Cannon is among thousands who have turned to selling real estate in the pandemic-triggered housing boom. They say they were drawn to real estate for its vitality during a time of economic instability, for the nature of the business: be your own boss, write your own post and, as the new agent said Oscar Toldeo, because “it’s fun.”
Membership of the National Association of Realtors reached more than 150 million for the first time in 2021, the group’s chief economist, Lawrence Yun, reported at the Chicago and Suburban Market Forecast events at mid-January.
The top three membership groups for Chicago-area real estate agents say their ranks have grown significantly in 2021, the hottest year for real estate in more than a decade. The Mainstreet Organization of Realtors, the largest suburban association, had 18,351 members, up 8.6% from the end of 2020. In most previous years, the group’s growth was order of 2%.
The Chicago Association of Realtors ended the year with 17,046 members, up 6.1% from the previous year. And Illinois Realtors, the statewide membership group, ended 2021 with 54,748 members, an increase of 6.8% over the year.
Membership of the three groups overlaps, but at catch-all Illinois Realtors, the ranks have swelled by more than 4,000 in 2020 and 2021.
“Real estate has remained safely open throughout the pandemic,” said Jeff Baker, CEO of Illinois Realtors. “Real estate people have kept working, and I think people who have felt the economic impact of the virus in their lives have seen it.”
A booming housing market generates a lot of business for real estate agents. Home sales in the Chicago metro area rose 14.5% in 2021 from 2020, according to data from Illinois Realtors released Jan. 20. This is on top of the 8.9% increase in 2020, when the housing boom only started in June. In total, the 2021 sales tally was more than 27,300 above 2019, the last normal year.
It is likely that in the following years, when the real estate boom subsides, some agents will leave the business, as happened after the real estate boom years of the early 2000s. A question for later agents will be whether if they are the first out.
Breaking into the business wasn’t easy, said Cannon, one of the latter agents. New officers are urged to “get out there,” she said, and socialize at the kids’ school or at sporting events. “But there was no going to soccer or hockey, no standing around the playground after the drop off,” she said. Instead, Cannon has started sending out printed postcards with some of its best recipes and contact information. “That’s where my first business came from,” she says.
Both Yun and Baker said the real estate industry appeals in part because it’s not a typical job in an office hierarchy. “You’re employed, but you’re an independent contractor,” Baker said. “You are responsible for your own success.”
Belle Jessen had experience in her own career before the pandemic.
She was a dancer in Southern California, working in commercials and other productions. That job evaporated during the pandemic and she moved to the Chicago area, eventually becoming a Bucktown-based Compass agent. Selling real estate in a fast-paced market, she says, is a bit like trying to make it as a dancer.
“It’s being available last minute for screenings, like being available for last minute casting in my old life,” she said, and “how you find work in productions really depends who you know”, a fundamental part of selling homes.
Marc Kaufman also felt prepared to handle customers, thanks to the focus on service and sales in the industry he had spent 30 years in: hospitality, one of the hardest-hit job sectors. by pandemic closures.
Kaufman wasn’t fired, he said, because he was in restaurant management, but towards the end of 2020 he moved into residential real estate.
“I work for myself,” said Kaufman, a Baird & Warner agent on the Gold Coast. “I have a flexibility that I never had,” and he hopes to take advantage of it in the years to come, as he nears retirement age.
For some new agents, real estate was a fascination before it became their profession.
Toledo, an agent for America Real Estate on the Southwest Side, had been intrigued by real estate since he was a teenager, and he turned to it after his job as a door-to-door salesman for a national company disappeared at the start of the pandemic. . In October 2021, he secured his first deal: he found a three-bedroom home in Ashburn for clients looking to move their babies out of a basement rental. This, Toledo said, made him “feel really good.”
Nate Mendes, now in his 50s, has been investing in real estate since he was a student at Loyola University and bought a three-unit income-producing apartment in Wicker Park. Mendes has an MD and an MBA in health care management and worked for two decades as an academic physician at Robert Morris University when it merged with Roosevelt University, coinciding with the dawn of the pandemic in March 2020.
The program he was on was going to shrink. Mendes went home with his partner and his children,” and my partner said to me, “You always liked real estate. Why don’t you do that?’ In October, Mendes joined the North Michigan Avenue office of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Chicago.
The skills Mendes has developed over years of working with students are a good fit for his new job, he said. “As a teacher, you have to listen to your students, understand what their needs and insecurities are,” Mendes said. Guiding home buyers through a low-inventory, high-demand housing market is much the same, he said.