By Cindy Atoji Keene
In polls listing the least trusted professions, real estate agents regularly top the list, along with politicians. But that doesn’t bother longtime realtor Gail Green of Bedford, who has been selling houses for almost three decades. “I think most people don’t realize how hard we work – until they go through a transaction,” said Green. “A lot of people think we show a few houses or throw some data into MLS and walk away with thousands of dollars. In reality we only get part of the commission, it’s a very stressful job, and as independent contractors, most realtors have no company benefits and an unpredictable income.”
Green still remembers the first house she sold. She first got her license in 1984, when interest rates had just come down to 14 percent and the market was hot. The buyer was a policeman who had purchased other properties in the Boston area before. She typed up the paperwork for him and met him at a nursery in Winchester, where he signed everything on the hood of a car. But there was a special contingency that he wanted to add, so he signed a blank piece of paper and sent her back to the office to add that. “I was excited and anxious but mostly I was very proud – actually in awe - of the fact that I, a novice, had instilled so much trust in this experienced buyer, that he was willing to sign a blank piece of paper on a purchase of $200 thousand.”
According to the National Association of Realtors, there are over 1.18 million agents, with record numbers entering the field each year. New realtors beware, said Green: the start-up costs are significant, with multiple memberships and dues required at most offices. “You have to spend money to make money,” said Green. “I’m not sure that new agents understand how stressful and all-absorbing the job can be, or how long it might take to make their first commission and how long it might be before the second comes along.”
Q: Is this market the worst you’ve seen in the last few years?
A: I’ve been through two prior recessions and while the last couple of years have not been my best, they’ve certainly not been my worst. A properly priced home will sell in most any market, although this has been a tough market to price in. Buyers are being cautious about their buying decisions.
Q: How many houses to you sell in a typical year?
A: I’ve never kept track of how many transactions I do in any one year. I list and sell but I have also always done rentals, which is a section of real estate that many agents don’t handle because the income is a lot less than in sales.
Q: The Internet has given birth to a wealth of do-it-yourself home sales sites that might do away with a real agent altogether. What’s the future of real estate agents?
A: I happen to think that anyone has the right to try to sell their home or buy directly from a seller. For many people it will work fine, especially in some markets. But I think most people will need a trusted and knowledgeable person to manage the process and advise them. Buying and selling a house is a time-consuming and invasive process. In this country we’ve decided that it’s better handled by an intermediary. I don’t think that will change any time soon.
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Patricia Hunt Sinacole is president of First Beacon Group LLC, a human resources consulting firm in Hopkinton. She works with clients across many industries including technology, biotech and medical devices, financial services, and healthcare, and has over 20 years of human resources experience.
Elaine Varelas is managing partner at Keystone Partners, a career management firm in Boston and serves on the board of Career Partners International.
Cindy Atoji Keene is a freelance journalist with more than 25 years experience. E-mail her directly here.
Peter Post is the author of "The Etiquette Advantage in Business." Email questions about business etiquette to him directly here.
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