles and New York City—like Austin, Texas are seeing an influx of young professionals. Real estate can still be a lucrative and vital field.

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