After the housing bubble popped and the recession roiled the economy, the orientation classes Melanie Blakeney taught to new members of the Memphis Area Association of Realtors kept getting smaller and smaller.
Blakeney, CEO and executive vice president for the local trade organization for real estate professionals, watched as the organization’s membership levels dropped precipitously and fewer and fewer prospective agents came through the doors.
“They did get smaller,” Blakeney said. “We always had people coming into the business. It was just lower and the number of people leaving the business outpaced the number of people coming in.”
However, MAAR is starting to see a rebound in new members.
In the first five months of 2012, 68 new members joined MAAR. This year, the number jumped to 97 new members over the same period.
“They are definitely getting better,” said Blakeney, who will give an orientation to 21 more new members next week.
The new members are a welcome sight for MAAR after its ranks were thinned considerably over the last six years.
MAAR currently has 3,123 members, down from a high of 5,406 members in 2007 – just before the subprime fallout and Great Recession struck – and 3,797 three years ago.
Real estate agents began fleeing the business as the housing market was turned upside down. Some were career Realtors who retired or dropped out while others were “weekend warrior” agents who took on the career part-time.
The decrease did not come as a surprise. Because real estate agents work on a commission and there were fewer – and cheaper – home sales, a decrease was expected.
The Memphis area wasn’t alone in seeing the number of agents dwindle. The drop in the number of local real estate agents mirrored a nationwide trend.
Currently, National Association of Realtors membership sits at 997,148, down from the October 2006 peak of 1.3 million members, according to NAR.
Blakeney said the new members are a mix of agents who are re-entering the profession and others who plan on making real estate a career, with fewer untrained or part-time real estate agents joining the field.
“I’m seeing usually about half the people in the class are people returning to the business and the newer agents – it’s a variety, but I get the impression they’ve decide to get into real estate as a career and not, ‘This will be something fun to do for a little while,’” Blakeney said.
Amy Patterson, a Crye-Leike Realtors agent in Olive Branch, decided to make real estate a career after moving to the Memphis area from Oklahoma. Patterson grew up in a family that was steeped in the oil business, but she wanted to chart her own course.
“This is the first time in my life I’ve been able to choose my career,” said Patterson, who recently joined MAAR. “I wanted something to do that I could enjoy until I retired. This was a career choice for me.”
The increase in real estate agents joining MAAR comes as the local housing market is experiencing a steady rebound.
Shelby County totaled 1,457 home sales in May, up from 1,381 sales last May, according to real estate information company Chandler Reports, www.chandlerreports.com.
The total sales volume in May in Shelby County was $197.2 million, up 15 percent from $171 million at the same point last year, according to Chandler Reports.
And the average sales price last month was $135,374, up 9 percent from $124,005 in May 2012, according to Chandler Reports.
Year to date, the market also has improved. Shelby County’s 6,176 home sales through May 31 mark a 9 percent increase from 5,673 for the same period of 2012. This year’s total volume ($777.7 million) and average sales price ($125,925) are up from last year’s numbers ($650.8 million and $114,710, respectively) as well.
The average number of days a home in the Memphis area stayed on the market for the month of May dipped to a seven-year low for that month, according to MAAR’s Multiple Listing Service, which covers Shelby, Fayette, Tipton, Hardeman, Hardin, McNairy, and Lauderdale counties in Tennessee; DeSoto County, Miss., and Crittenden County, Ark.
The average market time for a home in May was 86 days, a 16.5 percent dip from 103 days in April and the lowest market time total for May since 2006, according to MAAR.