As Second-career Move, Some Say They're Sold On Real Estate New Agents Work Long Hours For Low Pay. But Experience Can Pay Off.

Posted: March 18, 1994

When corporate downsizing in the insurance industry claimed Judy Peterson's job four years ago, she was stunned.

"I walked in on Monday and they said, 'Gosh, you don't need to come back.' I was absolutely devastated," recalled Peterson, of Chesterbrook. She had been a supervisor for an insurance company for eight years and had no inkling that her job was in jeopardy.

Peterson initially took time off to care for her seriously ill mother. Then she took the 60 hours of real estate courses required for sales licensing, passed the state examination and in July 1992 joined the Devon office of Roach Bros. Realtors as a sales agent.

Choosing real estate in a midlife career change is common, based on interviews with a sampling of area practitioners. Roach Bros., for example, counts among its ranks agents from such diverse prior jobs as bakery owner, school principal and restaurant manager. The reasons people cite for going into real estate range from job loss or dissatisfaction to early retirement to the prospect of earning more money.

Judy Peterson now works 10 or 12 hours a day, plus plenty of weekends. ''There are not many days I don't work. It's like starting any business. You're going to put in a lot of time," she said without complaint.

And like most agents, she is an independent contractor working on

commission. "There's no salary, no benefits. It's a risk." But Peterson, who wants to continue taking courses and become licensed as a broker, sees high earnings potential for those who "work smart and hard." And, she added, ''I'm far, far happier."

So is Diane Ciarlello, of Tredyffrin, who said she took a nearly two-decade detour - as a corporate secretary who rose to middle management and reared three children along the way - before finding a niche selling houses.

"When other kids were reading the funnies, I was reading the real estate ads," she recalled. But it wasn't until she was working late one Friday in 1989 that she decided it was time to be her own boss. "I said, 'This is crazy.' "

Ciarlello quit her administrative job and got her sales license. In January 1990, she began selling houses with Century 21 John D. McAllister Inc. in King of Prussia. The firm provides various support services, she said. "The rest is up to you."

Such stories do not surprise Robert Wicker, a Florida-based career development director with Century 21. Wicker said that a recent survey of people enrolling in his organization's education program found an influx of people coming from management. "Frankly, that's a person we hadn't been seeing before."

G. Kurt Davidyan, of Gladwyne, rose through the executive ranks of SmithKline Beecham to a vice presidency, leaving in 1986. "I took early retirement and decided to have some fun in real estate out here," said Davidyan. "I've always been fascinated by the old estates on the Main Line and knew them by heart." In February, he and colleague Carol L. Nichols opened a new agency, Davidyan & Nichols Real Estate Inc. in Gladwyne.

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) had no statistics reflecting the extent to which real estate is a second career for its members. But this week it released results of a 1993 survey to which 2,300 member agents and brokers responded nationwide.

The median net income of full-time sales agents in 1992 was $23,100, up 22 percent from the last survey in 1986, according to NAR. The median represents the middle point between the upper and lower extremes. Agents typically worked at least 45 hours a week. Experience is important. Median income for salespeople for their fifth year in the business was 26 percent higher than for their second year, according to survey figures.

Median 1992 net income of the brokers in the survey was $38,000, a 9 percent increase from 1986. Brokers, who must meet more stringent licensing requirements than sales agents, typically had spent 14 years in the business. Sales agents had a median age of 46 and typically had six years' experience in real estate, according to the profile.

The survey also found that 58 percent of full-time agents were women, although they earned a median income of $21,800, nearly $4,000 less than their male counterparts.

Practitioners locally cited income figures for sales agents that are higher than the median figures reported by the NAR. But they stressed that a rookie's first year almost always is a lean one despite the long hours it entails. "It might take nine months for that first sale," said one office manager.

And anyone thinking of selling real estate should consider the intense competition. The Pennsylvania Real Estate Commission reports that as of January there were 3,195 people in Delaware County with sales licenses, although that figure does not mean all of those people were actively selling.

"If you don't work at it, nothing is going to come into your pocket," said Carl Schoepe of Newtown Square. Schoepe joined the Weichert Realtors office in Wayne about seven years ago. Before that, Schoepe said, he used to design dental offices and sell the equipment used in them.

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