Figures show more agents are signing on

By Susan Edmunds

Real estate agent George Damiris pictured in Ponsonby. Photo / Getty
Real estate agent George Damiris pictured in Ponsonby. Photo / Getty

Real estate agents are returning to the industry as the housing market heats up, but numbers are still well below their 2008 peak.

At the end of July, 12,923 real estate agents were active in New Zealand, almost 900 more than at the end of May. In March 2008, the number peaked at 21,734.

Michael Williams, who deals with recruitment inquiries for Barfoot and Thompson, says the agency is always recruiting. But he says there has been a big increase in interest.

The agency offers a five-day course for those wanting to join and usually runs one 12-person course a month. This month, it has three.

He says it can be expensive to become a salesperson. It costs about $3000 to do a course, register and pay licensing fees. On top of that, it will be several months before someone can expect to earn any money. "Some don't make it," he says. New agents need three to six months' worth of income saved.

Most firms pay their agents purely by commission, although REINZ chief executive Helen O'Sullivan says a growing number offer beginners a retainer.

Williams says Barfoot's salespeople can earn up to 80 per cent of the commission charged on a sale. Agencies' commissions generally range from 3.5 per cent to 5 per cent of the sale price.

Williams says at present, with an average sale price of more than $592,000 reported by his agents in Auckland, that is providing a good income. He says most salespeople average a sale a month.

But REINZ data shows there were only 6035 unconditional sales in August, so half of the agents licensed made no sales.

O'Sullivan says there are fewer part-timers in the industry now than at the peak of the market because of the extra regulation and costs involved. The increase in agents is slow and steady, rather than a huge influx. "It takes a while to enter the industry," O'Sullivan says. "The course is six weeks if it's done full time and then you have probably another six months' probation period where you're limited in what you can do before you're unleashed on the public. It does mean there are some barriers to entry."

O'Sullivan says some real estate agents never make any money and many are surprised at the level of work required. Some have unrealistic expectations of earnings.

"People want to view properties after hours. It's extremely hard work. People who are prepared to work hard can do quite well."

She says anyone who turns their cellphone off at 6.30pm will likely never make any money.

One agent who has quit the game, who did not want to be named, says she found the ultra-competitive industry hard to deal with. "I don't mind a bit of competition but some of it was just nastiness."

O'Sullivan says housing turnover is only now creeping up to two-thirds of the 2007 level, so there are still not as many transactions to go around.

"You have to be pretty committed to be in it. Unless you're actively selling it's a very unprofitable way of life."

Currently, about 70,000 properties are listed for sale. There were 10,365 new listings last month, a 2.4 per cent lift on the same time last year.

Most of the country's real estate agents are in Auckland, where more than 5000 people hold licences, followed by Canterbury with 1403 and Wellington with just over 1000.

George Damiris joined Barfoot and Thompson's Ponsonby office last year. A knee injury forced him to stop working as a builder.

"I thought it was a natural progression from building homes to selling them," Damiris says. "I came into it with no false pretences that I was going to be any good at it but I really enjoyed it."

Friends had told him to be prepared for months or even years without income but he quickly started earning.

He put that down to partly the luck of the market - very buoyant in Central Auckland. In a good month, he says his income is "way above" what he earned as a builder. Every so often there would be a bad month with a small pay cheque. "But in general it is better."


Sales pay better so far

George Damiris (picture) joined Barfoot and Thompson's Ponsonby office last year. A knee injury forced him to stop working as a builder.

"I thought it was a natural progression from building homes to selling them," Damiris says. "I came into it with no false pretences that I was going to be any good at it but I really enjoyed it."

Friends had told him to be prepared for months or even years without income but he quickly started earning.

He put that down to partly the luck of the market - very buoyant in Central Auckland. In a good month, he says his income is "way above" what he earned as a builder. Every so often there would be a bad month with a small pay cheque.

"But in general it is better."

- Herald on Sunday

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