Realtor numbers decline amid tough market

Brianne Kuester and Matt Whitesell, center, talk with Nicholas Lerner about a home for sale in west Lawrence. Lerner works for McGrew Real Estate.

While some housing experts are painting a bleak national picture of the industry, some Lawrence real estate agents are saying the dark economic cloud has a silver lining.

“We’re finding buyers out there are ready to get off the fence and make a move,” said Nicholas Lerner, an agent at McGrew Real Estate.

He’s been in the business since 2006 and said there’s never been a better time to buy.

“With rates at historic lows, it’s a good time to be a seller in the lower market,” Lerner said.

Lerner knows the statistics: More than 74,000 homes in the United States were repossessed nationally in February, according RealtyTrac, which markets these foreclosed properties. This number is up from the 67,000 homes in January. Yet the 30-year-old agent is optimistic. It’s all in how you look at it, he said.

“We’re paid on the sale of a home, and if you approach it from that point of view it’s really depressing,” Lerner said.

It’s that way of thinking that keeps him in the game.

“You have to focus on the fact that you’re helping everyone, and every once in a while you get a nice paycheck,” he said.

Not everyone has stuck with it, though. Membership in the National Association of Realtors has declined 10.5 percent since 2007. And there was an 8 percent drop in the number of licensed real estate agents in Lawrence last year. There are now 275, according to Randy Barnes, president of the Lawrence Board of Realtors.

Lerner said his goal is to have two firm appointments a week. To him, continually meeting new customers is the most important component to staying afloat.

“Houses are still selling, so the people who are really serious about doing the job are still in the business,” Lerner said.

Those Realtors working with pricier listings may be having a tougher time. Greg Cromer, a real estate broker and the president of American Real Estate and Investments, said the economy may be leading to fewer people in the industry.

“Just like the rest of the country, (the real estate industry) has been slow,” Cromer said. “There seems to be less people in the business.”

Cromer’s firm works in commercial real estate. He said that market hasn’t been hit as hard as the residential housing market.

“We work all over the state,” Cromer said. “The fact that we are spread out a little bit more allow us to weather the highs and lows of the market.”

Neither Cromer nor Lerner has considered leaving the industry — and many others dealing with the declining housing market feel the same way. Lerner said the cost of being in the real estate business is relatively inexpensive, which could account for people staying through hard times.

“The fees for having your license are not high, and a lot of people are part-timers,” Lerner said.

According to him, many agents hold on to their certifications, even if they are not directly working in the market.

“In real estate, 80 percent of the business is done by 20 percent of the people,” he said.

With the federal stimulus package promising to pump money into the housing market, good news and good business could be on the horizon.

Leslie Dunham of Virtual Value Real Estate said she already has seen an increase in her client flow.

“I’m getting busier,” Dunham said.

She has been working in Lawrence since 2006, after handling real estate in Los Angeles.

“Now is a great time to buy,” she said.

Lerner said he has also noticed a recent increase in business.

“I’ve taken two listings this year — one has sold already and the other is under contract,” Lerner said. “(People) are making a move and finding there’s not as much (housing) inventory as they would like to have.”