Booming Real Estate Market Draw Diverse Crowd to Schools
Phoenix’s record-breaking real estate market is posting big numbers in sales and profits. It also is posting big numbers at area real estate schools, where people of all ages and backgrounds come to get in on the action.
They enroll for different reasons. For some, it’s a first job. For others, a career change. For others still, a retirement cushion. They all expect to succeed in their own way.
There are 150 approved real estate schools in Arizona, many of which prepare students for the state licensing test. Every month, almost 600 people become real estate agents in a state that now has more than 72,000 licensed agents. Just five years ago, the number of agents was hovering around 50,000.
There are different kinds of schools, ranging from those based online to those affiliated with a university. No matter the course of instruction, the goal is the same for students: complete the 90 hours of classes required to take — and hopefully pass — the state licensing test.
On a recent Thursday, more than 100 students packed a land-development and legal-descriptions class at the Arizona School of Real Estate & Business in Scottsdale, one of the oldest and largest schools in the state for aspiring real estate professionals. At the front of the room, professor and school director Bill Gray delivered an animated explanation on how to calculate acreage and read legal contracts. Around the room students called out answers and took detailed notes.
Later, during a break, six students talked about their reasons for going back to school in real estate. Their stories provide a window into the allure of Phoenix’s hot home-sales market.
Bethany Longmire, 22, graduated two months ago with a bachelor’s degree in music. She was living with her husband in Colorado and couldn’t find a job. So she called her uncle, a broker in Arizona, for advice.
“He said, ‘I could really use your help. There’s so much potential down here for you,’ “ Longmire said.
A week later, she moved to Scottsdale without her husband and enrolled in the Arizona School of Real Estate. A month later, her husband joined her here and they are building a life around Longmire’s future career.
Longmire doesn’t want to be in a money crunch forever. She wants enough to buy a home in Paradise Valley, build freshwater wells in Africa and pay for a stranger’s dinner at a restaurant.
Sheila Boren, a bubbly 23-year-old, studied to be a journalist at a Utah community college. But after school, she came home to Arizona unsure of what to do. She floated from job to job, including working at a resort, doing in-store marketing and selling personal training. In April, she landed in real estate school.
Her dad is a lender who has been involved in real estate for 25 years. Boren tagged along with him to look at properties as a kid, which sparked her interest as an adult.
Friends and family told her she has the right personality for the job, prompting her to give the industry a try.
Both young women will have to start their careers by breaking into a very competitive world where real estate agents get in bidding wars and carry pocket listings. The first step for Boren is to finish the 90 hours of schooling. For Longmire, the classes proved to be more detailed and time-consuming than she expected, but she recently passed the school test.
“You cannot be new at something and expect to be highly paid or highly desired or highly sought after,” Longmire said. “Everything I do now lays the groundwork for five years from now.”
While real estate attracts some people early in life, Gray says many of his students are in their 30s or 40s looking for a career change.
Opportunity is what Brian Crossley saw in real estate. At 34, he says he began to rethink his life while reading a financial self-help book by Robert Kiyosaki.
He enjoyed his job as an IT consultant in Ohio. But he didn’t see a chance to move up, earn more, live comfortably. At the same time, a college buddy working as a real estate agent and investor in Phoenix suggested Crossley move out and they would become partners.
He quit his job and moved to Gilbert this month with his wife and two young children, and he enrolled in school. Once certified, he plans to learn the ropes from his friend and start a company that buys and sells property.
“I’d really like to be able to see what my best is,” he said. “I tried to do that in the cube world. It’s hard to see your output when you work in a huge corporation.”
Money, not burnout, drove Susan Allen to real estate school, too. The 45-year-old Phoenix resident has been teaching deaf and hard-of-hearing students for 15 years.
She said she loves her job but longs for financial freedom. Her goal is to get her license by the end of the summer break, work part time for Arizona State Schools for the Deaf and the Blind in the fall and become a full-time agent in a year.
She knows the market is competitive, but she plans to carve out a niche selling one- to four-unit homes to low-income buyers, who can rent out extra units in order to afford the mortgage. Allen was a low-income buyer several years ago and wants to help people in a similar situation.
Crossley, a Catholic, said he wants to be able to tithe more and have time to volunteer.
“I have two sons and I want them to know there is more to life than getting things,” he said. “With a really good career, I’ll be making more money to give more back. The hope isn’t to make more money and keep it.”
Crossley says competition in the local market excites him more than it scares him.
“We only live once,” he said. “If I do terrible, then it means I tried my best and we can always move back. But that’s not the plan.”
Those approaching the end of a career often look at real estate as a flexible way to make money in retirement.
Evan Pomerantz, 56, of Chandler, said his engineering career left him burned out and worn down. Pomerantz had a “cardiac event” in January and heart surgery in February.
“I don’t need this stress anymore,” he said. “It’s just too much stress.”
A neighbor who works for Keller Williams Realty in Tempe recruited him to become an agent, a job that would allow Pomerantz to set his own hours, determine his client load and make extra money. His wife works full time.
“I’m looking at it as a relaxation,” he said. “I don’t need to work. I love dealing with people.”
However, some would-be agents quit because of the stress. The hot market has created a competitive environment for agents, even as some experts suggest the market may start to cool.
Sometimes real estate school’s greatest lesson is “it’s not for me,” said Sandra Daniels, who is in her late 50s.
Daniels works the night shift at a Bank of America call center in Phoenix. After raising nine kids, the single mom said she wanted to do something fun for her next stage of life and thought being a Realtor was the answer. She planned to advertise in the African-American community.
She put down $399 for classes. A week later, she was having doubts.
“I said, ‘I’ll go to class this morning and sit there and then I’ll know’ “ she said. “And I knew.”
She walked out and withdrew on the spot, forfeiting half of her tuition. Now she plans to become an elementary school teacher in New Mexico.
“It’s just the cutthroatness of it all. Money, money, money,” she said. “ I can’t operate like that. I thought it might be fun, but I think it will be very competitive.”
— Associated Press
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