They are jumping ship or receiving the pink slip. America's real estate agents and mortgage lenders, that is.
Now that the glory days of the most recent U.S. housing market are over, its deterioration is taking a toll on employees who profited from its record-breaking five-year run.
With home sales slumping and loan demand diminishing, layoff announcements and resignations have become increasingly common, evidence that the sector's slump is broad.
Carmen Cook, a veteran real estate broker, saw the writing on the wall and decided to retire earlier this year.
The market changed and my job became more difficult, she said. I was working just as hard and the income wasn't coming in.
Cook earned up to $135,000 a year during the housing market's boom as a broker and vice president at Halstead Property, a real estate firm in New York. When her commissions fell by around 50 percent, she decided it was time to quit.
All the brokers are hustling right now, but the income is not coming in the way they are accustomed to, she said.
The lending industry is also seeing an exodus of employees.
There were a lot of people who ran into this industry over the past few years because it was the hottest thing around, but you are not going to see that now, said Scott J. Cooper, president of Old Merchants Mortgage Bankers in Lake Success, New York.
We have seen more attrition, he said. Everything has gotten harder, no question about it.
While many people are opting to voluntarily exit their companies, some housing-related employees are being forced out the door through layoffs, a trend that has increased dramatically this year.
Real estate industry job cut announcements totaled 3,033 year-to-date through August, a nearly 96 percent surge over the same period in 2005, according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc., an employment consulting firm based in Chicago.
The mortgage lending industry has not fared much better, with layoff announcements totaling 8,513 during the same period, a rise of over 70 percent year-over-year, according to data provided by the company.
The U.S. housing market's boom undoubtedly benefited U.S. homeowners, but it also supported the economy's recovery from a recession. During this time, housing-related jobs flourished, perhaps more than any other field.
Employment in the real estate and mortgage industry peaked at 504,800 in February, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In June employment was at 503,100, a noteworthy decline given that the sector gained jobs at a rapid pace for most of 2001 through 2005.
In May of 2001, essentially when jobs started gaining, 290,800 people were employed in the two industries.
Paul Hindman, a head hunter for mortgage lending positions at Management Advisors International in Hickory, North Carolina, estimates that 30 percent of sales forces are people who hop on board when business is thriving, but are quick to throw in the towel when it wanes.
In a refinancing boom, everybody joins in because you don't have to work hard to get the deal and those types of individuals don't do well in this type of market, he said.
Hindman said lenders have become pickier and are taking their time in their search for the right candidate.
On the corporate and back-office side, companies are being very diligent in their hiring, he said.
The Mortgage Bankers Association, an industry trade group, expects total loan originations to fall by 18 percent in 2006 to $2.4 trillion versus 2005.
There will be some decline in employment, but it is not going to be the 18 percent decline we're seeing in originations, said Michael Fratantoni, a senior director of research and economics at the MBA.
SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST
Peter Morici, economist and professor at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business, views the downsizing of employment as a good development.
Over the last year or so, we probably have not been getting overly qualified people, he said.
Therefore, as business volume continues to drop, the weak will get weaker and the strong will get stronger. When things shake out it is going to be the better sales men and women that will stay, he said. They are the ones who have built a reputation over time.
Eloise Johnson, a broker and senior vice president at Halstead Property, realizes that the housing market is cyclical in nature, which is why she has stayed in the business for more than 20 years.
Real estate always comes back from any slowdown or recession and goes on to achieve higher levels, she said. It is important to remember that while a slowdown can be difficult for many real estate brokers, it also can be an opportunity to build a business.
Cook, who retired from Halstead this year, has no regrets. She now spends her time traveling with her husband, author Peter Fusaro.