Realtors are ‘every 10 feet’ in Florida but more want in the business

Carolyn Tasillo, left, and Chantel Leavitt are among the students who started classes this week hoping to join the swelling ranks of Florida real estate agents. [SUSAN TAYLOR MARTIN | Times]

ST. PETERSBURG — Tired of working as a yacht captain, Pancho Jiminez decided to get into real estate even though he knows it’s a highly competitive field in Florida.

“Realtors are every 10 feet around here,” he says.

Nonetheless, Jiminez is among 30 students who started classes this week at the Bob Hogue School of Real Estate in St. Petersburg, one of 16 locations where Hogue instructors are currently coaching would-be sales agents.

Florida already has 180,000 Realtors battling it out for commissions at a time when there are so few homes on the market. In January, only about 4,000 homes sold in the four-county Tampa Bay area, which worked out to less than one sale for each Realtor in the area. And the ranks of agents keeps growing — last year, 32,223 first-timers took the licensing exam statewide, just slightly off of 2016’s applicant pool.

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Yet talk of a hot market continues to lure aspirants like those who’ve paid $295 for the week-long course at Hogue’s St. Petersburg headquarters.

“It’s been holding steady,: Hogue says of enrollments. “It’s actually doing a little better than I would have thought what with the new president and so forth but the economy is moving forward and we’re getting a good supply of people.’’

Among them: Chantel Leavitt, who said she had a good run selling clothes on ebay until sales plunged 50 percent because of competition from Amazon. Meanwhile, her sister, a ReMax agent in Brandon, has been enjoying success in real estate.

“She has urged me to do this for years,” Leavitt, 50, said of getting a license. “So I’m going to switch gears even if it’s out of my comfort zone, which is retail.”

Colt Caywood — sporting a black T shirt that said “Rogue” — is an ER assistant helping doctors during open-heart surgery. But he wants to be his own boss and thinks the way to do that is get into real estate because Florida’s market is “phenomenal.”

“Just like you need health care, you always need somebody to sell a house,” said Caywood, 35. “I’m going to step my foot in to see what it’s all about and if it’s a good fit, I will make a change.”

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During a break he was chatting with Jiminez, the yacht captain.

“I’m done being owned by other people and at their beck and call,” Jiminez, 47 said. “I want a job with flexibility.” Having a license will help him not just with his own real estate investments — “I don’t want to pay a commission” — but with those of friends.

“”I know a lot of yacht captains with a lot of cash,” he said.

The current class may be a little atypical in terms of age. Hogue says he’s noticed that students — who must be 18 to get a sale associate license — seem to be younger than in the past.

“”I’m surprised at how many were born in the ‘90s,” he said. “We’ll soon be getting our first person born in this century.”

And if the past is a guide, a majority of current students won’t make careers in real estate. Between 57 percent and 61 percent of those who took the licensing exam last year failed it, according to monthly statistics compiled by the state Department of Business and Professional Regulation, Of those who do pass, many find that selling houses is a lot harder than they thought.

“We try to warn that it’s not for everybody,” Hogue says, “but they still keep coming.”

Contact Susan Taylor Martin at smartin@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susankate

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