The next time you see a well-dressed, smiling real estate agent glaring at you from an advertising board, remember the carefree persona these days is likely only a mirage.

Look deeper and you will find agents and brokers facing a tsunami of negative economic factors, including low housing demand, uncertainty over the regulatory landscape, reluctant young buyers, buyers who can’t qualify for mortgages, homeowners who are underwater and a general sense that the housing bust left them bruised and battered with nowhere to turn.

A recent survey of 800 real estate agents and brokers found professionals in the space deeply frustrated over the current state of housing. The survey, which was conducted by title insurer Entitle Direct, discovered that 9% of those interviewed had to sell their own homes to make ends meet. Another 9% lost their homes to foreclosure. Eighty-eight percent  lost significant amounts of money in the past 4 years. Another 10% had to downsize their own homes to afford housing.

And like Americans in other business categories, 78% of agents and brokers are now worried about retirement with the housing meltdown throwing their personal finances off course.

“The reason we conducted this survey was to find out how the recession has specifically impacted the personal situations and finances of agents and brokers directly, and to tell their stories,” said Paula DeLaurentis, CMO of Entitle Direct. “Everyone asks them questions about the real estate industry, but nobody has asked them about their own personal economic situations. Our survey shows that both personally and professionally, they have had to make significant sacrifices to adapt to the new environment.”

Still, the public perception of brokers and agents is based on their smiley, go-getter image. While they maintain that front on the real estate scene, they are more pessimistic off-the-record.

When the survey questionnaires asked agents and brokers about the outlook for real estate, a whopping 47% said things will only get worse. On the flip side, 11% reported a market upswing.

Either way, agents and brokers are maintaining their poster board faces, but the reality underneath appears to be more grim than glossy.

Write to Kerri Panchuk.

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