Real estate licensing exam still attracts agent hopefuls

With property values tanking and the number of real estate agents on the decline as it becomes a tough place to earn a living, this seems like a strange time to be entering the real estate industry.

Yet that's exactly what a lot of people are doing. The New York Timesreports that New York administered 700 licensing exams in the last few weeks of 2008. That's drop of about 25% over last year but still enough to make a lot of people wonder: Who would be dumb enough to go into real estate now?

The reasons so many are still choosing to pursue real estate are the same reasons it's always been a popular move for mid-life career changers with dim job prospects: The barriers to entry are low -- a quick, inexpensive class followed by a multiple choice test -- and because earnings are derived exclusively from commissions, you'll always be able to get a job with a brokerage. Whether you'll make any money is a different story. For recently laid-off workers entering a tough job market, it's an alluring option.

Alison Rogers, a financial journalist turned New York City Realtor and the author of Diary of a Real Estate Rookie, told me that sales volume in New York City is "plummeting", which might make it a strange time to go into a real estate -- more agents competing for a share of fewer, smaller deals. But she added that "It always makes sense to go into a business when that business has dipped because you can learn the ropes and be well-positioned for an upturn. If you can sell in this climate, you know you're good and can make it anytime." Rogers added that the number of Realtors nationwide has fallen from 1.4 million to around 1.2 million nationally.

To be sure, the real estate industry isn't for everyone. Only a small portion of people who enter it experience any success at all. But for people who have what it takes, the tough economy shouldn't scare them away. Rogers recommends that anyone entering the real estate business in this market have at least six months of living expenses in savings or a part-time job.
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