MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Just a couple of years ago, home prices were rising month after month, and as prices went up, so the number of the real estate agents hoping to cash in on the boom. Many of those new agents have never lived to a typical slump in housing, much less the sharp downturn we're going through right now.
As Gloria Hillard reports, some are getting out of business altogether.
GLORIA HILLARD: Real Estate agent Valerie Quade(ph) has just reported to work. It's 6:00 PM and a Monday, so it's a slow night.
Ms. VALERIE QUADE (Real Estate Agent): Here's your (unintelligible). Well, I started working at restaurants, and I was 16, and so it's a natural place for me to look for a job. And the restaurant industry (unintelligible) real estate market started going downhill.
HILLARD: Quade is one of the thousands of real estate agents across the country who have had to take another job in the wake of the current downturn. She became an agent in 2001, at the beginning of the housing boom in Los Angeles.
Ms. QUADE: It was definitely like a gold rush. I mean, people were writing offers left and right on anything.
HILLARD: Paul Bishop is with the National Association of Realtors.
Mr. PAUL BISHOP (Senior Economist, National Association of Realtors): Our membership rose significantly over the first part of the decade when we had 700,000 members.
HILLARD: But today, especially in hard-hit states like California, Florida, Arizona, and Nevada, he's expecting a decline in membership renewals, those who are last seasoned will be the most vulnerable, Bishop says.
Mr. BISHOP: For new entrance, it's more challenging than it has been over the last several years. Those who are established in their careers are certainly hanging up.
HILLARD: Mary Cornack(ph), a veteran 20-year RE/MAX agent in Lancaster, California, is one of the agents hanging on.
Riding her car, where she still spends 50 percent of her time, she says, she's been through this before in the '90s, and her income is down but she's still working.
Ms. WIR CORNACK (Real Estate Agent): I have great clients. They are very loyal, and they send anybody and everybody they know to me.
HILLARD: Although these days most of her calls are meetings with people, worst they seen for closure.
Ms. CORNACK: Our listing is probably 75 percent of them, are either bank repot or a short sale.
HILLARD: For as far as the eye can see, the high desert landscape is now dotted with new housing developments, with small flags whipping in the wind, and fancy names like Grande Flora(ph).
Unidentified Woman: Do you mind going on this room?
Unidentified Man: Their closet space is (unintelligible), you noticed that closets are all over this...
HILALRD: At the beginning of last year, the four-bedroom house with a small dirt yard would have been overrun with buyers and agents, now there are precious few of either.
She says a few years ago, it seemed everyone in town had a real estate license. In February, when dues for her local board of realtors came due…
Ms. CORNACK: We lost to almost - I would say probably almost 50 percent of our membership.
HILLARD: Where did they go?
Ms. CORNACK: They get what they - we call a real job.
(Soundbite of laughter)
HILLARD: One of those people is real estate agent Sue Brown(ph) on her new job with a computer software company.
Ms. SUE BROWN (Former Real Estate Agent): Are we doing this sale account first?
Unidentified man #2: Yes.
HILLARD: She says the transition hasn't been an easy one.
Ms. BROWN: When you've made a $100,000 a year and you go, can make $25, and it's not going to pay my bills. It's very difficult.
HILLARD: A single mom of three says she was drawn to real estate because it was a good job that didn't require a four-year college degree.
Unidentified Woman # 2: I think a lot of women in this position, because realty isn't so easy to get into.
HILLARD: On her job at Spacias Restaurant(ph) in Los Angeles, Valerie Quade would agree. She hasn't decided if she'll ever go back into the real estate business full time.
Ms. QUADE: I'm thinking of becoming a writer.
HILLARD: Sitting at the bar, I wondered if this might be a good place to meet potential clients.
Ms. QUADE: Oh, actually I have met someone that wants to buy a house. I don't think he's completely motivated yet, but he knows I'm an agent, and we're going to be talking as soon as he's ready.
HILLARD: For NPR News, I'm Gloria Hillard.
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