We can’t all peddle real estate, can we?
September 19, 2005
When times are good, everybody wants to sell real estate. And right now, times are very, very good.The upper valley’s real estate market is so hot that bartenders, waitresses and golf pros are scrambling to get a piece of the action, one longtime broker claimed.The Aspen Board of Realtors has 43 more members now than at the end of last year. Membership has also soared 31 percent since the end of 2002, when the local market was suffering with the rest of the national economy. Its current membership has climbed to a high of 602, which doesn’t include an unknown number of people who are licensed as real estate agents but don’t belong to the Aspen Board of Realtors.It’s probably no coincidence that the number of agents has soared in a year when Pitkin County is on track for record-breaking sales of $2 billion.”There’s no end to the number of intelligent, hard-working people trying to break in,” said Robert Ritchie, who has sold real estate in Aspen for 28 years and is a partner at Coates, Reid & Waldron.But boom times in the real estate market also attract people expecting easy money. They might score some listings and even a few sales, Ritchie said, but few are prepared to survive in the business long-term.”Ninety-eight percent of them wash out,” Ritchie said. “As soon as the market has any trouble at all, the established Realtors get the listings.”There’s a golden rule in the Aspen real estate market: 20 percent of the brokers get 80 percent of the listings, he said. Bob Starodoj, a broker with Mason & Morse who has sold real estate in Aspen since 1967, has seen the cycle before.”It’s like anything, when business is good it attracts more people,” he said. Some newcomers “from the cocktail set” seek instant payoffs but aren’t necessarily aware of or prepared for the hard work required to be a successful real estate broker.”They’re taking advantage of the market,” Starodoj said. “They think one or two sales can justify getting into the business.”Sometimes they are right. More often they aren’t, he said.Starodoj said it isn’t unique to Aspen to see a surge in real estate agents when the market is hot. He’s right. Membership leaped this year in the Colorado Association of Realtors. There were 22,356 members last year, compared to 25,681 this year.Carol Ann Jacobson Kopf, another longtime Aspen broker, said she doesn’t see as many people jumping into the business to skim the cream as she once did. Kopf said it was more common for opportunists to jump into the business when it was more of a cottage industry. Now professional standards make it more difficult for people to join if they aren’t dedicated to the profession, she said.Frank Smotherman, a Carbondale real estate agent since 1977 and owner of a realty firm, said the biggest difference he has witnessed lately is the interest among Aspen real estate firms to venture downvalley.When Elk Run subdivision in Basalt was developed in the late 1970s, it was impossible to drag Aspen real estate agents down to check out the property, Smotherman said. Now Aspen brokers scramble for listings in Basalt, Carbondale and Missouri Heights.Statistics tracked by the Colorado state government show just how big of a juggernaut the real estate business is in Pitkin County.During the first quarter of last year there were 1,072 people working for real estate sales, development and leasing companies in Pitkin County, according to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. That includes administrative assistants and other support staff on which firms pay unemployment insurance, according to a labor department spokeswoman. It doesn’t necessarily include all real estate brokers, who may not have unemployment insurance.During the first quarter of this year, the number of people employed in that sector swelled to 1,401. That’s growth of 329 people, or 31 percent, in one year.Ritchie cautioned people against changing careers to real estate sales. “If your friends are signing up, tell them to be careful,” he said. “The market is about to toughen up.”Disappearing inventory will spur greater appreciation, and inexperienced brokers will have trouble figuring out the nuances, he predicted.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is email@example.com