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Slump pushes some real estate agents out

Brenda Potvin sold insurance for the better part of two decades before jumping into the white-hot real estate market three years ago.

"It sounded good at the time," says Potvin, who worked two years with RE/MAX before moving on to Keller Williams.

Then the real estate market turned cold, and the Medford woman began looking for other options. Last summer, she began marketing wellness products over the Internet. When the opportunity came to watch her 11-week-old granddaughter while her son was away in the National Guard, she decided it was time to leave real estate.

"The market is what it is," she says. "Right now, I run a home business and I'm able to talk to people, which is huge for me because I like the people contact."

Potvin is one of a rapidly growing number of real estate agents who are deactivating their licenses or letting them expire during the market lull.

The number of local real estate agents surged during a four-year period beginning in 2002, growing by nearly 50 percent before cresting in mid-2006.

There were 811 agents in 2002, and 18 additional licenses were issued in 2003. Spurred by the heavy sales activity in 2004, 130 newcomers entered the field and another 89 transferred their licenses to local real estate offices in 2005. Their numbers continued to grow until June 2006, when an all-time high of 1,146 licensed brokers was recorded.

The trend has definitely reversed. Gary Stine, chief executive at Southern Oregon Multiple Listing Service, anticipates there will be 10 percent fewer licensed agents by year's end, when local real estate offices report their numbers. The Oregon Association of Realtors projects a statewide decline of 11.5 percent.

Local, state and National Association of Realtors annual fees add up to $500, a sizable sum when an agent's sales dry up.

"When the market is slow like this, it's a business decision for a lot of people," Stine says.

Agents are required to have licenses on file with a real estate company to sell. Brokers, who meet state requirements, can also qualify to be sole practitioners. Licenses are issued by the Oregon Real Estate Agency in Salem and are good for two years, renewable on the agent's birthday.

"I was one of the lucky ones, because I was still doing good business," Potvin says. "I know agents didn't make a penny this year, but I had a lot of referral business. I didn't leave because I wasn't making any money, but it's a hard and expensive career. If I didn't have other stuff going on in my life, I would probably hold on. But my granddaughter is such a huge incentive."

Her license won't expire until November 2008.

"I have until then to figure out if I'm in or out," Potvin says.

Kara Anselmi of Shady Cove worked for Fred Meyer 18 years before moving into real estate at Re/MAX Realty Group in 2004. She had been a licensed assistant for two agents.

"When the market slowed down, they couldn't afford to pay the fees and my salary and it wasn't a good time to go off on my own," Anselmi says. "All of the sudden I'm not working and I'm on vacation. We've talking about what I want to do. Do I want to start another career and put in the time?"

She says some agents who want to continue in the field may have to find part-time jobs to make ends meet until the tide turns.

Diana Thames, late of the Re/MAX Realty Group, said she loved her stint in real estate after seven years working in an oral surgeon's office. But financial realities dulled the luster of the profession for her.

"I'm getting married and needed a paycheck every month, this doesn't really work having three boys," she said.

Then there is Leo Ford, who was formerly with Esquivel & Associates. Ford worked the local real estate market for 11 years, handling deals until recently when he moved to Maui.

"I was closing three deals a month until I left," Ford says. "My biggest problem (in Hawaii) is slowing down. The most used term around here is 'No worries' and I'm still going 100 mph."

He says the rapid appreciation that drew so many agents into the market masked reality.

"I called it four years of stupid, because sellers and buyers drove prices so high," he says. "I saw it coming and so did the other long-timers. We expected this to happen and prepared. The newbies were having a ball signing papers and making 20 to 30 grand in a couple of months. Right now, the best thing is for an agent to stay out unless they've been around long enough to get repeat business."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or e-mail business@mailtribune.com.

Brenda Potvin has given up on her real estate career, at least until the housing market improves. She is currently marketing products on the Internet and helping to care for her 11-week-old granddaughter, Mira Rundle. - Bob Pennell