Can a Part-Time Real Estate Agent Get the Job Done?

Chris O'Brien became a part-time real estate agent for Re/Max in Doylestown, Pa. about 18 months ago because the economy had him feeling a little uncertain in his full-time sales position in the health care field. Now O'Brien is up against backlash from full-time agents, who have recently released ad campaigns and internet videos criticizing part-timers as not committed enough to make the best deals in the current market.

So can a part-time agent provide everything you need as a homebuyer or seller?

Even if the economy wasn't an issue, starting out part-time is a good financial move, says this married father of two kids, ages 2 and 3. "This is how we all start," O'Brien says. "Being in a sales job, it takes a long time to build up your business. It could be three or six months of hurting before you get your first or second sale. Starting part-time is a good opportunity to build your prospect list while still getting paid [from your other job]."

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He says his father, Pat O'Brien, was part-time for about 20 years while working as a high school math teacher, only switching to being a full-time agent after retiring from education.

Many part-time agents with 2 to 5 clients might tell you that they have more time to devote to you, the client, because they are not juggling 15 or 30 listings; whereas a full-timer might say she has positioned herself as being better focused on and in-tune with the industry so she can better meet your needs. The debate over using a part-time versus a full-time agent can leave some homeowners and buyers wondering what criteria to use when deciding how to choose a Realtor.

The median hours per week a Realtor -- those who are members of the National Association of Realtors -- works is 40, with almost half (41 percent) working fewer than 40 hours per week, the NAR discovered in a survey of its members. The NAR says 30 percent work between 20 and 39 hours a week and 11 percent work less than 20 hours a week. Of course some work over time: 45 percent work 40 to 59 hours and 15 percent work 60 hours or more. There are 1.1 million Realtors out of 1.85 million active licensees.

"Our assumption is that most of the serious full-time professionals are Realtors, and that many of the non-member agents are part time," says NAR spokesperson Walt Molony. Hopefully, Molony didn't mean to imply that non-member part-timers aren't "serious" about real estate.

Full-time selling is heavily focused on by real estate agencies, however, at times pitting the sales associates against one another. One Re/Max online recruiting brochure from Re/Max Midlands in South Africa, says, "The RE/MAX Concept discourages the unprofessional and part-time sales associate. Sales people who wish to work only part-time are not prepared to invest upfront their fair share of the office expenses." Notice "part-time" is mentioned in the same breath as "unprofessional." Apparently in that office peer pressure breeds a healthy and productive work environment. (I wonder what they get as a sales incentive!)

Bill Gassett, a Re/Max agent in Metrowest, Mass., has a line on his website that says, "It is rare to see new or part-time agents working at RE/MAX." Perhaps that's because there is a corporate culture brewing to shoo them away, as HousingWatch research revealed that the corporate attitude prevalent in other continents stretches to North America as well.

A Re/Max broker in Canada took a bold step with a giant bus shelter billboard that says: "Warning! Don't use a part-time agent."

Michael Polzler, head of Re/Max Ontario-Atlantic Canada, launched the campaign this past spring throughout the greater Toronto area, reported The Vancouver Sun. The campaign followed a letter Polzer paid to have printed in an industry publication, where he declared it's time to "take back the industry." He said in an interview: "I don't believe part-time agents can do the job."

And that's the image even Re/Max corporate in the U.S. portrayed when in August it launched a series of 10 videos in a viral marketing effort on You Tube. In an attempt to recruit more full-time real estate agents, as well as lure clients, Re/Max took a potshot at industry part-timers in one of the videos, leaving some of its own agents a bit flabbergasted.

In the "Side Job" viral ad, which has received about 7,500 hits on YouTube since it was uploaded to the Re/Max channel on August 25, a couple's real estate agent fields their phone call while he is flipping burgers and practically flipping off customers at a greasy, noisy diner, undoubtedly his full-time day job. As he fumbles with his cell phone and spatula, he tells the couple that there has been lots of interest in their home. Though after the six months they say it's been on the market, the couple finally wises up and says it's time to get a new agent: A Re/Max agent. But what viewers really take away is: "Use a full-time agent."

"[S]tupid,stupid, stupid video," one Re/Max agent put in the You Tube comments section. "[W]ay to alienate your struggling agents," wrote another.

"The videos are meant to be entertaining, offbeat and funny and not taken too seriously," Shaun White, the VP of corporate communications for the Denver-based Re/Max LLC, told HousingWatch. "We have nothing against part-time agents. We understand, especially in these economic times, that a lot of people might have to work a couple of part-time jobs and that's fine and we hope they can go on to a great career in the future."

Still, some agents who spoke to HousingWatch were offended by the video. "I don't like this," says Colleen Sachs, a part-time Re/Max agent who also runs a software business from her home in Ironwood, Mich., in that state's Upper Peninsula.

"Re/Max is making an implication [with the video] that you have to be on call 24/7, and you don't," she says. "If I am doing something for a software client or out on a showing, I am not answering my phone for other clients. It'll go to voice mail and I'll return the call later. That's no different than a full-time agent."

Sachs, who wrote a blog post entitled "Confessions of a Part-Time Real Estate Agent," partners with another part-time agent whose other job is bartending. She says that most agents are working 40-plus hours a week, no matter what they are doing.

Mike Rohrig, a full-time principal broker at the Sunset Group in Portland, Ore., who once worked for two years for Re/Max, says his mom was a part-time agent in the 1980s when he was a kid. "She worked while I was in school and made it work other times in the day, much like I am sure thousands of other part-time agents did."

There was a time, he says, that he saw it as bad that his fellow agents were getting second jobs to fill in the gaps, but that eventually he saw that some agents could still keep up with their real estate clients. Some couldn't, but that is even sometimes the case with full-time agents as well, he says.

"If we work with more than one client at a time there will likely be timing conflicts just as if we had a second job. I have had multiple buyers at the same time and would have to say 'No' to requests to show homes because of schedule conflicts," he says. On the flip side, "If an agent is only working with one client at a time they will not earn enough money to survive. To succeed in real estate you have to juggle multiple clients at once." Or get a second job.

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