By Ken Sturtz
New agents, enticed by a hot market and flexible work, are pouring into the real estate business
Chelsea Dykeman has possessed a lifelong passion for real estate. Her dad bought and sold investment properties and her family moved several times when she was a girl. As an adult she still enjoys the feeling of moving into a new house or of touring a beautiful home.
So, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, forcing her family to shutter the pawn shop business she worked for, she decided to fulfill a long-held goal: getting her real estate license.
“It’s something I’ve always dreamed of doing and it took a very scary situation for me to actually have the opportunity to pursue it,” Dykeman said. “You have to have time to focus on it and I never really did, up until the shutdown.”
Dykeman received her license in the summer of 2020 and began working with Howard Hanna Real Estate Services in North Syracuse.
She wasn’t alone in deciding the time was right to become a real estate agent.
The pandemic prompted an exodus of workers from countless industries, but real estate was an exception. New agents poured into the profession, drawn by the promise of a hot market, flexible schedule, the ability to work from home and the relative ease of entering the field.
The National Association of Realtors reported 1,372,312 members in the United States in March 2020. Two years later, the group has approximately 159,000 more real estate agents within its ranks.
In Central New York, the number of real estate agents jumped 12% from 1,707 people in April 2020, to 1,915 in April 2022, according to the Greater Syracuse Association of Realtors.
When Dykeman made the decision to begin the online classes to prepare for her licensing exam, the 28-year-old wasn’t sure if she was embarking on a new career or a side gig. After all, she’d worked full-time at her family’s pawn business for years and at the time they expected to be closed for just a couple weeks. She finished her classes in a few months.
When she started with Howard Hanna that fall, Dykeman entered a real estate world that was still recovering from having been turned upside down earlier in the year.
In such a tight market it was challenging to help buyers find the right home. Sometimes she couldn’t get potential buyers in to see houses or there were restrictions and strict protocols. Dykeman said it sometimes felt like the sky was falling, but she handles stress well and that probably helped her to look past the chaos at the time and focus on growing her business.
Her efforts paid off. In 2021, her first full year, she registered $3 million in sales and earned a rising star award from Howard Hanna.
Dykeman said she has a large extended family that helped her find clients when she was getting started. She also focused on her social media presence. If someone sees one of her posts about a listing, they might take no action, but she says if they need an agent in the future they’re more likely to contact her.
Dykeman also benefited from the fact that her in-laws wanted to sell their house and downsize. They waited until she got her license and became her first clients.
She said that if not for the pandemic she might not have made the decision to switch careers.
“Honestly it was the best decision I ever made,” she said. “I was able to finally focus on getting that license and came out with a great career because of it.”
The influx of new real estate agents in Central New York hasn’t escaped the notice of veteran realtors and brokers. Teri Beckwith, an agent with Hunt Real Estate in Clay, said when any industry appears to be booming it’s only natural for those outside the field to want to get in on it.
“I’ve had more people approach me these last two years about becoming a real estate agent than I ever have in my 26 years,” Beckwith said.
Bill Galloway, owner of Century 21 Galloway Realty in Oswego, said he’s experienced his busiest year since he got into the real estate business decades ago. His office, which includes two dozen agents, finished first in the state among Century 21 franchises for total number of units sold. But during the pandemic he had several openings, including a few retirements.
“I really had to replace them so I started recruiting and now I have a number of new agents,” Galloway said.
While his new agents include a mixture of backgrounds, Galloway said several of them are younger and wanted to start careers in real estate right out of high school or college. While it’s not unheard of for agents to enter the field early in life, it’s something Galloway said he’s noticed is much more common among millennials.
“In the past it was more somebody retiring from a career and looking to start a new career or a person who was in between jobs and not sure what they wanted to do,” he said.
Newcomers are being drawn to real estate for a variety of reasons aside from a hot market.
As many workers during the pandemic considered changing careers, real estate was especially appealing in part because of the profession’s flexibility, said Chris Teelin, an associate broker with Howard Hanna Real Estate Services in North Syracuse. Instead of having to report to an office each day from 9-5, agents can work from home if they choose and decide what hours they’ll work, he said. Some agents utilized the flexibility to cut back on childcare expenses.
The investment of time and money required to get into the business is more modest than some other careers. And individuals can take the necessary classes online at their own pace and around work and family commitments.
“Most people have the ability to get their license,” Teelin said. “It’s within their reach.”
Building a successful business is another matter. One of the longstanding challenges of getting into real estate is that it typically takes a long time to become established before someone can actually start to reap the benefits, Teelin said. That can be especially difficult if a new agent doesn’t have another source of income when they’re getting started.
Joining an organization that properly trains new agents can make a big difference, he said. An office that makes a point of teaching its agents the fundamentals will allow them to get up and running sooner and focus on prospecting for clients.
One of the best tools for someone new to real estate is social media, particularly if that person has a strong social media presence they can leverage.
“That’s a surefire way to at least have a head start in real estate,” Teelin said. “And a lot of the people coming in are younger and grew up on social media, so that’s to their benefit for sure.”
Brooke Wills said the idea of going into real estate never crossed her mind until her boyfriend suggested it. He owns two rental properties that Wills had managed for him. He was impressed with the job she did and believed she’d have a knack for real estate.
“He said ‘Come on, I’ll pay to take your course,’” Wills said. “I honestly wasn’t really into it at first, but I’m very glad that I did take the course and follow through with it because I do love being a real estate agent.”
She spent a year working on her real estate license while still employed full-time as a teacher’s assistant. Anytime she had some free time or a day off she’d chip away at her online classes. It was the last thing she expected to be doing. The 25-year-old had studied human development in college and planned to go into social work before she began working at a series of daycares. She had also considered going back to school to become a teacher.
After receiving her license, Wills started with Century 21 Galloway Realty. In 2021, she handled more than $4 million in sales, putting her among the top few dozen Century 21 agents in New York state. She said she found many clients through an extensive network of friends and family as well as social media.
Wills also made a point to educate herself on the real estate industry as much as possible, taking as many training courses offered through Century 21 as she could. Beyond that, she said she worked hard to prospect for new clients through social media and networking. Persistence helped, too. Wills kept in touch with some clients for more than a year before ultimately listing their house for sale.
“You can’t just sit around and hope that business comes to you,” she explained. “It doesn’t work like that and a lot of people think it does.”
Beckwith agrees that real estate agents, especially new agents, need to be motivated and disciplined to be successful. She said the hot real estate market has fueled the impression that making a career as an agent is easy.
“I hate to say it, but once this bursts and things level out a little more there will be people that get out of the industry,” she said. “There’s unfortunately a huge failure rate, but I think that’s true of any sales profession.”
Beckwith said that whether or not a new agent will succeed long-term depends not so much on how the real estate market is doing, but rather on the individual agent and whether they’re willing to put in the effort to grow their business.
Sitting back and waiting for referrals won’t cut it, she said. New agents should be making connections and taking available opportunities, such as learning from top agents. They need to constantly be working on promoting the listings they have and generating new business.
“It’s those agents that will succeed,” Beckwith said. “The agents that just wait for the phone to ring will not.”