Dave Demeo is a realtor with the Bean Group in Portland, photographed on Tuesday, March 21, 2023. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

While many industries struggle to attract workers these days, Maine’s real estate businesses have faced the opposite situation.

The red-hot housing market, coupled with the appeal of a flexible, self-dictated schedule, has drawn hundreds to get licensed and start selling homes in Maine. But as the market begins to cool and inventory shrinks, experts question whether the field can sustain so many people selling so few properties.

The number of real estate agents in Maine has grown by double-digit percentages since the start of the pandemic.

In February 2019, there were 6,513 licensed agents in the state, according to the Maine Department of Professional and Financial Regulation. By February 2023, that number had increased 14% to 7,436.

That’s even slightly higher than the national growth of roughly 12%.

The National Association of Realtors reported a record-high membership of 1.6 million last year, and more than 100,000 people joined their ranks between 2020 and 2021 – almost double the 55,000 between 2019 and 2020. 


“How to become a real estate agent” was the top job-related Google search term between January 2021 and January 2022.  

Carmen McPhail, president of the Maine Association of Realtors, said the increased interest in the profession makes sense.

“Real estate has always been very attractive to people because of the flexibility,” said McPhail, who is also a broker with United Country Lifestyle Properties of Maine. 

The job is attractive but also risky, especially as the market contracts. About 1 in 10 new agents won’t be able to make it full time, The New York Times has reported.

It’s too soon to say if there will be a flood of agents leaving the real estate industry.

Historically, the number of agents has grown in busy real estate markets and then dies down as activity falls. In 2005 and 2006, more than 255,000 people became agents. In 2008, after the market crashed, the number declined by more than 10%.


But experts say this market is different because there are so few houses for sale.

Prices are leveling and homes may be sitting on the market longer. But with so many buyers and so few homes, properties are still being snapped up quickly – often with multiple offers well over the asking price.

In February, only 708 Maine homes changed hands, an almost 20% drop from the same month a year earlier. With over 7,000 licensed agents, the most recent transactions work out to roughly 10 real estate agents for each house sold. McPhail noted that not all real estate agents sell houses. Some sell land or office buildings, so the ratio isn’t necessarily a clear comparison.

Still, the disproportion is dramatic.

As the market starts to cool down, however, experts say the number of agents will follow suit.

With fewer sales and more agents, times are tough, said Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors.


“Naturally, with fewer home sales, some will leave the industry,” he said in a statement. “In a sense, Realtors like to see fewer Realtors due to the large amount of industry competition.”

Some who are part time might turn their attention to other pursuits. Some full-time agents might go part time.

That shift may be happening already across the U.S.

In 2021, the National Association of Realtors added, on average, more than 8,400 new Realtors per month. By November 2022, that growth had slowed to about 4,100 new members. In December, when inventory was especially slim, membership rolls reversed course. The Realtor count plummeted by over 17,000, the largest one-month drop since December 2009.


Cassie Symonds never planned on being a real estate agent. Neither did Dave Demeo or Joseph Menard.


Their backgrounds were all different.

Symonds, 26, started out in advertising sales for a TV network in New York City. Demeo, 35, was a structural engineer. Menard, 34, has a background in education but was most recently working in sales and property management.

But they all found their way to Maine’s real estate profession over the last three years and have no intention to go back to their old careers.

Cassie Symonds became a real estate agent in Portland about a year ago. Hundreds of Mainers have flocked to such jobs since the start of the pandemic. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

When the pandemic hit in 2020, real estate agents were considered essential workers. At the same time, many people found themselves working from home or out of work altogether, and the state’s housing market was picking up steam. It can take as little as a few weeks to obtain a real estate license, so many saw it as an ideal opportunity.

“So many people were leaving the cities and people wanted to move to Maine,” said Symonds, now with Re/Max Shoreline in Portland.  “When the market is hot, there are going to be more people signing up.”

In the commission-based industry, record-high home prices were a powerful lure.


The median price for a single-family home in Maine was $329,250 in February, a 10.7% increase from February of last year, according to data from the Maine Association of Realtors. In some areas of the state, like Cumberland and York counties, the average was much higher – $459,000 and $430,000, respectively.

The high prices boosted the median real estate agent salary by 25% in just a year, from $43,330 in 2020 to $54,330, according to the national association.

It’s production-based income, so “the harder you work, the more money you make,” McPhail said. “As long as you have good self-discipline when it comes to money and budgeting, you can really make this work.”

That was a big part of the allure for Menard, an agent with Coldwell Banker.

He also liked being able to set his own schedule. He has two young kids and it allows him to spend more time with his family, though he said he probably works more hours than when he was working in an office. He’s not concerned about whether his current pace is sustainable.

“I think that it is sustainable for those willing to do the work,” Menard said. “There’s a view from some people getting into the industry that it’s an easy paycheck. You might get one or two closings pretty easily, but doing that consistently (requires dedication).”


“I can control my own income, which is a really great bonus,” he said. “If I want to earn more, I work more.”

Demeo, now with Tomazin Goff Realty, an affiliate of the Bean Group, also likes being self-reliant.

He started out working in real estate part time but, after a year, switched to full time. A year later, he hasn’t looked back.

“Almost everything about what I’m doing now in real estate is 180 degrees different than engineering,” he said. “It was a significant risk.”

But Demeo, 35, is happy with his choice. He likes his clients, and the ability to set his own schedule allows him to spend more time with his family.

While it’s too soon to say how the boom in real estate agents might shake out in the short term, the growth among younger professionals like Symonds, Demeo and Menard is likely to help sustain the industry long term.


The average Realtor is 56 years old, according to the national association.

As the oldest state in the country, Maine is struggling to attract young workers to replace the tens of thousands of baby boomers who are expected to retire in the next few years.

Real estate is no exception. McPhail said that if there’s going to be a wave of people leaving the industry, it will likely be older licensees who are ready and able to retire after three years of high earnings.

But unlike in many other industries, in real estate, the younger workforce appears to be ready to take up the mantle.

“We’re going to revitalize our own field,” Menard said.

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