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Great Resignation quitters are rushing to get real estate licenses. Coldwell Banker’s CEO explains why that is, and how he keeps his team happy

May 2, 2022, 7:07 PM UTC

From January 2021 to January 2022, the top trending “how to become” career search was a real estate agent, according to Google. The surge in search popularity for jobs without traditional bosses—such as pilots, physical therapists, and realtors— reflected a nationwide desire for more autonomy amid the restrictions of the pandemic. 

However not all dream careers remained as appealing as The Great Resignation began to gain momentum. Globally, the mass resignation of pilots continued into 2022. And beyond pilots, a surprising number of physical therapists also exited their careers. However, despite The Great Resignation raging on and attrition rates remaining high, there is one industry that is weathering the storm quite well—real estate. 

Real estate licenses are the new trendy ticket to flexible and lucrative work

Between 2020 and 2021, more people than ever—over 156,000—became realtors, which is a 60% surge as compared to the two years prior, as reported by The New York Times. With the current median home price being about $428,000, many newcomers are lured by the magnitude of potential five-figure commissions.

In reality, the median annual wage for real estate sales agents was $48,340 in May 2021, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. But the salary potential for a determined individual could be significantly higher, according to Ryan Gorman, CEO of Coldwell Banker Real Estate, with some agents joining the top 1% of earners in the country.

“I think many people have gone through the journey over the past number of years now of exploring, I’ll call it self employment, and perhaps the kind of role that is both flexible and knows no boundaries,” Gorman told Fortune. “And there is no more boundaryless role than a real estate agent. So we literally have real estate agents—with the same license that anyone can obtain over the next few months—who enjoy an income of seven and even eight figures, because they’ve realized that they can get out of it what they put into it. There is no one telling you what the limit is to your potential.”

According to new data from Coldwell Banker Real Estate, out of 1,405 licensed real estate agents or brokers that work primarily in residential real estate aged 21-75, the majority continue to find real estate to be a desirable career industry. Citing work/life balance, increased income and gratitude for having a job, 60% of agents surveyed say the pandemic has made zero impact on their future career plans as an agent, and approximately one quarter say it has made them more interested in remaining an agent.

“We had the number one satisfaction rate in the industry and I’m thrilled that the rate is so high,” Gorman told Fortune. “Our ethos is to help agents live a more exceptional life. In doing so we have to support them with technology, with programs, services, tools, managerial support, coaching, all of these assets we bring to be able to achieve that. So we believe in it very deeply. We strive to deliver on it every day, and apparently it’s working.”

The true culprit behind workers quitting during the Great Resignation was toxic company culture, per a new study by Real Estate Witch, 31% of respondents cited a toxic workplace characterized by “discrimination, sexual harassment, verbal abuse, and poor work-life boundaries,” as the reason they left their previous role. The advantage that Coldwell Banker Real Estate has, citing their survey, is high employee satisfaction. Among all the represented companies, Coldwell Banker affiliated agents were the least likely to change affiliation in the next two years, per the survey results.

The question is, why?

The secret sauce behind high retention and satisfaction

Beyond home seller profits soaring in what the company calls a “hot market,” Gorman explains that the secret sauce for happy real estate agents is a company culture that promotes a true depth of care. The fusion of personal freedom and structural mentorship is the winning combination that keeps agents content as part of the Coldwell Banker family, according to the executive.

“I think that autonomy itself is incredibly attractive,” Gorman told Fortune. “But when it’s not coupled with tremendous support, it can be very challenging. I think within Coldwell Banker, we’ve managed to couple autonomy of our agents with tremendous support. So we are always here for them. We always try to make sure that we are looking out over the horizon to ensure that agents who are with us know that we’re looking out for their future at all times and making sure we’re equipping them with everything they need to succeed.”

The future of real estate

Despite the upward trend in real estate license acquisitions, and the glamourization of the career through popular Netflix shows like “Selling Sunset” and “Selling Tampa,” as little as 10 percent of newcomers will last long enough to make a full-time living selling homes. 

“One of the things that happens in our industry is people get licensed, they don’t find immediate success and they leave because it’s a commission only career,” Gorman told Fortune

Anywhere from 85 to 90% of realtors quit their profession within the first five years, citing Adfenix. In addition, some experts say that the country is headed for another housing market crash, which could affect the viability of many realtor’s careers. However, Gorman is optimistic about the future, and thinks the market will stay strong for years to come because of the basic laws of supply and demand.

“So we think of a very long time horizon,” Gorman told Fortune. “The number of listings that are on the market at any point in time are currently insufficient to meet demand and have been insufficient for quite some time. I do believe the dearth of inventory is likely to continue for the foreseeable future. I do not believe that we will be able to magically construct sufficient inventory to anywhere near meet the demand that we have today. So even in a rising interest rate environment or a rising inflationary environment or other challenges, I believe that demand today is so far outstripped by supply that even the near term is likely to continue to be strong. Speaking long term, I believe very deeply in the overall real estate market for sure.”

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