Reality hits Realtors 

News of a slow housing market has at least a sliver of silver lining for local Realtors: less competition.

Grace Berger, an executive with the state’s Board of Realty, says 1,123 sales associates and real estate brokers did not renew their licenses by the Oct. 31 deadline. That’s a considerable difference from the usual attrition rate of 800 and, according to Berger, probably a result of the poor economy.

“I think the market scares people,” says Berger. “You get a lot of press saying things aren’t selling, there are a lot of foreclosures, that loans are difficult to get. I don’t have any personal knowledge, but you hear the press and I think that keeps some people away.”

While 5,835 licensees did renew for 2009, Berger acknowledges that the board anticipated a significant drop when new applications slowed throughout the year from an average total of 800 to less than 600 as of Oct. 31.

The Missoula Organization of Realtors (MOR) reports a similarly high drop-off, falling from 730 members this time last year to 660 now. But CEO Mae Hassman says she isn’t worried about the dip and believes the market was bound to correct itself after housing sales ballooned in 2005, 2006 and 2007. 

“Whether it was membership numbers, housing starts, re-sale of existing houses—whatever those housing numbers were from ’05 to ’07—we knew that those were not sustainable in any way,” says Hassman. “The question becomes then, what is sustainable?”

MOR’s projections show the market settling back to healthy 2004 levels. For instance, the organization is on target to register 1,000 transactions—home sales—through its multiple listing service by the end of the year. That’s a drop from a highpoint of 1,400 last year, but on par with the service’s 10-year average.

“Our market is certainly in a state of flux right now,” says Hassman. “While the numbers are down—and they’re down quite a lot—it’s not catastrophic. It makes for a dramatic picture, but I don’t think it’s necessarily a bellwether as far as what may be happening long-term.”
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