For the Dulles Area Association of Realtors, the boom started between 2001 and 2002.

That was when about 200 new members signed up with the group. The same number joined last year. Now the association, which had about 500 members a decade ago, expects to have 1,200 by the end of the year.

The rise in membership is yet another sign of the allure of real estate in Loudoun County, real estate agents say, as more people try to buy and sell homes in the fastest-growing county in the United States.

Ed Beres, a real estate agent based in Leesburg, spent more than 20 years in technology sales before switching fields late last year. One technology company he worked for went out of business. The next forced him out when it downsized.

Beres said he saw real estate as an opportunity to use his sales skills. And because real estate agencies increasingly use the Internet to advertise their services, he could use his technology skills as well.

Moving from traditional methods of marketing to using the Internet "was an easy transition for me," Beres said. "For some of the other agents here who have been here for a long, long time, the transition has been a little more difficult."

Beres typifies many of the new real estate agents in Loudoun. A sizable percentage have left careers in technology or telecommunications, officials in the industry say.

Rick Cockrill, managing broker of RE/MAX Renaissance in Leesburg, estimates that two-thirds of the new agents in Loudoun have left telecom or dot-com firms. He said that in his office, which hired seven agents last year, several people have such backgrounds.

Cockrill said they are well suited to the profession, partly because of their business experience and partly because they are able to relate to potential homebuyers in the area, many of whom work in telecommunications or technology.

"They look at it as something they can do until they get a real job," he said. "Then a lot of them are coming into it and deciding it is a real job."

Still, Cockrill said it was common for new agents to have misconceptions about the industry. Real estate agents cannot just wait for listings to land in their laps, he said. They have to be willing to market themselves and to educate themselves about the market.

"A lot of people don't like to do that," he said, "and those are the ones heading back out the door."

Real estate agent David Houghtaling, who works in western Fairfax County and eastern Loudoun, said he started his business about two years ago after working for an office coffee-service company. He said that the flexibility of being a real estate agent appealed to him and that he liked the idea of working independently.

"I wasn't anxious to have a large batch of employees," Houghtaling said.

So far, Houghtaling's business has been brisk. He said the money was not his motivating factor for going into real estate, though he acknowledged it was a "great way to keep score."

Many new agents are drawn to real estate in Loudoun by the prospect of easy sales in a market with a tremendous demand for homes, according to industry veterans. In April, there were more than 1,000 new listings in Loudoun, according to the Dulles Area Association of Realtors.

But Gwen Pangle, the association's president, said real estate agents who hope to get rich quick have another thing coming. The median income for agents with five years' experience or less is $35,400, according to the National Association of Realtors.

"What's critical for them to understand upfront is that this isn't easy, and you're not going to make money right away. If you do, then you just got lucky," Pangle said.

Demand for homes in Loudoun, as in much of the Washington region, far exceeds supply, and competition is intense. Many new agents become dispirited quickly because they are unable make a sale in their first few months.

Beres said it took him four months to make his first sale after receiving his license in the fall. He said he was overwhelmed by anxiety at first.

"It's difficult after having generated a steady paycheck and commission for some time, then being your own boss," Beres said. "You have to go out there, and you have to make that sale. You have to generate that business."

Beres is still at it, but many agents who experience similar difficulties are not. Fledgling agents who join the Dulles association routinely drop out not long after, said Chief Executive Jeanette Newton.

"It appears to many people to be a get-rich-quick profession, but once they get into it, they discover it's a lot more work," Newton said. "They thought they'd sit by the phone, go to the house, make a sale and earn $10,000."

Jeanene Caradonna started working as an agent about three months ago. She has three children and, like Houghtaling, wanted a job that gave her flexibility. She said that it has taken her time to find clients but that things are picking up. Last weekend, she had an open house for her first listing -- a home in Ashburn whose occupants have found just the place they have been looking for.

"I'm helping them move up into their dream house," Caradonna said. "It's terrific."

Jeanene Caradonna, who started working as a real estate agent three months ago, wanted a job with flexibility.