Real estate, according to columnist Art Buchwald, has replaced sex and politics as the prime topic of Washington cocktail parties. While Buchwald's observation may not be true in all circles, thousands of people are giving a credibility by joining the local real estate industry.

In the past year alone, at least 10,000 area residents have taken basic real estate courses and of those, as many as 5,000 have actually become agents.

David Krause, chief of the District's Occupational and Professional Licensing division, says an average of 150 people have taken the city's exam for each of the past several months.

In Northern Virginia, tests are given monthly at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria. There, according to Mat Pasquale, supervisor of Adult and Distributive Education, from 225 to 350 people attend each testing session for agents. Another 25 to 30 take the broker's test, which is given bi-monthly.

In September, the D.C. Real Estate Commission attempted to establish educational standards for agents and brokers that would have required 45 classroom hours of real estate education. The acting Corporation Counsel, however, ruled that the commission did not have authority to create the educational requirement. The District is now the only area jurisdiction without an educational standard.

To get a broker's license in the District, candidates must post a $2,500 bond and produce a lease or certificate of occupancy for an office. The fee is $30.

In Maryland, agents must pass a 45-hour course before taking the state exam. The course is given locally at the University of Maryland (where the tuition is $90). Montgomery College ($75), and Prince George's Community College ($50).

Under state law, the Graduate Realtor's Institute, which is affiliated with the Maryland Association of Realtors, may also conduct classes that qualify individuals for the agent's examination.

Maryland applicants have six months after passing the exam to find employment with a broker. If they do not activate a license by that time they must take the exam again. The cost of a Maryland license includes $5 for processing, $20 for a two-year fee, and a one-time charge of $20 for the state guarantee fund. Maryland uses a guarantee fund rather than individual bonding to assure that public claims against brokers and salesmen will be paid.

In suburban Maryland, tests are regularly given at the University of Maryland. Roni Ruszin, real estate coordinator, said that 300 to 350 people are tested at College Park each month. In November, the total may rise to as many as 900 applicants. The reasons: there will be no testing in December [WORD ILLEGIBLE] in addition, new state educational requirements for brokers go into effect on Jan. 1.

Each jurisdiction requires that applicants pass standardized examinations developed by the Educational Testing Service (ETS) in Princeton, N.J. For such brokers and agents, there is a general test of 100 multiple-choice questions in such areas as finance, real estate, math, contracts and appraising. There is also a "state" test with 30 questions concerning local real estate law.

While each jurisdiction has difference standards for entering the real estate business, residency is not a requirement for applicants. Individuals may apply for licensure in any jurisdiction.

In the District it is possible to have a real estate license, sell property, and not take the license examination. The city has a temporary licensing program that permits agents to sell property for as long as six months without taking a test. In practice, individuals who receive temporary licenses are scheduled for the earliest exam date.

The requirements for a District agent's application include a $1,000 bond; a police clearance form showing that the prospective licensee has not been convicted of such crimes as fraud, forgery, or embezzlement; a credit agency report; letters from all employers during the past five years and a $30 fee.

The applications also needs the signatures of two property owners as well as an endorsement from a broker licensed in the District.

Starting Jan. 1, Maryland candidates for a broker's license must have three years of experience and either nine hours of college-level courses relating to real estate or equivalent training through the Graduate Realtor's Institute. The fees are $11 for the exam, $80 for a two-year license, and $20 for the guarantee fund.

Agents in Virginia must pass a 45-hour course in Northern Virginia, however, are generally longer. Approved classes are available through the Distributive Education Services of the Alexandria, Arlington, and Fairfax public school systems as well as the Northern Virginia Community College.

Approved training is also available through private organizations including the National Institute of Real Estate, Fireside School, and the Mosley-Flint Schools of Real Estate. Course fees run from $51 at NVCC to $145 at NIRE.

The application fee for a Virginia agent's examination is $25 for the test and $30 for the license. Broker applicants pay $25 for the exam and $50 for the license. Virginia maintains a recovery fund that is similar to Maryland's guarantee fund. All licensees must contribute $10 to the recovery fund.