Here’s why it’s not a great time to become a real estate agent

But that surge in new real estate agents, coupled with a sharp decline in the number of homes up for sale over the past year, has led to a peculiar phenomenon: there are currently more Realtors than homes for sale in the US.

More than 130,000 people became Realtors during the pandemic, according to the National Association of Realtors. NAR said its membership reached a record-high of more than 1.5 million members in May. Throughout last month, however, there were just a little more than 1.3 million homes for sale, down 27% compared to the same time last year, according to Redfin.

It is exceedingly rare for the number of Realtors to eclipse the number of homes for sale, said Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist. Especially now, well into the busy Spring buying season, Yun said it is unprecedented for the number of Realtors to continue to outpace the number of homes for sale for a sustained period.

“This is very unusual” said Yun. “Very unusual that this is persisting over several months, and it may be for the remainder of the year.”

In Austin, which is considered one of the most competitive housing markets in the country, Realtors outnumbered homes for sale by eight-to-one last month, according to the Austin Board of Realtors.

Sebastian Battle landed his first job as a Realtor last August, when he joined the Austin office of brokerage firm Keller Williams. He said the job has been tougher than he thought, mostly because there are so few homes for sale.

“I would say the hardest part about being a new real estate agent, especially in Austin, is just the level of competition,” Battle said. “I definitely anticipated, you know, more people buying and selling, frankly.”

Before getting his real estate license, Battle had been selling apartment leases in San Antonio. He and his girlfriend, Alison Wingate, then moved back to Pfluggerville, a suburb of Austin, where they both grew up.

Wingate was already working for Keller Williams in an administrative role when they decided to move. She encouraged Battle to get his real estate license and work there as well. Wingate said she knew that home prices in Austin were substantially higher than in San Antonio and she thought Battle had the kind of personality that would make him successful as a Realtor. But she said she underestimated how competitive the market would be in the Austin area.

“I didn’t know that the market was going so crazy that they’re asking so much over the asking price and the inventory is extremely low,” Wingate said. “That was something I did not anticipate.”

Home prices in the Austin metro area were up 42% in May compared to the same time last year — the largest price jump of any large US metro area, according to Redfin. This spike in home prices has been caused, in part, by bidding wars. Redfin found that nearly three out of every four homes sold in Austin — 72% — sold for above the asking price, with the average house commanding a 9% premium in May. Redfin highlighted that more than 1,500 homes have sold for at least $100,000 over the asking price in the Austin metro area so far this year. During this same time last year, that number was 22.

Clayton Bullock is an Austin native and a second-generation Realtor who has been working in the city and the surrounding area since 2003. He says Austin has “undergone a historic price reset. And I don’t think we’re ever going to go back to our previous prices.”

Bullock says the spike in home prices has helped his business, but not as much as one might think.

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“We’re not necessarily, you know, making ten times the money because there just aren’t enough deals out there to be done,” Bullock said. “Sellers are not willing to sell because they don’t have a place to go. And so, while a seller can command a premium, if they don’t have a place to land, they’re not willing to list.”

Cindy Goldrick says she’s never seen anything like the current market in Austin, where she’s worked as a real estate agent since 1981.

“The market right now is the most challenging I’ve ever seen when you’re working with a buyer,” Goldrick said. “Listings, I mean, it’s money in the bank. There’s hardly a listing that goes on the market that isn’t sold in a very, very, very short time period.”

Clayton Bullock talks with Cindy Goldrick at an open house in West Lake Hills, Texas, a suburb of Austin.
One reason for the housing boom in Austin is Big Tech. Companies like Tesla, Facebook, Apple, Google and Oracle have either relocated or moved some of their operations to the greater Austin area, bringing high-earning tech workers with them.

“They’re still hiring thousands of jobs in the next few years,” Bullock said of the tech giants. “These aren’t mailroom jobs. They’re upper level executive and computer tech-level jobs that are six or seven figure earners who are looking for homes in Central and West Austin primarily, and we don’t have enough housing for them.”

Tesla founder and CEO Elon Musk tweeted as much in April, stating that there was an “urgent need to build more housing in greater Austin area!”

In May, there were 8,395 homes for sale in the Austin metro region, down 21.5% from the same time last year, according to Redfin.

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Out of the 87 biggest metro areas in the country, Austin was the fourth most popular destination for people to move to, according to search results by Redfin users. Nearly 40% of the searches for homes in Austin on Redfin were made by people outside of the city, and Redfin found that San Francisco was the most popular place that Austin home searchers were coming from.

Goldrick said her brokerage firm, Wilson & Goldrick Realtors, is on track to double last year’s sales. But after a year of working in this hectic market, she’s starting to feel burnt out.

“In a certain way, I wish it would calm down just a little, you know, especially when we’re representing buyers,” Goldrick said. “But I really don’t see it happening in the near future.”

Cindy Goldrick (center) talks with her colleague Julia Mistler and their client, Michelle Bastanjoo, at Bastanjoo's home in Austin.

For Battle, his first year as a Realtor has been rough. For months, he had yet to close a deal with a buyer or seller, but he’s hoping now his fortunes are starting to change. He is representing a buyer who recently had their offer of more than $800,000 accepted on a house listed for $780,000 in Leander, Texas, a suburb of Austin. The deal is set to close on July 13.

“I can’t say it’s an impossible market because there’s people that are doing it,” Battle said. “I understand that this business is something that grows exponentially. You could have one seller change your whole business, the whole landscape, your whole financial situation.”

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