It has often been said that we have even more of a bubble in real estate agents than we have in real estate prices. In fact we have had three concurrent bubbles – house prices, number of purchases, and number of agents. Unfortunately for the members of the residential real estate sales profession, we are making a lot more ‘progress’ on reducing the first two bubbles than we are on the third bubble.
Last week I went through an exercise of trying to track the growth and reported decline of the number of licensed agents in King County, including metro Seattle and Bellevue, who are members of the Northwest Multiple Listing Service. I had heard that the NWMLS had expected about 25% fallout in 2008. As I got into it, it looked like taking the transaction volumes and median prices at the same time might produce some interesting insights into agent incomes and the desirability of the profession. ( I admit that I considered an alternate title for this post: ‘The Grass Is Not Always Greener…’)
So here’s what I found, using year-end data from published NWMLS statistical reports, but doing my own analysis (and making my own errors – please let me know if you find some or think I missed a point of interpretation).
First are three charts to show the Three Bubbles of King County Real Estate:
Second is to show how the growth in number of agents has affected the average number of transactions per agent. A couple of notes on methodology here. For transactions per agent, I split each transaction into two sides, and then just divided the total transaction sides by the number of agents. For the 2009 estimate, I took the business volume for the first four months, through April, and factored it up by the same ratio as the last 8 month of 2008 were to the first 4 months of that year. We’ll get another check on it shortly with the May 2009 data.
(Required disclaimer: Statistics not compiled or published by the Northwest multiple Listing Service)
Note how the average number of transactions per agent have been dropping dramatically as the total number of agents rises and the total number of transactions falls. Total number of agents is only down about 10% so far. Some people expected a far faster fallout rate, including NWMLS in one talk I heard, but the inhibiting question is probably ‘Where would they go for an alternate job in this economy?’ A related article from Inman News appeared in the Times last Sunday – Less Experienced Hands Leaving the Business.
And third is to show how the combination of all three factors plays out in average agent earnings. For nominal earnings, I assumed 2.5% commission on each transaction side – we don’t always get 3%, and we often have to give up a bit here or there to keep everyone happy and on track. The data behind the charts is stored here.
So for the average agent (and I recognize that most clients would prefer to deal with an above average agent), earnings have dropped from a decent professional income to a pretty marginal income. Last year (2008) it was a little over $30,000 – about $15/hr if you work full time, and this year looks worse. How about $10/hr?
I guess the grass really isn’t always greener…