Ray Booth is a kidder, a flirt and a consummate raconteur. With an easy grin and a deep laugh, he keeps his clients entertained. But the Annandale, Va....

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WASHINGTON — Ray Booth is a kidder, a flirt and a consummate raconteur. With an easy grin and a deep laugh, he keeps his clients entertained.

But the Annandale, Va., real-estate agent gets serious when it comes to a transaction, and when he’s asked if his age might ever be an issue for him.

“I don’t find it a hindrance at all — or a help either,” said Booth, 80. “I’m not interested in retiring because I really enjoy what I’m doing. I enjoy working with people, talking with them. And you feel good when you manage to get people in a house.”

Real-estate agents older than 65 are relatively rare — about 1 in 10 of all agents — but the percentage has grown steadily in recent years, according to surveys by the National Association of Realtors. Eighty-year-olds are rarer still.

But Booth is not the only longtime agent in his office, which makes for an even more unusual situation. Five agents in the Annandale office of Coldwell Banker Residential have hit or are about to hit the big 8-0. Besides Booth, they are Gordon Frederick, 80 in December; Esmond Stanton, 79; Helen Susko, 81; and Gwendalyn Cody, who admits only that “I’m 29 and I have been for many years.”

While many Americans want to exit the workaday world as early as possible to move into that vacation home full time or to relax in luxury active-adult communities, the 80s bunch in Annandale says the sedentary life is not for them. Their focus is on keeping busy and avoiding the other A’s associated with aging: Alzheimer’s disease and assisted living.


Agent statistics




The National Association of Realtors surveyed real-estate agents across the U.S. in 2003. The results, from 6,734 who responded, show:


Typical agent profile: Female, 49, married, white. Works 40 hours a week and participates in 13 completed deals a year.

Age breakdown: Seven percent were younger than 30, 17 percent in their 30s, 26 percent in their 40s. Fifteen percent were 50 to 54, and 34 percent were 55 or older.

Ethnic breakdown: About 90 percent were white, down 2 percentage points from 2001. About 5 percent identified themselves as black or African American, 5 percent as Latino or Hispanic.

Earnings: The average agent earned $39,300, up $5,200 from 2000. Twenty-eight percent of agents earned $75,000 or more, up 23 percent.

Earnings by gender: Female agents earned $47,100 a year, compared with $59,700 for male agents. (Men are more likely than women to be employed full time in the profession.)


The views these agents hold of the future are reflected in AARP surveys showing that more people older than 65 are choosing to stay on the job. The Realtors group says its surveys show that more agents are keeping their hand in the business well into their golden years.

While the typical sales agent was 42 in 1978, the median age in 2003 was 49, according to the most recent survey by the National Association of Realtors. The percentage older than 55 jumped during that time from 21 percent to 34 percent. And the share that was 65 and older doubled.

The nation’s unprecedented housing boom, with its three-year string of record sales and record prices, might be the biggest reason the average age is increasing. It also helps explain the flood of new agents into the business.

But the boom isn’t the only reason, according to the Annandale agents. They all say they stay in the game because they love the work, the camaraderie and the ability to set their own hours.

And they note that with so many agents out there, the game isn’t easy these days.

“This kind of market is not always fun,” Booth said. “When there are 17 agents working to get the same property. … You’ve got to explain to your buyer why they didn’t get it.”

“For the listing agent, it’s a lot of work, too. They’ve got to study all these offers. And if you have a case where a deal falls apart, you’ve got to do it all over again.”

Frederick, who retired to real estate at age 65 after a career as a technical engineer at Unisys, said: “I’m not out to make a lot of money. I do it to have something to do that I like, to meet people and to build relationships.”

Frederick, who started in 1989, when business was “fairly lean,” said he moved into real estate after retirement because “you get to choose your own hours.”

“When I retired, I didn’t want to do an 8-to-5 type job,” Frederick said. “I wanted to do something where I had basic control over my job.”

Frederick, a slight white-haired man, is still on the job almost every day except Sunday.