NAR’s Member Profile Reveals Drop In Realtors’ Median Income

Despite the pandemic and the shortage of active listings, the membership of the National Association of Realtors (NAR) grew by 5.7% in 2020 over 2019. Perhaps it was because people lost their hourly or salaried jobs and moved toward self-employed occupations such as real estate.

Some of those new Realtors just might want to reconsider their career choice when they read NAR’s 2021 Member Profile based on 18,209 respondents. Here are some of the results, bearing in mind that roughly half of licensed real estate agents are not Realtors, a term only members of NAR can use. I consider NAR members (“Realtors”) the agents who are serious about real estate, since Realtor dues are about $500 per year. Licensees don’t join a Realtor brokerage unless they hope and expect to justify that expenditure.

Real estate has always attracted people who perceive it as a high income profession. They don’t realize that the “80/20 rule” applies as much to real estate as it does to any profession. While that rule would suggest that 20% of Realtors earn 80% of the income, it’s actually worse. I would estimate that 10% of us earn 90% of the income.

I’ve been a Realtor for nearly 20 years, so I know a lot of fellow agents, yet it continues to surprise me that most listings in my own city are by agents — usually Realtors — I’ve never heard of.  Looking at the six active listings in Golden as I am writing this column, I’ve only heard of one of the listing agents, and he had only 10 sold listings in the past 12 months. Another of the six had one sold listing, a third agent had two sold listings, and a fourth agent had zero sold listings in the last 12 months. (I had 25 sold listings.)

According to NAR, the sales volume per Realtor dropped to $2.1 million. With our median sales price in Denver’s MLS at $438,239 in 2020, that’s less than five closings per Realtor.

The median gross income of Realtors has never been over $50,000 per year, and it fell 13% from $49,700 in 2019 to $43,330 in 2020, according to the Member Profile. And that is gross income. Realtors are typically self-employed and have lots of expenses, with the median for 2020 being $5,330. That brings the median net income down to $38,000. For Realtors who specialize in residential real estate, the median net income for real estate activities in 2020 was even lower —$23,500. Depending on family size, that is at or below the poverty level!

73% of residential specialists said that real estate activities provided 75% or more of their personal income. 56% of residential Realtors say that it is their only occupation. 29% say it has never been their primary occupation.

Realtors with 16 or more years in the business had a median gross income of $75,000 in 2020, down from $86,500 in 2019. Realtors with 2 years or less in the business had a median gross income of $8,500, compared to $8,900 in 2019.  Welcome to your new profession!

Missing from the NAR report is how many members (who probably thought real estate was their path to wealth) dropped out in their first or second year of membership.

The largest expense for most Realtors is vehicle expenses —$1,200. (My largest expense is, no surprise, advertising!)

Of the respondents to NAR’s survey who specialize in residential real estate, 23% reported no transactions in 2020. Another 32% reported between 1 and 5 transactions in 2020. The median was 4 transactions for males and 5 transactions for females. Notably, the median for White/Caucasian residential Realtors was 7 transactions, compared to between 2 and 3 transactions for other racial groups.

Here are some other findings from the 2021 Member Profile that I found interesting.

The median age of a Realtor is 54, unchanged from when I entered the business (as a 54-year-old) 19 years ago.

The typical Realtor has 8 years’ experience. 17% of residential Realtors said it was their 1st career. 49% said it was their 2nd career, and 34% said it was their 3rd or more.

79% of respondents were “very certain” they would remain in the business another two years.

Most Realtors worked 35 hours per week in 2020, down from 36 hours in 2019. (I work at least 60 hours/week and am still married…)

Text messaging is the top method of communication that members use with their clients, at 93%, followed by phone (90%) and email (89%).

88% of Realtors work as “independent contractors,” meaning they live on commission income alone, have no tax withholding and pay all their own expenses.

Realtors change firms a lot. The median tenure of Realtors with their current firm is five years.

65% of Realtors are females, up from 64% last year. (As I understand it, RE/MAX broke the gender barrier back about 1970. Before that, our industry was virtually all men — and they wore suits and ties to work.)

82% of Realtors own their own home, and 37% own a secondary property.

86% of brokerages are independent, non-franchised, mostly with a single office and typically have only two full-time licensees.

The typical residential brokerage has operated for 14 years. (That’s us! Rita and I founded Golden Real Estate in July 2007.)

Brokerages typically got 30% of their customer inquiries in 2020 from referrals by past clients, 25% from repeat business with prior clients, 10% from their website, and 10% from social media. (Golden Real Estate gets well over 75% of its business from readers of this column, which has appeared every week without fail for over 15 years.)

Firms with only one office typically had 18 transactions in 2018. (Golden Real Estate does much better, closing 45 seller sides and 22 buyer sides in the last 12 months.)

Of respondents to NAR’s survey, 57% were White/Caucasian, 20% were Hispanic/Latino, 16% were Black/African American, and 8% were Asian/Pacific Islander. 60% were female and 38% were male. 89% were heterosexual, 3% were gay/lesbian, and 6% preferred not to say.