In the past year, real estate school instructor John Dyer has watched class enrollments dwindle, as agents struggling amid the stagnant housing market fled the business.
Many of those leaving got into the industry during the boom to make a quick buck, the Scottsdale broker said.
"When it came down to having to know what the heck you were doing, they didn't want to," Dyer said.
A growing number of Valley real estate agents are putting away their for sale signs and jumping into other jobs.
In June, the number of active real estate licenses fell to 69,771, down 5.6 percent from a year ago, according to the Arizona Department of Real Estate. Meanwhile, the number of inactive licenses has risen to more than 16,500, up from roughly 9,400 in 2002.
Some former agents are going back to school or teaching jobs. Others are bartending, waiting tables or selling cars.
Industry professionals say it's tough for inexperienced agents who haven't developed a client base to compete.
In 2001, an agent who wanted to make $100,000 needed to keep nine listings, averaging $250,000, at any given time, Dyer estimated. Now, they need to keep 27 listings to bring in the same amount, he said.
Dyer said his classes, which used to be at least half full with newer agents, are filled mostly with veterans now.
"It's the easiest business to get into. It's the hardest business to succeed at," said Mike Wasmann, president-elect of the Arizona Association of Realtors.
Agents who pushed themselves to become skillful in marketing, sales and other keys to the business are surviving, Wasmann said.
Those staying in the game are also scrambling to become experts in short sales, bank-owned properties and other niches. Dyer's classes on short sales - where a lender agrees to accept less than what a borrower owes - are standing room only these days.
"If you don't know short sales and foreclosures, you only have 20 percent of the market to deal with," he said.
Agents are taking classes on Federal Housing Administration, or FHA, loans, said Bill Gray, chief operating officer of the Arizona School of Real Estate & Business. The government-insured loans don't have specific credit score criteria and allow borrowers to put 3 percent down.
"That's the hottest market you will see today," Gray said.
Enrollment at the school has fallen to 2001 or 2002 levels, but Gray is optimistic.
More students have been signing up in recent weeks, he said.