JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Mindboggling. That’s how Berta Odom describes the ongoing real estate market frenzy in northeast Florida, one that’s gripping much of the country.
“The average sales price of a single-family home [in St. Johns County]: $602,000,” Odom said.
Odom is president of the St. Johns County Board of Realtors. Approaching two decades in the business, during which she watched the boom before the bust in 2008, the current numbers are making even her jaw drop.
“A year ago it was $481,000,” she said, affirming an increase of roughly 25%.
At those prices and with houses selling at light speed, the median number of days on the market for a listing is currently 16, Odom said the industry is drawing a proportionate wave of would-be realtors to the table.
“They are averaging anywhere from 10 to 20 students in a [licensing education] class, and they have a class a couple of times a month.”
It’s easy to see why. Comparing this year’s average price to last year’s, an agent receiving a split commission at three percent would make more than $18,000 on a sale, about $3,600 more than the average house a year ago.
Odom said St. Johns County saw 70 new realtors licensed in the first five months of 2021, an average of 14 per month. She said before the boom, a typical month would produce “five to ten, ten being really high”.
“Get rich quick?” First Coast News asked her to speculate about the motivation.
“That’s it," Odom said. "But they don’t understand what it takes, I don’t think."
It takes a lot just to get licensed.
Hopeful realtors in Florida have to complete a 64-hour course, then score 75% or better on a state exam. Then, they must complete 45 hours of approved post-licensure courses.
That doesn’t factor in hours of continuing education periodically for the rest of their career.
Even that’s just the beginning. New licensees have to affiliate with a broker.
“You’ve got to market yourself," Odom said. "You’ve got to sell yourself, you’ve got to stand out.”
That takes time and money. Odom estimated that a typical realtor’s annual costs for board and listing memberships is about $1,000, which doesn’t factor in other potential overhead costs such as office space and supplies.
Vernesha Chambers at Star Quality Realty added people sometimes forget about the unorthodox work schedule.
“If you’re a person who genuinely wants to help people and have a passion for working hard, kind of unpredictable hours, and also being able to meet and help new people, then real estate is a great avenue for you,” Chambers explained.
Neither Odom nor Chambers implied that realtors can’t make a good income. They can and many do, but they cautioned that it doesn’t happen overnight in any market conditions.
“They’ve got to build those relationships around the community,” Odom said, referring to other industry professionals such as mortgage brokers, appraisers, lawyers, etc.
Because as much as marketing can help, it’s testimonials from industry pros and former clients that create sustained success.
“I’ve been in the business 19 years, and I live just about on my referrals,” Odom assured.
“In an average real estate transaction, about 33 hands touch the deal,” Chambers added, pointing out opportunity but also a requisite collaborative spirit.
“I think the more that you can learn and educate yourself within the business, and the more individuals that you know personally who you’ve done work with, who you’ve built relationships with," Chambers explained. "You’re able to provide a better overall experience for your customer.”
Odom had another caveat for those looking to ease into the industry while working another job.
“In my opinion – I don’t care what market it is – you cannot do real estate part time,” Odom admonished, citing the need to be time-flexible, available sometimes at all hours of the evening or early morning, or customers will look elsewhere.
To those truly in it to make a quick buck, Chambers cautioned that clients can sense greed, and there are simply too many dedicated real estate agents available to get away with that mentality.
“Do you really care about me and me finding the best home for my family or for my situation?” she asked from a customer’s point of view. “Or are you just trying to make sure that you get a fat check at the end of the day?”
And while she hadn’t yet become a realtor in 2008, Chambers knows how greed drove prices up, and ultimately to an inevitable crash.
“There were too many [real estate professionals] basically trying to max out people’s budget, and then they were not able to actually have an affordable mortgage payment,” Odom explained.
That, Chambers pointed out, can have a disastrous effect on neighborhoods anywhere, as foreclosures pile up.
As has been discussed exhaustively, most industry pros agree the market will have to correct; the answers differ about how soon, how much, and for how long.
However, assuming it does, eventually if not inevitably, the industry will likely weed out naturally those who lack another vital quality: Commitment.
“All that goes up must come down, so that’s not sustainable,” Chambers said with the confidence of a realtor who’s in it for the long haul.
“When it dries up it dries up very, very quickly, and you’ll get a sale once every couple months,” Odom predicted based on her experience of the 2008 crash.
That’s not to dissuade anyone, just a picture of reality, both women said. Chambers assured that the industry always needs qualified and ethical people, not those who think it’s just showing up and opening doors. She finished with another encouraging message for those with a passion for what a career in real estate offers.
“You’ll always be successful if you’re doing what you love and you’re doing things the right way.”