Number Of Realtors On Rise After Two-Year Lull

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A realtor sign i

A realtor sign in San Anselmo, Calif., advertises a price reduction. Lower prices also translate into lower commissions for real estate agents. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
A realtor sign

A realtor sign in San Anselmo, Calif., advertises a price reduction. Lower prices also translate into lower commissions for real estate agents.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

As the housing bubble grew in the first half of this decade, the National Association of Realtors nearly doubled its membership to a peak of 1.3 million in 2007.

Real estate instructor Rick Rosen of Pima Community College in Tucson, Ariz., says it was easy to make money back then.

"[In] 2003, 2004 [and] 2005, real estate agents were order-takers," he says. "People showed up out of the woodwork. They paid stupid prices for houses."

Students crowded Rosen's classes to prepare for the Arizona licensing test. But when the bubble burst, enrollment dropped so much that classes had to be canceled.

Nationally, more than a quarter-million members left the industry. But over the past two months, the NAR reports a small increase in membership — the first increase in nearly two years.

An Opportunity To Learn The Business

Pima Community College is now offering its first licensing preparation class in a year at its downtown Tucson campus. Jesse Montez, one of a dozen students in the class, works in a jewelry store, but he sees more opportunity in real estate.

"Everything's low right now, and eventually it's going to come up," he says. "It's a buyer's market. It's a great time to learn."

Low prices mean low commissions, of course. But Montez and fellow student Layla Charles point out that competition is low, too. Charles says she works at home doing phone sales and customer service work. She's ready for a new career.

"I felt this is a good time to do it when everyone is kind of walking away from it," she says. "I'm just that type of person. I like to go in the other direction rather than where everyone else is going."

Rosen thinks this is a great time to enter the real estate business. He says there may be even fewer real estate agents working right now than the official numbers show.

"You take a look at the overall number of real estate agents that supposedly are active in business — I don't see it," he says. "I don't see those people out in the market. I don't see their for-sale signs."

Each state licenses its own real estate professionals, and many do not differentiate between active and inactive agents or those working part time as opposed to full time.

Following A Real Estate Dream

Pamela Maloney, who got her license in April, says she has always wanted to be a real estate agent. After years managing property for others, she decided to take the plunge. Maloney, an agent for Coldwell Banker in Tucson, is not making much money yet, but she's learning the business.

"It may be slow, which is perfect for someone like me, because I have to get all my groundwork done — make sure I know the city well enough so that at my fingertips I can, you know, help my clients," she says.

Maloney doesn't have any clients yet. She is mainly helping active agents by sitting in at their open houses for free.

"It's a favor for the real estate agent who owns — that lists that house," she says. "And it also helps me find potential clients who may come and look at that house, but it's not exactly what they want."

Despite her belief that she can make money as a real estate agent, Maloney is not giving up her day job as a supervisor at the post office.

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