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THE MORTGAGE MELTDOWN

Using creativity, new talent to help her client list grow

August 11, 2007|Annette Haddad, Andrea Chang and Daniel Yi : | Times Staff Writers

KAREN NUGENT

Real estate agent

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Karen Nugent can be counted on to be professionally optimistic. She's a real estate agent.

Armed with an ever-present smile on her face and a lilt in her voice, Nugent credits hard work and top-notch customer service with helping her rack up millions of dollars in sales for her brokerage, and a six-figure income for herself, during the housing boom.

But now, Nugent and half a million other licensed real estate agents in California are grappling with the worst market in a decade.

"Business is a lot slower, so you have to think creatively," said Nugent, 50, who specializes in north Orange County.

To attract clients, Nugent gives away tickets for Galaxy soccer matches and Angels baseball games. She has offered to baby-sit for clients so they can have a night out.

And she recently became accredited as a "stager," which means she has taken courses in interior design so she can advise sellers on how to make their homes more appealing.

"I did it so I could make myself more marketable, so I have more to offer," she said.

To be sure, the profusion of "for sale" signs around Southern California makes it seem that there is plenty of business for every real estate agent. But sales have fallen by half from a year ago, swelling inventories as homes languish on the market for months.

That amounts to a pay cut for most real estate agents, who don't get a check until a home is sold.

Nugent has closed five sales this year, compared with the 16 she did during the same period just two years ago. Her income has fallen to the mid-five figures. Nights out are rare, and she's stopped taking vacations.

Like most agents, Nugent is an independent contractor who must pick up many of the costs of marketing a home, including taking out ads, printing fliers and paying a share of office costs at her brokerage. These days, she hands out fliers door-to-door whenever she can to save on postage. And she tries to take advantage of every encounter, handing out her business card to people she meets in line at Wal-Mart.

"You just don't know where business is going to come from next," she said.

She tries hard not to be caught sounding downbeat. Her brokerage, Century 21 Superstars, has seen about 100 agents leave this year because there hasn't been enough work. Nugent is confident that with her work ethic and commitment, she won't be one of them.

"Some people have more 'people presence' about them and are efficient," she said. "This job still takes that."

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