2009 Took Its Toll On The Real Estate Industry

I guess it’s no surprise that 2009 was a tough year for the real estate industry but I’ve just run across some information that gives us a pretty good idea of just how bad it was. After losing 4,000 agents in 2008, the Chicago area lost another 1,000 agents in 2009. That’s a 7.6% decline on top of last year’s 25% drop, bringing the total down to 12,054 as of early February. I guess these agents ran through all their relatives and friends – or they’re no longer on speaking terms with them.

Meanwhile, business hasn’t  been good for the brokerages either. Realogy, which is probably the largest brokerage organization, just reported a loss of $262 MM on revenue of $3.9 B. In case you didn’t know (most people don’t), Realogy is the parent organization of the following brokerages:

  • Coldwell Banker
  • Century 21
  • ERA
  • Better Homes & Gardens Real Estate
  • Sotheby’s International Realty (and you thought they were high end)
  • NRT

How do you charge outrageous commissions and still lose money? For starters, it doesn’t help if you have a huge overhead and spend a lot of money on advertising of questionable value. However, the biggest issue is that Realogy was taken private in 2007 by Apollo Management, a private equity investment firm. As with most private equity deals this one was heavily leveraged and today Realogy still has around $6.7 B of debt from that deal. Oh…and they have negative equity – close to $1 B worth – which is appropriate given that most of their former clients also have negative equity. Things got so bad last fall that Realogy was on the brink of bankruptcy when Carl Icahn stepped in at the last minute and saved them.

BTW, I find Realogy’s so-called strategy interesting. Either they’re not too bright in having all these brokerages that compete with one another or they’re smart enough to realize that there really isn’t any real competition between them. What do you think?

Anyway, Realogy’s woes are symptomatic of the entire real estate industry. RealTrends and Bloomberg recently reported that the dollar value of real estate commissions dropped by 6.2% last year. So, that’s about in line with the decline in the number of real estate agents in Chicago, which makes sense.

But what does all this mean for you? I’m afraid not much. There are still more real estate agents than there is productive work for them (much more on that topic in upcoming posts). And even if Realogy closed the doors on all their brokerages I maintain that it would have zero impact on the real estate industry because all those realtors would simply get new business cards with a different broker’s name on them. At least that’s the way it works with the independent contractor model (more on this some day soon also).

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