Florida might have a short supply of homes for sale, but there's no shortage of people hoping to sell them.
Last year, 28,507 people passed the Florida real estate exam and became licensed sales associates. That's the most in nine years and a whopping 142 percent jump from the low point in 2010.
The dramatic increase gives Florida a total of 221,000 real estate agents, right at the time when many are bemoaning the dearth of homes on the market. A tight inventory means fewer homes to sell and fiercer competition for listings.
That doesn't faze 20-year-old Ashley Williams. On Wednesday, she was among 35 students about to take a practice exam at the Bob Hogue School of Real Estate in St. Petersburg.
"I know it's competitive," she said. "But I'm a competitive person."
Hogue, whose school is one of the state's largest, says enrollment has been steady in the past few years as Florida's housing market recovers from a devastating crash in 2007 and 2008.
But "it certainly isn't like it was in 2005 and 2006, really the boom times when everybody was getting in," he said. "I've seen so many ups and downs, and this strikes me as a more stable increase, which is what I prefer."
Nonetheless, Hogue said, about twice as many people as expected recently signed up for a class in St. Pete Beach. He also is adding locations in Gainesville, Ocala and Venice, in addition to existing sites throughout the greater Tampa Bay area.
At the 2005 peak of Florida's real estate boom, 42,126 people passed the state real estate exam. After the market crashed, the numbers dropped until 2011, when fewer than 12,000 new agents, or sales associates, were licensed.
To become an agent, people must correctly answer at least 75 of the 100 multiple-choice questions on the state test. Last year, 64,925 people took the test, and only 44 percent passed. More than half of the test-takers were repeaters who had previously failed.
At the Hogue school, students pay $295 for a 63-hour course that prepares them for the state exam. But at the end of the course, they must pass the school's test before they move on to the real one.
Williams, who is on her third try with the school test, decided to go into real estate at the encouragement of a Keller Williams agent who spotted her at Marshalls.
"She had seen I was working really hard," said Williams, a part-time cashier. "She introduced me to Keller Williams, and I've spent a lot of time there."
Williams said she's confident she'll pass the Hogue test this time around and go on to pass the state exam. If she succeeds, she wants to make real estate a full-time career.
If so, she'll enter a market flush with agents and short on available homes. As of December, none of the counties in the Tampa Bay area had more than a four-month supply of houses for sale.
Hogue, who has been in business since 1978, said it could take years for inventories to return to normal. That's because so many borrowers — more than 100,000 in the bay area — are still underwater on their mortgages and don't want to put their homes up for sale if they can't at least break even.
"There are still so many people stuck in that spot, it casts a negative pall over the market," Hogue said. "I don't think we're going to see a real strengthening until almost everybody is out of that spot. Then we'll see good, solid, steady real estate activity, but maybe we're looking at another five years."
Contact Susan Taylor Martin at email@example.com or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate.