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As housing slumps, realtors quit

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Evidence is growing that agents, especially in hard-hit markets like Florida, California, and Georgia, are closing up shop in large numbers, experts say.

Here in Atlanta, the number of agents letting their licenses lapse is growing at a faster pace than the number of overall licenses held. Nationally, an average agent's income dropped from $49,300 to $47,900 between 2004 and 2006. Not helping that trend is the cold fact that, according to Standard & Poor's house price index, home prices dropped precipitously in 2007, breaking the record 6.1 percent annual decline in 1991.

In Cape Coral, Fla., where only 30 percent of agents sold even a single home last year, real estate agents are "dropping out" daily, says local realtor Ginette Young. The Oregon Association of Realtors reports an 11.5 percent decline statewide of licensed agents in the past year.

Many of those who leave quietly shelve their signs. Others go out big: In Gilbert, Ariz., the fastest-growing city in the fastest-growing state, RE/MAX 2000 closed 13 offices throughout the Valley of the Sun, laying off at least 20 employees and scores of contract agents right before Christmas. The company couldn't meet its expenses.

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