- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 1, 2004

Tech-savvy buyers and sellers these days don’t need a Realtor every step of the way. They use the Internet to virtually tour homes and gather their own research on schools, neighborhoods and comparable prices.

The new real estate reality has prompted discount brokers to slash commissions and offer rebates of 1 to 2 percent.

It’s all part of an industry that is constantly adapting to change, say Washington-area Realtors, who maintain an enthusiastic attitude about their profession.

Realtors say those who are considering joining their ranks should not be concerned: It’s still a great time to become a Realtor as long as you have realistic expectations and aren’t in it just for quick money.

Realtors say that they are here to stay and that their specific expertise is always going to be needed in a complex, dynamic field.

Brenda Small of Prudential Carruthers in the District says becoming a Realtor is not a decision that should be influenced by the market or other constantly changing variables.

“The decision to pursue a career in real estate should not be a market-driven one,” she says. “The right time to make any career transition should be after deep, personal thought regarding the reason for making it.”

Promises of “being your own boss” and “unlimited income” aren’t guaranteed and seldom occur without sacrifice and commitment, she says.

“The reality is that many at the entry level do not foresee the financial and time commitment required to build, sustain and grow a small business,” Ms. Small says.

Robert Israel, office manager with Gerlach Real Estate in Chevy Chase, says he recently had a few people visiting his office asking him about the pros and cons of the industry today.

Mr. Israel says he told them that Realtors continue to be critically positioned in the business because buyers and sellers still need an agent’s understanding of multifaceted issues.

“Real estate gets more complicated every year, and that’s what we do, is keep up to date on that,” Mr. Israel says.

To those who are unsure of entering the trade, Mr. Israel says: “It’s not very different from other industries. I tell them, ‘Make sure it’s something you really want to do.’ If you’re getting into it for quick money, it’s difficult to do.”

For prospective Realtors, Mr. Israel offers encouragement, telling them that his company will be very supportive but that they have to realize they have to be dedicated and make it through the start-up phase.

Others agree that no matter when they get their license and join the field, new Realtors need to be motivated self-starters who realize it is going to take time to make connections before making that first sale.

Realtor Joseph Himali, with Best Address Real Estate in the District, says new Realtors have to go into the business with a persevering, can-do attitude.

“When the market is strong, many new Realtors want to join the field because they think, ‘Well, how hard can it be?’” Mr. Himali says. “But unless you really want to wake up every day and get out there and beat the bushes, knowing that you may knock on 100 doors and be rejected 99 times, it’s hard to start out.”

Mr. Himali says it doesn’t matter how the market is performing or how low interest rates are. If you put your mind to it, there is no limit to the amount of money you can make as a Realtor.

“It doesn’t matter if the time is good or bad. People will always need to buy and sell,” he says. “It doesn’t matter if it’s up or down. It only matters that the market is churning.”

Mr. Himali says that although the seller’s market seems not as robust as it was last year, it is still strong, offering many opportunities.

“A lot of folks will say the sky is falling because they ‘only’ got two offers, instead of five,” Mr. Himali says.

Realtor Dale Mattison with Long & Foster in the District says he also doesn’t believe there is ever a “best time” to work toward getting your license.

“I don’t know if one time is better than another to become a Realtor, but it is extremely exciting and can be rewarding,” he says.

Mr. Mattison says he is not worried by the fact that his clients can look for homes online without his assistance. He says the Internet has helped him to provide better value to his clients by allowing him to answer the questions they come up with after doing their own research.

“When technology first started hitting, there was the fear that we’d be like travel agents — people can just go online and buy tickets now — which would make our position useless,” Mr. Mattison says.

But he says Realtors now have confidence that the service they provide is irreplaceable because buying a home is such a personal experience, with so many nuances.

“Technology and the Internet can’t address all of the issues involved, such as moving the family and making sure all of the pieces fit into place, considering the community lifestyle, and where the library and cleaners are,” Mr. Mattison says.

But there is no question that economic factors have attracted more people to real estate sales.

Trish Szego, chairman of the Northern Virginia Association of Realtors, says the NVAR now stands at more than 10,000 agents, with membership rising.

“Last year, we had over 200 new agents joining a month,” she says.

Now is a good time to enter the field, she says, and Realtors don’t need to fear that the need for their services will become diminished.

“Technology has changed the industry, but people are still going to need a Realtor to represent them and to guide them through the process,” Ms. Szego says.

Statistics indicate that even those searching for that dream home online are still hiring Realtors.

According to the 2003 National Association of Realtors profile of home buyers and sellers, 78 percent of buyers who searched on the Internet purchased homes through real estate professionals.

In addition, 70 percent of Internet-surfing home buyers visited a home with an agent as a result of their use of a real estate Web site.

Although these numbers strengthen the argument that agents are an integral part of real estate transactions, others contend that the role of the Realtor is rapidly changing and that agents need to be open to this transition.

Realtor Daniel R. Odio of DROdio Real Estate in Falls Church says the biggest value Realtors offer today is their ability to write a contract and negotiate the best deal and that buyers and sellers can take care of the advertising and searching.

“In terms of driving clients around and marketing the house — that side of real estate is already changing,” he says.

Mr. Odio offers his clients a 1 percent to 2 percent commission rebate at closing. He says they deserve this discount because they do a lot of the research on their own.

“I tell them to just call me when they find a property they really like,” he says.

Mr. Odio says the discount he offers threatens other full-service Realtors who will not cut their commissions. “I am not super-well-liked in the Realtor community,” he says. “Buyers want a new type of service. Realtors today need to be able to accept this new reality.”

Mr. Odio says Realtors should “change their old school of thought” and that it’s a good time to become a Realtor only if you’re younger and flexible and have the technical skills today’s buyers want.

“Our role is one of a counselor — helping them to do research on their own,” he says. “In the future, we’ll be deal makers, with not as much marketing.”

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