A large number of courses are offered in this area to assist the increasing number of people interested in becoming real estate agents. Last year, more than 10,000 aspiring real estate professionals enrolled in such classes, which help individuals qualify for real estate licensing examinations.

Distributive education services in Alexandria and Arlington and Fairfax counties offer more than 90 separate classes annually. The University of Maryland has nearly 50 classes in basic real estate subjects each year.

While the numbers are huge, most of the basic courses are similar. Virginia and Maryland both require prospective real estate agents to take 45 hour of classroom instruction. Although the District does not have an educational requirement, many if not most applicants study the city's regulations through independent course work.

One typical class at Montgomery College is given regularly by Earle D. Hightower, who began in real estate in his mid-20s when he purchased investment properties in New Mexico. Later, he came to the Washington area to work for the government and bought property on the side. He recently retired from the Department of Energy where he was the assistant director for policy and plans. He is now the manager of the Panorama Real Estate office in Gaitherburg.

Classes at Montgomery College are given over the course of a semester or on an intensive, two-week basis. At the first intensive class this summer there were 35 students signed up.

Teachers distribute prepared materials, lecture and review the materials. They give short tests on the information, and then review the tests, which are used as teaching tools rather than for grading purposes.

Montgomery College recommends two texts for its course) "Modern Real Estate Practice" ($13.95) and "Maryland Supplement" ($4.95). "Mastering Real Estate Mathematics" ($7.50)is also available. The value of these publications in Hightower's summer class was limited because so many prepared materials were available. The instructions routinely carried two suitcases full of papers to class each morning.

Hightower explained that he preferred to use his own materials because they could be taken from a variety of sources.

"If you taken any given text it's incomplete because each author has his own way in which he attacks the problem," Hightower said.

The instructor said he developed his material from a number of real estate texts as well as several legal references. By the end of the class each student had a thick folder of materials, including forms and an extensive analysis of Maryland realty regulations.

Although the general class subject areas are described under state law, the actual class curriculum is left up to the individual instructor. At Montgomery College, school officials sat through an entire 45-hour course given by Hightower. The Maryland Real Estate Commission also audits courses throughout the state on a regular basis, according to its executive direcor, Charles G. Chambers.

An informal poll of students from the summer session showed that most regarded the level of instruction as "good" to "excellent." State records show that a higher percentage of Montgomery College students have passed the agent's exam than those who have taken the basic course at either the University of Maryland or Prince George's Community College.

Hightower, however, is concerned that Maryland's present educational requirements are not sufficient. For sales agents, he says, the real estate principles course "barely scratches the surface.

"It doesn't tell you about sales techniques or how to get listings. All it does is give you the basics. Before you can go out and sell real estate you have to go through - you should go through - a good training course given by some firm. In aaddition, you can get on-the-job training given by the sales manager."

Brokers, according to Hightower, should also have tougher educational requirements.

"To achieve some level of competency," he said, "where you at least have the intelligence to look out for your client - that is certainly one of the primary responsibilities of the broker and salesman. You should have a sufficient education where you can at least understand the legal principles and have a certain level of comprehensive reading ability and so on. The way you would do that is to require a higher education.

"I think it's incredible," he continued, "that a broker can get by without any kind of a degree whatsoever. In fact, a broker in Maryland can get by with only an elementary school education. I don't see any reason for that. Maybe they should start out by saying, 'Okay, a broker must have two years of college with a specialization in law or business.'"

Hightower said that many of the students who take the basic course either do not enter the real estate field at all or have only limited real estate careers.

"I guess that about 25 per cent of those who take the course don't take the state exam. And then maybe only 50 per cent of those who take the state exam go with a firm," he said."There's a significant drop-out rate in the first year. A lot of them lose interest and fade away. So, out of a total class maybe 25 per cent go into real estate and stay.