Realtor ranks shrinking


POSTED: Wednesday, January 28, 2009

It's tough to make the cut as a real estate agent these days.

The rank and file of Realtors in the isles are diminishing as the real estate market slows down, and competition gets stiffer.








Statewide licenses 17,32521,984-21%



Realtor Board memberships2008Expected drop 2009*
Molokai 45-10%
Kauai memberships 650-20%
Big Island
Kona memberships 720-15%
Hilo memberships 735-10%


        * Estimated numbers, as membership dues still coming in.


Source: Hawaii Real Estate Commission, Honolulu Board of Realtors, Kauai Board of Realtors, Realtors Association of Maui, Molokai Board of Realtors, Hawaii Island Board of Realtors, Kona Board of Realtors.



The Hawaii Real Estate Commission saw a 21 percent decline in license renewals this year, with only 17,325 issued for 2009-2010, 4,659 less than the last renewal year period of 2007-2008.

The licenses, both active and inactive, must be renewed every even-numbered year. The deadline to renew was Dec. 31, 2008, at a cost of $180 ($153.50 if done online). But those numbers may not reflect the worst downturn in the market—yet.

Membership at the Honolulu Board of Realtors, as well as neighbor isle boards, are also expected to drop anywhere from 10 to 20 percent this year.

While it is a career with a high turnover rate, a slowdown in the market makes it that much tougher to survive. Deals are no longer falling into anyone's lap, and dabblers and part-timers typically drop out.

Bill Chee, chief executive of Prudential Locations, cited the following 2008 statistics as an example of the cutthroat business. Of all Honolulu board Realtors, 44 percent made no sales, and only 18 percent made one sale, last year.

“;Even in an up cycle, a neighborhood of 25 percent don't make a sale,”; said Chee. “;There are few really successful people in the business.”;

Those numbers mean the majority of real estate agents have no cash flow, said Abe Lee of Abe Lee Realty. One sale is not likely to cover costs, said Lee.

Nevertheless, Lee encourages students who have completed his course to enroll in his referral program as an alternative. To be in the program, individuals must have an active real estate license, but won't have to pay board membership fees or insurance.

Instead of showing homes or writing up contracts, they simply refer potential clients to agents, and get a small commission if the deal closes.

Lee is hoping to grow the program in the next five years—even offering to foot license fees along with complementary continuing education courses if a member makes a successful referral once every two years.

Enrollment in classes at Coldwell Banker has dropped slightly, according to president Chason Ishii, but those that are coming are more serious than during the boom.

“;If you can be successful in this market, you will be successful going forward,”; said Ishii. “;If you're joining in an up market, it tends to give you a false sense of security and create bad habits.”;

The majority of top producers at Coldwell Banker today, he said, started in a down cycle. The firm still has about 475 agents today.

“;To make it today, you have to be a hunter, not a harvester,”; he said. “;You have to be proactive, not passive and reactive.”;

At Century 21 All Islands, tougher times resulted in the closure of four offices last year, leaving the company with 10 in the state. Century 21 last year closed offices in Hilo and Kona on the Big Island, Koloa on Kauai, and Kailua on Oahu.

The company also lost about 100 real estate agents, leaving it with a solid 350 statewide, according to chief executive Jim Wright.

However, the referral program tripled in the last year. There are still students enrolling in Century 21's pre-licensing courses—though fewer—- and some new agents coming on board.

The upfront investment is significant—at least $2,500 for the license, membership, insurance and other costs, plus he recommends having at least six months of living expenses in the bank.

Wright considers a newly minted Realtor in this market to be tried-and-true.

“;If you start in this market, you learn much better and develop your craft much better,”; he said.