Realtors get real about market, get out of game
Lori Garrison was not destined to be an aggressive salesperson.
She didn’t mind the hard work of being a real estate agent. But once the Grand Junction real estate market began a tailspin in late 2008, the work got harder. The rising number of short sales and foreclosures required a lot of paperwork, and both sides of the transaction rarely were satisfied with a home-price offer.
Besides being more difficult to make, the sales were spaced further and further apart as the number of buyers and sellers trailed off in the poor economy. Garrison left Bray Real Estate and went on a referral-only basis a year ago, then she deactivated her real estate license in October. She now works for the Colorado Department of Revenue.
“The biggest problem was I wasn’t one of those man-eaters, people who get the sale at all costs,” Garrison said. “I never was a top producer, and I was never going to be because that wasn’t my personality.”
Garrison was not alone in her decision to get out of Grand Junction’s real estate business after the area went from having 300-plus homes sold per month on a regular basis in 2006 through 2008 to recording double-digit home-sale figures during certain months in the following years. The number of brokers in Mesa County with active real estate licenses decreased to 629 in 2011, down 27 percent compared to 2007, according to the Colorado Association of Realtors.
The number of Realtors — brokers who pay dues to the Grand Junction Area Realtor Association and have access to a multiple-property-listing service — stood at 480 members at the start of 2012, down 36 percent from a high of 751 members in 2007.
Association Chief Executive Officer Pat Teck said membership declined because some people retired or passed away and haven’t been replaced by new Realtors. Some were only in real estate for the short-term, she said, and others left because they couldn’t or wouldn’t make it when the market declined.
“They didn’t just one day decide” to leave, Teck said. “There are lots of reasons it drops or goes down.”
Robert Bray, president of Bray Real Estate, said the number of Realtors and brokers may have decreased incrementally rather than in one swift motion because Colorado real estate licenses last three years.
“Some have stayed in because their license was still active, and when it came up this year or last year, they said, ‘I don’t need this,’ ” he said.
Some didn’t plan ahead or know what to do when the market changed, according to Associated Brokers & Consultants Owner Linda Romer Todd.
“Whenever the market’s good, everybody’s getting their license. The sense is that all you do is drive people around and collect checks. You have to have 6 months to a year of income (set aside) for times when things aren’t good,” Todd said.
It’s natural for more people to join the business when sales are easy to make and buyers are eager to close a deal, Bray said. It’s just as natural, he said, to see those people trickle out when times get tough.
“When there’s a lot of activity, it can attract some people who are only going to work for the time that it’s good,” Bray said. “The stable, long-term people weather it out.”
Still, Bray said, there are committed people who choose to leave as well.
“When times are challenging in the industry, some people say, ‘I don’t have to work so hard for so little, so I’m heading for retirement,’ ” he said.
Brokers and competition
Bray said he has 48 residential agents and eight commercial agents at his agency, a decrease of eight to 10 people in the past four years, by his estimate.
Century 21 Homestead Realty owner Saul Forster said he has seen 18 agents leave since 2007, and that 20 remain. He said having fewer agents renting office space is good for business.
“Like anything else, the more people in it, the more competitive it is,” he said. “Really, it’s made it better for agents. There’s less competition, and the people (left) have a lot of experience.”
RE/MAX 4000 owner Toni Milyard said her office went from having 66 agents at the end of 2007 to 53 now, which is the same number as 2010 and 2011 and one more than the agency had in 2009.
“I think the people who are serious about the business are staying in the business,” she said. “The people who are still in the business are running a smarter business. They’re dedicated people doing their job.”
Century 21 Realtor Rick Thurtle has been in real estate for six years and said he stayed in it because he is able to earn a living and expects the market to improve eventually.
“I’m committed to living in the Grand Valley and seeing it grow and fighting through tough times,” Thurtle said.
Linda Romer Todd, owner of Associated Consultants & Brokers, said she’s still a Realtor because she wouldn’t know what else to do.
“I am just committed to the industry and have been fortunate to ride the tide. It hasn’t always been easy, but I’ve looked at what the industry has done for me and my family and what it can still do for me,” she said.
She admits work isn’t the same now as it was several years earlier.
“If someone has a sale every month and it’s for a $150,000 home on average and they’re getting $4,500 (in commission), they’re doing OK, but there’s not that many sales around to go to brokers. When things are tighter, they’ll cut commissions, too. That person might get $3,000 instead,” Todd said.
Thurtle said he expects the number of Realtors to climb again when more homes start selling for higher prices. But he hopes to enjoy the time between when the sales numbers start to climb and when people obtain new licenses.
Until then, he will be part of a statewide trend of real estate brokers seeing fewer people around them participate in the same profession. The number of Realtors in Colorado decreased in 2008, 2009 and 2010 and dropped 23 percent to 21,255 people in 2010 compared to 2007, according to the Colorado Association of Realtors. The association reported the number of Colorado residents with an active real estate license fell 15 percent to 29,847 in 2010 compared with 2008.
Tyrone Adams, director of communications for the state association, said the drop has been steady, not only because people are leaving but because few people are willing to replace them.
“People are not coming in (to the profession) as frequently as before,” Adams said.
Even though broker numbers are dropping, Bray said he has seen worse. In 1981, he said, Grand Junction Area Realtor Association membership reached about 720 people, then dropped to about 250 people in 1983, after 1982’s “Black Sunday,” when Exxon left the area and caused a localized economic downturn.
“One of the big differences between this downturn and the other is there were other jobs people could move to,” Bray said, referring to how people could move out of Mesa County in the early 1980s and find better economies and more jobs in other areas. In the current, nationwide downturn, “There’s still no profession they could jump into because the recession affected every profession,” he said.
Former Century 21 Realtor Pam Heinrich hopes to return to real estate full-time this spring. Until then, the recession and her husband’s job are keeping her in Steamboat Springs. She does some real estate work there and also works as a secretary for an automotive repair shop and a cashier and waitress for a restaurant.
“I’m hanging in tight because I know it’s going to come back,” she said of Grand Junction’s real estate market.
Until then, she’s making ends meet. Even when she returns, she doesn’t expect many people to follow her lead.
“I see us leveling out about where we are with agents right now. Maybe there will be a small increase, but I don’t think we’ll see a thousand Realtors, not even in two years,” she said.