When realtors don't make the sale

A real estate sign announces "New Price" in front of an existing single-family residence for sale in Park Ridge, Ill.

TEXT OF STORY

Scott Jagow: Today we launch a new series of stories called Housing Madness. We'll take a closer look at how the subprime fallout has affected homebuyers, sellers, renters, brokers -- all kinds of people. We begin in California, with a story from Rachel Dornhelm.


Rachel Dornhelm: Martha Ann Wishnev has been a realtor for 30 years. She works in Contra Costa County, near San Francisco.

Martha Ann Wishnev: I ordinarily sell about $7.5 million worth of real estate a year. And here it is, it's the beginning of February. I haven't had a sale yet.

In fact, she hasn't been involved in a transaction since October. Around the nation, realtors like Wishnev have seen sales drop 22 percent over the last year.

Wishnev: You'd think that in a market like this, where you're not having that many transactions, it would be less work. But it's much, much more work

.

Wishnev says she's busy sending out documents, talking to homeowners associations and potential clients. She says the fact she hasn't sold anything is taking a psychological toll.

Wishnev: In real estate, you don't get a penny until you close the escrow. So you spend a lot of money on advertising, a lot of money taking people around and you have to remind yourself that you personally are not a failure, that the real estate market is the problem.

Wishnev is lucky. Her husband has a steady salary and they no longer have monthly expenses to worry about. But, she says, others must be in agony. She's noticed the energy level drop at her office and empty desks.

Wishnev: What happens is when someone decides to really pack it in, they just disappear. Where did he go? Well, he's gone. What happened? I don't know. It's odd.

Wishnev says she works with a single mother who has turned to tutoring to make ends meet. And a colleague at a nearby firm is considering early retirement after her office shut without warning last week.

But Wishnev says she's an optimistic person, and has seen bad markets before.

Wishnev: I'm going to try to weather the storm and I probably will be able to. I've been doing it a long time, so I have a deeper reserve than a lot of people would have.

I'm Rachel Dornhelm for Marketplace.

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