Why So Many People Became Real Estate Agents in the Pandemic

“Helping people makes me happy,” he said.

With real estate, “I’m helping families create generational wealth, specifically African-American families and young people,” Mr. Cooper said, adding, “With my nonprofit I support low income families and youth.”

Like Mr. Cooper, many new agents are holding onto their old professions. Ms. Bieganek said she’s still waitressing at a restaurant two or three nights a week, but hopes to transition to real estate full time in a few years. Ms. Gwin said she continues to audition for roles. For her, it’s more of a companion to her creative work. (Her email signature says “actress/realtor.”)

Others are going all-in. Isaac Teplinsky, 25, graduated from the University of Kansas in 2019 and moved to New York City to work in experiential marketing. He was just four months into the job when the pandemic hit. He flew back to visit his parents in Minnesota for what he thought might be a week or so. A few days later he was laid off from his job, along with about half of his company.

While living with his parents that summer and contemplating his next career move, he started watching the show, “Million Dollar Listing New York,” and read a book written by one of its stars, Ryan Serhant. He also watched YouTube videos on getting into real estate. “I was taking notes,” he said. “And at a certain point I was like, ‘this is 100 percent it.’”

He spent $800 on a Kaplan real estate course, got his license last spring and joined a local branch of Coldwell Banker in April of 2021. He said his father told him to think of his first three years like law school — an investment in an education without an immediate payoff. “But if you just keep going it will pay off like it would for a doctor or someone in grad school,” he said. He’s since sold seven houses and condos and has handled several rentals, hitting his goal of $1.5 million in sales in his first six months.

Mike Mogavero, a 54-year-old Austin-based agent with Compass, said he was making more than he expected within his first year. When the pandemic hit, he was working remotely in sales for a Silicon Valley-based tech company and his job shifted from a staff position to a contract job. With his children, now 10 and 17, attending school remotely and his wife’s job as an architect busy as ever, he decided to take some time off to figure out his next move. “I looked around for other jobs and people kept saying I was quote-unquote overqualified, which to me is a little like a code word for ageism,” he said.

After stumbling on a Groupon for real estate training, Mr. Mogavero signed up and got his license in 2020. His timing was fortuitous. Austin’s home prices rose nearly 40 percent between 2020 and 2021, making it one of the hottest markets in the country. Buyers were flooding in from California, where he’d grown up and spent most of his life and career before moving to Austin in 2013. He said he did $30.8 million in sales in 2021. “The amount of satisfaction you got from selling technology to helping people buy and sell real estate is vastly different,” he said.

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