At the beginning of the pandemic, Amy Wu owned a Chinese restaurant. When the stay-at-home order went into place, she says business picked up.
“It was so so busy with carry out because Chinese food takeout is usually the go to. That and pizza,” Wu said.
But, she had a hard time finding enough employees to staff the business. Ultimately, Wu decided to sell her restaurant in July 2020 because it was too difficult to find new hires. Then, Wu pivoted to real estate. She had gotten her license in 2019, but never thought it would become something she did full time.
“I couldn’t imagine the amount of interest in homes people have … the low interest rates, all of that was really crazy. It kind of became a blessing in disguise,” Wu said.
While the housing market has been hot throughout the pandemic, so too has the industry itself. Membership is up by 15% at Illinois Realtors, a statewide trade association, in the past five years. And the past two years have seen the most significant growth.
Three major groups for Chicago-area real estate agents told Crain’s reporter Dennis Rodkin that their membership grew significantly in 2021.
“I think one of the reasons people are doing it is real estate stayed up and was vital throughout the pandemic,” Rodkin told WTTW News.
Rodkin said those joining the industry ranged from new to the workplace to late in their careers, but most had some type of affinity to the field already.
“They weren’t coming into a business they knew nothing about. Some of them were investors or had some other involvement,” Rodkin said.
Real estate also provides an opportunity for people working in other industries hard hit by the pandemic, like hospitality.
“It wasn’t as simple as just, we were open and other places weren’t. I think that real estate, the industry in particular, speaks to the entrepreneurial spirit, speaks to the motivated, speaks to those who are ambitious,” said Jeff Baker, CEO of Illinois Realtors.
That’s one of the reasons Wu joined the industry — the flexibility and ownership of her work.
“If I am intentional, if I use the right methods, the right models in my business. The idea is that I should be seeing that return, that ROI. The harder I work, or should I say, the harder we work, the more return we get,” Wu said.
While the hot housing market provides an opportunity for new real estate professionals, it also poses a challenge, Baker said. New realtors are up against seasoned professionals.
But, Jason Casebolt, a real estate broker with @properties who joined the field in October 2020, said the quick pace of the industry helps him learn much quicker.
“This is the only market that I’ve operated in. I have not brokered real estate in years past. It was definitely challenging, but I would not have changed it for the world, because it taught me so much so quickly, that in a different market it might have taken me months if not years to learn some of the things that I learned in my first three, six, nine months as a real estate broker,” Casebolt said.
Note: this story will be updated with video.