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Among those out of work these days: real estate agents. The National Association of Realtors has lost a quarter of a million members in the downturn. Still, a few brave souls are venturing back into the property market as a career.

NPR's Ted Robbins met up with some of them and has this report.

TED ROBBINS: It's early in the morning and Pamela Maloney is one of the few people in the Tucson Coldwell Banker Real Estate office. She is the only one at a bank of computers looking at the 23 new listings that became available over last weekend.

Ms. PAMELA MALONEY: I go through and just pull up each one of these, and I kind of look at what's going on.

ROBBINS: Pamela Maloney says she spent decades managing property for other people. But she's always wanted to be a real estate agent. She got her license last month. She is not making much money but she is learning the business.

Ms. MALONEY: It may be slow, which would be perfect for somebody like me, because I need to get all my groundwork done — make sure I know the city well, well enough so that I can, you know, at the fingertips help my clients.

ROBBINS: She doesn't have any clients yet, which is a different story than it would have been if she became an agent just a few years ago.

Mr. RICK ROSEN (Pima Community College): In 2003, 2004, 2005, real estate agents were order takers. People showed up out of the woodwork. You know, they paid stupid prices for houses.

ROBBINS: And people seeing easy commission money crowded real estate instructor Rick Rosen's classes at Pima Community College. Then after the market tanked, low enrollment forced the school to cancel classes. This class is the first at this campus in a year. A dozen students are spending 90 hours this summer listening to Rosen prepare them for the Arizona licensing exam, which includes some obscure real estate questions.

Mr. ROSEN: Why do you need to be licensed to sell cemetery plots? Jesse?

Mr. JESSE MONTEZ (Student): You're selling (unintelligible)

Mr. ROSEN: Yeah. You're selling a piece of dirt.

ROBBINS: Jesse is Jesse Montez. When he is not in class he works in a jewelry store, but he sees more opportunity in real estate.

Mr. MONTEZ: Everything's low right now. And eventually it's going to come up, and it's a good buyer's market right now. It's a great time to learn.

ROBBINS: Low prices mean low commissions, of course. But he 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.

Ms. LAYLA CHARLES (Student): I felt this is a good time to do it when everybody is, you know, kind of walking away from it. So I'm just that type of person. I like to go in the other direction rather than where everyone else is going.

ROBBINS: In fact, instructor Rick Rosen says there may be even fewer real estate agents working right now than the official numbers show.

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

ROBBINS: In other words, lots of agents sitting on the sidelines. Back at Coldwell Banker, Pamela Maloney is mainly helping active agents by sitting in at their open houses for free.

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

ROBBINS: Meanwhile, like everyone else in this story new to the real estate business, Pamela Maloney hasn't given up her day job - in her case as a supervisor at the post office.

Ted Robbins, NPR News, Tucson.

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