Despite uptick, few new realty jobs

Residential real estate brokerages and their suppliers everyone from mortgage companies to home inspectors aren't leaping to add staff even though the number of home sales is up strongly.

The Reno-Sparks Association of Realtors reported last week that the 346 home sales closed in Washoe County during January marked a 49 percent increase in transaction volume over the same month a year earlier.

Some companies are beginning to staff up.

Northern Nevada Title Co., for instance, added four employees in the past year and expects to add more, says Ron Peterson, president of the Carson City company.

He says investors are venturing back into the market, adding fuel to activity that already had been spurred by the federal tax credit for first-time home buyers. And the activity, he says, translates into paperwork for title companies.

For the most part, however, existing staffs are handling the increased workload.

"Everyone is going back to the old way of doing business. You have to be driven to add staff. You don't do it ahead of demand," says Ken Amundson, president of the Realtors association and managing broker of Coldwell Banker Select Real Estate's Sparks office.

He says most residential real estate brokerages didn't dramatically cut their support staff during the downturn and can handle more paperwork without needing to hire more workers.

Says Dan Smith, of Coldwell Banker Best Sellers in Carson City and president of the Sierra Nevada Association of Realtors, "We are all working hard to assist with our own paperwork. However, the market is picking up and if this pace continues, there is a good chance that a number of realty offices might consider adding administrative staff in the next several months. For now, we are absorbing the extra work and look forward to a busy year."

Others in the industry want to make sure the upward trend is for real before they hire on any staff.

Academy Mortgage Corp. in Reno, for instance, recently added a part-time worker to help with administrative work after sales activity began to perk up.

"Given our current volume, we could probably use another full-time processor, but until we really see some stability in our monthly numbers, we're holding off," says Stephanie Hanna, a mortgage banker with the company. "Because we're continuing to see sales increase and then decrease, we're hesitant to hire right now."

The market is particularly difficult to predict, Hanna says, because many transactions are short sales that require lenders to sign off a process that sometimes can take six months or more.

"Because of that, it's difficult to predict what my own personal volume may be any given month," she says. "It does feel like things are picking up."

Other firms say they've learned to make do with less staff and don't expect to return to boom-era staffing.

Greg Scolari of The Home Team Inspection Service says the company's team of three inspectors is growing busier, but the company doesn't expect to fill an office position that was trimmed when the market softened.

"We've learned to live without it," Scolari says. Instead, inspectors are doing their own administrative work.

Some modest employment gains in realty-related businesses have come as they've expanded their horizons.

Western Title Co., for instance, recently added a worker to specialize in short sales, says Sylvia Smith, the company's president.

And a few months ago, Western Title added a half dozen workers after it won a statewide contract to process sales of foreclosed properties held by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

HUD is opening about 150 escrows a month in Nevada, and the agency projects that it will be closing about 100 sales a month for more than a year, Smith says.


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