March 2013
Thinning Ranks (The Commercial Record)
By Colleen M. Sullivan

It's been a rough ride for the real estate industry these past few years, and local brokerages didn't escape 2011 without a few bruises.

A Commercial Record review of data from Connecticut's Department of Consumer Protection shows an industry soldiering on, but sluggishly, with slight declines in the number of licensees almost across the board.

Between January 2011 and January 2012, the number of licensed real estate agents in Connecticut fell 3.9 percent, slipping to 15,832 agents from 16,467. The number of licensed brokers in the state dropped more severely, falling almost 10 percent year-over-year in January to 6,625 from 6,778. The number of Realtors experienced a parallel drop, declining falling 9.7 percent to 15,803 from 16,321 in January 2011.

The nature of the data makes it tough to tell the absolute number of agents at each brokerage--while all individually licensed agents have to work under a broker, any individual with a broker's license can also work as an agent. While some broker licensees work independently, many may be working for another broker following an acquisition or move.

But a look at which agencies and brokerages have been adding and dropping agents is still revealing. Excluding referral networks, the top agencies in the state by number of licensed agents were William Raveis, Coldwell Banker, and Prudential Connecticut Realty--each with more than a thousand agents under their banner.

Raveis and Prudential experienced slight declines over the year--Raveis fell to 1,563 from 1,598, a 2.2 percent drop. Prudential fell to 1,299 from 1,328, also a 2.2 percent drop.

But Coldwell, which has made several acquisitions recently, saw a slight increase, with its agent numbers ticking up 3 percent to 1,402 from 1,361.

"Our focus has always been to grow through acquisitions. We're having a lot of companies who are reaching out to us, and that's inspiring too," said Cathleen Smith, president of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Connecticut & Westchester County, N.Y. "I think the players that were here five years ago, the smaller companies that don't have a national presence, are finding it very difficult to compete in this market, even though there's some stellar companies out there."

But not everyone agrees with Smith's interpretation of the market.

Hard Work Pays
"There's been a few [brokerages] which have changed their affiliation, but in our area we don't see a lot of that at all," said Gene Fercodini, 2011 president of the Connecticut Association of Realtors.

Kent Hanley, executive vice president of William Raveis Real Estate, said he sees 2012 as a time for stabilization. Though he described his company overall as still in growth mode--having added 12 offices over the last 24 months and expanded their market share--Raveis expects 2012 to be a fairly flat year.

"Pretty much from an agent perspective, we're right around where we were this time last year," he said. "We're a regional broker, a New England-based broker. That's who we are, and who we plan to be; we're not really looking to be a national player. We're comfortable here."

And in many cases, the companies adding agents are smaller local brokerages. The three companies that increased their rosters the most on a percentage basis--CT Hometown Realty in East Windsor, Nationwide Homes and Consulting in Danbury and Broder Real Estate Group in West Hartford--each added more than 60 percent more agents year-over-year.

Still, those big percentage increases only add up to 26 agents overall, with CT Hometown Realty adding six agents for a total of 15, Nationwide adding a dozen to get to 21 and Broder almost tripling in size to 29 agents from 11.

"We're getting more and more people that are wanting to upgrade or get their first home, but they're looking at straight sales, not foreclosure," said Fercodini. "The strong have survived, and the people who are in this to make a living at it are going well. And I think that a lot of the people who thought this was a good way to make a lot of money without working hard are finding out it doesn't work that way."

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