Real estate agents flocked to the profession in 2021. Will the trend continue?

  • The pace at which new members joined the trade association in 2021 set a record, a USA TODAY analysis of NAR data has found.
  • In 2021, the typical agent had 12 transactions, up from 10 in 2020.
  • 8% percent of realtors worked for a firm that was bought or merged in the past two years.

As the pandemic housing market was booming, so was the interest in a career selling real estate.

Membership in the National Association of Realtors grew from 1.48 million at the end of 2020 to 1.56 million at the end of 2021, according to a new report released by the organization.

But the pace at which new members joined the trade association in 2021 set a record, a USA TODAY analysis of NAR data has found.

In 2019, 43,920 new members joined the association compared with 2018. In 2020, 55, 533, new members joined the NAR, a 26% increase from the previous year’s addition. In 2021, that number ballooned to 100, 876, marking an 82% increase in the number of new people pursuing a career in real estate.

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Kalyani Dere, a former data analytics professional, entered the field of real estate in 2021. She says she was influenced by her son, Rohan, who earned his license while still in college and couldn’t stop talking about the hot housing market.

Kalyani Dere

“I knew people were relocating to this area during the pandemic,” says Dere, who works out of Glen Allen, Virginia. “And I wanted to catch that wave and make some money.”

At $407,600, the median existing-home sales price exceeded $400,000 for the first in May, marking a 15% increase from one year ago. 

Flexibility also played a big part in Dere’s decision.

“In my previous life, working in a rigid 8:30 am to 5:30 pm environment was suffocating and tiring,” says Dere, who holds an MBA and runs a business selling handmade pottery. “With real estate, I own my time and work when and how many hours I want.”

Another reason for the spike in new members was the rocky pandemic economy, says Jessica Lautz, vice president of Demographics and Behavioral Insights at NAR.

"At the beginning of the pandemic, of course, a lot of people had job losses," Lautz says. "And so this was a career that they could be their own boss and be an entrepreneur in the industry."

Now, as higher mortgage rates slow the housing market, will we see the same interest in the profession in 2022?

 Lautz doesn’t think the trend will continue at the same rate.

“With a strong job market, people may look for full-time employment elsewhere. Real estate can be difficult the first few years – to establish clients and a niche,” she says. “Additionally, real estate was a refuge for women caregivers who needed to juggle Zoom school and closed childcare facilities. Those have reopened allowing women to return to work full-time in other industries.”

Here are some highlights from NAR’s member profile report:

How much do real estate agents make?

The median gross income of Realtors increased to $54,300 from $43,300 in 2020.

Realtors with 16 years or more experience had a median gross income of $85,000 –  up from $75,000 in 2020. Realtors with two years or less experience had a median gross income of $8,800 – an increase from $8,500 in 2020.

Fifty-seven percent percent of members who have two years or less experience made less than $10,000 in 2021.

Switching careers to real estate

Realtors frequently have had careers in other fields prior to real estate, the most common being in management, business, and financial professions, followed by sales and retail. Only 4% indicated that real estate is their first career.

Real estate transactions

 In 2021, the typical agent had 12 transactions, up from 10 in 2020. The typical Realtor earned 16% of their business from repeat clients and customers and 20% through referrals from past clients and customers.

Real estate office affiliations

Fifty-four percent of Realtors are affiliated with an independent company. ·

Eighty-seven percent are independent contractors at their firms. The median tenure for Realtors with their current firm was five years, the same as last year. ·

Fifty-two percent of brokers had some ownership interest in their firm, and 36% reported having sole ownership of their firm.

Eight percent percent of Realtors worked for a firm that was bought or merged in the past two years.

Demographic characteristics

The typical real estate professional was a 56-year-old white female who attended college and was a homeowner. ·

Sixty-six percent of all Realtors were female, up slightly from 65% last year.

Fifteen percent of Realtors had a previous career in management, business, or finance, and 14% in sales or retail. Only 4% of Realtors reported real estate was their first career.

Seventy-seven of Realtors were white.

Eleven percent of Realtors were Hispanics/ Latinos

Eight percent of Realtors were Black/ African Americans

Five percent of Realtors were Asian/Pacific Islanders 

Eighty-two percent of Realtors reported they were fluent only in English.

Swapna Venugopal Ramaswamy is a housing and economy correspondent for USA TODAY.  You can follow her on Twitter @SwapnaVenugopal and sign up for our Daily Money newsletter here.