Realtors diversify, make it in tough market
By Marilyn Bowden
Now that selling a house isn't as easy as it used to be, the number of active Realtors is dwindling, but experts say experienced agents who have added ancillary services are surviving the changes in the market.
Membership in the Florida Association of Realtors dropped about 20% by the end of 2007 — roughly from 170,000 to 130,000, said Teresa King Kinney, CEO of the Realtors Association of Greater Miami & the Beaches, commonly called RAMB.
The Greater Miami association's membership has dipped just slightly from 13,979 a year ago to 12,822 now, she said.
"It's actually the second-highest year ever in our history," she said. 'We are in the third year of this market transition, and these have been our three highest years for membership."
The reason, she speculated, is the services membership in an association can offer Realtors to give them an edge.
"While we are not seeing large numbers of new people coming in," Ms. Kinney said, "we are getting a number of transferees from other Realtor associations.
"We bulk-purchase services for our members and give them free with membership. If they purchased them on their own, it would cost them up to $20,000 — and they would not be customized to our Multiple Listing Service and interactive with all our products."
The Greater Miami association also has affiliations with foreign organizations, she said, such as the Paris-Ile de France Realtor association, which helps members connect with the international investors currently representing a large percentage of the local market.
Membership in the National Association of Realtors dipped slightly from 1,357,732 at the end of 2006 to 1,338,007 at the end of 2007, said spokesperson Walter Molony, and dropped further by the end of May 2008 to 1,252,618.
The national association attributes the decline almost exclusively to newcomers who have been in the real estate business for two years or less — who accounted for 23% of overall membership in 2006 but only 18% by the end of 2007.
According to a survey of about 60% of the national association's members, almost all have secondary specialties such as relocation, commercial brokerage, property management, land development, appraisal, counseling and other real estate specialties that help them survive the down cycles endemic to the business.
For example, local broker Aaron Glassman of A-1 Realty Group teamed up with his wife, Lisa Glassman, a real estate attorney, to offer title services as A-1 Title & Escrow. The Aventura-based business also has satellite offices in Weston, Boca Raton and Lighthouse Point.
The key to their success, Mr. Glassman said, is diversification, mixed with a good measure of hard work, persistence and determination.
"We saw this coming," he said, "and made the effort to put ourselves in a position to succeed even in these tough times."
"Basically, the people who have been practicing Realtors for a long time are the ones who are going to survive," Ms. Glassman said. "Those who were in for a quick return on their investment are not going to make it."