MIAMI — To motivate a classroom packed with 87 aspiring real estate agents, instructor Keith Grandy started his one-week, intensive course with the promise of big money: With hard work, fresh licensees in the Miami metro area could make $100,000 a year if they complete at least two transactions per month, according to current property prices and commissions.
With 67 condo towers being built in South Florida, a pace not seen since the housing crash of 2007, such a payday seems more than possible to Grandy's students, despite competition so intense that many of them will leave their new career without completing a single sale.
"If you are aggressive, you can do extremely well," he said during a break from his class at Gold Coast Schools of Real Estate in Doral, a Miami suburb.
Low interest rates, foreign buyers and a gradual end to the foreclosure crisis are driving the modest turnaround in the nation's housing market, but there might be no better evidence of it than the number of people hoping to become brokers.
In Florida, where housing prices dropped by about half when the recession hit, the number of applications for real estate licenses has almost doubled from 23,863 in 2010 to 40,901 last year.
At the Tampa School of Real Estate, classes averaged 20 to 25 students last year. This year, the average is 30 to 35, with all 35 seats taken in the class that started July 28.
"It's just steadily increasing because of the upswing in the real estate market. People want to get in,'' said Craig Carissimo, one of the owners. "People are also looking for jobs, a lot of people are looking to start a new career.''
Business has been so brisk that the school plans to add a South Tampa branch later this month in addition to its original site near the University of South Florida.
In California too, the number of people taking the license exams has doubled since 2012, respectively. Even Nevada, another hard-hit state, saw a 23 percent bump in prospective licensees last year.
The National Association of Realtors, which has more than a million brokers, salespeople, appraisers and other real estate professionals among its members, added 42,000 agents to its ranks in 2013, the first increase in seven years.
The workforce in this field tends to expand and contract violently, mirroring the booms and busts that shock the housing market and the economy as a whole.
Gold Coast Schools of Real Estate, which has five South Florida campuses, saw its enrollment fall 70 percent during the housing collapse, director John Greer said. But enrollment was up 20 percent last year, driven by students dazzled by the chance at fat commissions like the kind attached to every deal on TV's Million Dollar Listing.
"The income is going to be great and I'm going to have my own schedule," said Katherine Sanchez, a 34-year-old nutritionist and a student in Grandy's class.
One reason many turn to real estate is that it's not a difficult field to enter: While each state has different requirements, it generally takes little time and money to get a license. On average, Gold Coast students spend two months preparing for the Florida sales associate exam and spend less than $1,000 in tuition and licensing fees.
It can be done even faster. Students in Grandy's crash course cram 575 pages in one week before taking the state exam, which tests their knowledge of real estate law, practice and procedures, and math. Florida says 51 percent of students pass on their first try.
But selling real estate is a difficult job with long hours. Studies show that most new agents quit with no or few sales. The Realtors association said the median gross annual income of its broker and sales agent members nationally was $47,700 in 2013, up from $43,500 in 2012.
Jovita Martínez, 36, who got her license a year ago, says she earned about $20,000 working full time, often seven days a week. She turned to real estate when she found herself unemployed after she married a U.S. citizen and moved from Spain to Miami. Soon after getting her license, she realized the business is not as easy as she expected.
"It is hard because I am not from Miami and do not know anybody out of the circle of my husband," she said.
Still, Martínez says her clientele is growing and she enjoys her new job. A social worker in Spain, she likes being self-employed.
"Either you sell or you don't make money. As simple as that," she said.
Times staff writer Susan Taylor Martin contributed to this report.