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Back in December 2005, the monthly magazine The Real Deal reported that Manhattan had one agent for every 55 residents. In other words, standing on 42nd Street, you could blindly throw a rock in any direction, and in all likelihood, hit a real estate agent. An unlucky bounce could easily hit five more. A good portion of people would argue such a bounce as lucky, but I am not encouraging you to test this theory. Either way, we’re sitting ducks. So far, I’ve only had to dodge insults, threats and character smears. Once the real rocks come out, we’re in big trouble.

But that was back in 2005, and who in their right mind would throw a rock at a real estate agent? New estimates suggest the numbers have come down a bit, making it safer for us to travel in groups. The sales market has cooled, less people are getting licensed and the tight rental market is bound to send most of the pretenders back to bartending.

For now, I’m sticking it out, and decided to find a few prospects still willing to join the real estate world.

I started my search for future agents at an elite private school in Brooklyn Heights. I was stunned to learn that, although the school offers a progressive curriculum with a wide range of classes, not a single course was devoted to real estate. I was almost embarrassed for the principle, and teaching staff. I asked the obvious question: How are you going to prepare these young people for the real world without even a basic introduction to real estate philosophy? I was equally shocked to find, after interviewing several students, that most of the kids didn’t seem to mind, and that very few felt cheated. I left behind a few business cards. It’s never too early to pitch an apartment, and even third graders will need to move out eventually.

The next school I visited was brimming with students hungry for a solid and well rounded education. The New York Real Estate Institute costs a lot less than the fancy private school in Brooklyn Heights. Then again, you could study at the private school for up to 12 years before entering the Ivy League College of your choice. Here at the “Institute” you can start your career after just one week of training. The state requirement for becoming a licensed agent is 45 hours of classes, and the successful completion of two multiple-choice exams. Even with courses in continuing education, I doubt it’s taken anyone 12 years to graduate. I’ll let you choose the real value, but I think it’s pretty obvious.

While at the Institute, I spoke to Raul Mero, who, after just one day of classes, was excited about his future career. I asked Raul what inspired him to get his license. “A friend, an absolute burn out, this kid does nothing well…is closing six deals this month. If this kid can do it, so can I. Ridiculous.” It made sense to me. Raul just turned 32, and with his friend, the “burn out,” blazing the trail ahead, he was ready to leave his job in alternative marketing, which he explained simply meant handing stuff out to people on the street. Raul made no bones about it, he was in it for the money.

Managers representing various rental companies often recruit new agents directly from the school. On a recent Tuesday afternoon, one such manager was sharing stories of new hires making $40,000 in their first month. Carolina Denest, wasn’t buying it. She has a degree from Cornell and has been working in medical marketing for the past 8 years. With a husband in finance, she admits to not having to work, but is anxious to “get out there.” It was while searching for her own apartment that the idea came to her. Frustrated by what she describes as most agents’ inability to listen, she decided to give it a try. When asked why she felt so many people were becoming agents, she replied, “I think people have a misconception of how easy it is.”

I did most of the talking while interviewing Raul and Carolina, which was a novice mistake and very unprofessional of me. On the other hand, I’m not a bad real estate agent, and it was obvious that even with cautious expectations, neither of these two had any idea of what they were getting themselves into.

It reminded me of my first days in the business, when I was sent out into the city with very little experience and expected to bring back a few deals. I couldn’t help but offer them a realistic picture. But unless you were raised on a used car lot or at an Amway convention, nothing could really prepare you for it. No one ever plans on becoming a real estate agent. You just sort of fall into it, and then it’s best to find your own way.

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