Tougher licensing rules in store

September 03, 1995|By Lorraine Mirabell | Lorraine Mirabell,Sun Staff Writer

The phrase "back to school" has taken on new urgency for those thinking of a career in real estate.

Starting Jan. 1, pre-licensing requirements for agents in Maryland will double. Applicants for a real estate license must complete 90, rather than 45, course hours in subjects such as contracts, agency and listings, title insurance, finance and ethics.

Anyone hoping to undergo the less rigorous training and still qualify has just four months to complete a class, then apply to take a state exam -- and pass that. Applicants can become licensed up to a year after passing.

Schools that teach real estate expect even more students this fall, based on a flurry of telephone calls and inquiries. Already, statistics show a jump in the number of people getting into the industry this year -- a sharp reversal from past years, even in a market in which sales have slumped for more than a year.

The number who took the state exam in the year ending in July is up nearly 18 percent, from 6,008 to 7,072, compared with the previous year, said Elizabeth A. Beggs, executive director of the Maryland Real Estate Commission. The number applying to take the state real estate exam had been on the decline since the mid-1980s, Ms. Beggs said.

The number of active licensees -- agents affiliated with brokers -- also is on the rise, with the commission reporting 39,492 licenses currently, up from about 37,000 a year earlier earlier.

It's unclear how much of the renewed interest in the field is due to applicants trying to beat the clock on the tougher standards, the first overhaul of agents' pre-licensing requirements in almost two decades.

But the imminent boost in classroom work has prompted many who have been considering selling real estate to start course work now, training specialists said.

"I'm getting more people calling me about what to do about getting a license," said Yvette Chapman, director of education for Coldwell Banker Grempler Real Estate Institute. Ms. Chapman said she responded to some 300 inquiries about classes one day last month. "We'll probably see more in [classes] in October and November."

But she is advising anyone intent on leaving school after 45 hours to enroll as soon as possible, to allow for time to complete the class and take the exam, which could take at least a week to schedule. A private testing service offers the two-part, computerized exam daily in four locations. It covers national real estate practices as well as Maryland law.

Jan Nadeau, director of career counseling for Long & Foster Institute of Real Estate in Maryland, Washington, Pennsylvania and Delaware, said she expects a surge of procrastinators to enter classes this fall. The school expects to start offering an expanded, 90-hour course toward the end of the year.

"Now is the time to do it," she said. "At Long & Foster, we're not going to shut anybody out. We will accommodate as many people as we need to."

She added that the expanded course work probably has prompted some of the increase in test taking, but the bleak outlook in other fields has acted as an even greater catalyst.

"In the Baltimore area we've seen quite a few layoffs, and those people see real estate as one way to control their future," she said. Even in a tough market, her students view real estate as a second career with stability. "It really is up to the individual."

The Real Estate Commission raised the pre-licensing requirements in March, citing the ever-more-complex regulations and paperwork behind nearly every property sale. The change also brought real estate education more in line with nearby states. Pennsylvania and Virginia require 60 hours, while Delaware and West Virginia require 90 hours.

After passing the course, offered by community colleges, private schools and real estate companies, students receive a certificate and can apply to take the state exam.

The real estate commission has records of some who have passed the state exam but haven't yet applied for a license. Ms. Beggs said some of those applicants -- many of whom took the exam before July 1993 -- may no longer qualify for a license if they wait until the upgraded requirements kick in.

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