Life in Malibu as a realtor — Part I

Editor’s note: This column is the first in a three-part series taking a look at Malibu’s most popular profession.

The Malibu Association of Realtors now boasts more than 800 members. That immediately puts to rest this rumor: Every single adult person in Malibu has their real estate license.

It just seems that way. The truth is, many thousands of adults in town do not have their license, yet. Surely most are thinking about it, however.

And why not?  It is the easiest and most fun job you can have. Particularly in Malibu, it is not only easy but super lucrative also.  For very little work, you can make huge commissions, be your own boss, see lots of pretty big houses and drive friendly clients along the ocean all day — in your nice car.

Anyone can run their own schedule.  Anyone can be organized and creative — and most people have excellent social skills, anyway. Anyone can sell a house. And anyone can be a realtor; no college degree necessary.

“All you have to do is sell one house. Then take a vacation the rest of the year.” That is what we hear all the time. And we all know that showing a house is easy, especially one with nice features that somebody will just want no matter what the cost.

Thus, more than 800 people maintain a salesperson license with the state of California, have an affiliation with a broker and pay association dues here in Malibu. More than that, possibly as many as 200 more agents come in from outside locales during the year to list a property in Malibu or show a property to their clients who come from afar. For what?

About 250 actual home sales (estimated) will transact this year in the 90265 ZIP code. Though there are two sides to every deal — one representing a buyer and the other representing a seller — as with many sales industries, one particular local agent typically handles 20 percent of the business volume.

The next three top producers handle the next 20 percent of the business. The next top 10 agents snag 20 percent after that, and a still very recognizable, highly-skilled, experienced set of 20-30 more agents seizes upon the next equivalent batch.

That’s about 40 or so agents taking care of 400 of the 500 “sides” of deals, leaving about 50 home sales to split up among the remaining 960 realtors. It’s fair to say that hundreds of realtors, particularly newer ones, are in competition for literally a handful of deals.

But that may not be the hard part. What is the hard part?  Actually getting a chance to prove yourself. Those 1,000 agents have been taken on by a broker and given a chance to start their career. There are many hundreds more that get a license but never get hired with a company, at least in Malibu. Broker managers need to believe in you as a viable resource before you are hired.

Coming into Malibu cold and making a successful career is almost impossible. In my 27 years, I have only seen two agents come into Malibu cold, start from scratch and make lucrative careers. And both of them were successful realtors in their previous locations.

Broker managers need to know that you have connections and/or a name and/or a Malibu history to make a business work. I have often said that if you want to be a successful agent in Malibu, stand out in front of Ralphs every day for a year and hand out balloons to everyone, all day long. You have to know people. Lots of people. As fast as you can. Any way you can.

In a survey of some local broker managers, less than one in five applicants gets hired on to be an agent in Malibu, though its certain that most hopefuls are applying all over town.

Even then, according to one office manager on the west side who has a major training program for new agents, only one in five agents are still around in two years.

Real estate teams have become a more common trademark. While two-man partnerships (usually women) have long been in vogue — two people producing better than the sum of the parts — some top agents run a virtual business within the business umbrella of their broker. Some top agents have staffs. Even with all the technology and efficiency (discussed in upcoming parts), several people are often needed at the same time to do several different tasks at once. 

Such as, to name the most essential: scheduling showings, doing property showings, facilitating offers, coordinating escrow activities and problem-solving, handling the ever-growing paperwork requirements, personal marketing of many forms, property marketing of many forms, and various continuing education concerns. 

Getting started involves studying for a test, passing it and then getting hired at a company, if you can. Start up costs can tally up to $5,000 for a serious run in the business, but much of that is Errors and Omissions Insurance. You may have heard that realtors and brokers get sued, so companies need to have resources to deal with that uncertainty right off the bat. Realistically, to stay in business each year takes a few thousand dollars.

But before we delve into many other facets of the profession, there is this upside:  You get your phone calls answered. You may be dealing with very smart, driven, successful and worldly clients. They may be famous, important or powerful. But if they have a listing with you, or an active offer written through you, they take your calls. And sometimes, they even take your advice. This is important stuff to them.  A lot of money is on the line. Important life decisions are at stake. Vital legal contracts and agreements are in play. You are in the middle of it all. And not many professions can boast that.