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Define “Real Estate Professional”



real estate professional word art

Graphic by Lani Anglin-Rosales

In a recent post by Teresa Boardman, she asked “What do Agents Really Want?”

The post was interesting and it generated a lot of comments. In those comments, an issue was raised about what a real estate professional was. I offered the following definition:

A party who acts as an intermediary between sellers/landlords and buyers/tenants of real property.

I offered that definition because I feel that putting aside your class of license or agency relationship, people who serve in those capacities have common experiences and challenges that are not faced by those who operate in our industry in other capacities.

For example, I think a full time real estate investor is an investor, not a real estate professional. I think that a full time appraiser is a Professional Appraiser, not a real estate professional, and that a Loan Officer is a Mortgage Industry Professional. But of course, it’s just my opinion.

What do you think?

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  1. Mark Harrison

    June 23, 2008 at 4:54 am

    I can see a justification for realtors calling themselves “Real Estate SALES Professionals”, but just “Real Estate Professionals” to the exclusion of all others? I don’t think so.

    I’m a landlord in the UK. This means that I have to:

    1: Understand the law of renting out homes

    1i: What’s the difference between Section 8 and Section 21 possession and which should you use?
    1ii: What becomes mandatory for all new tenancies on the 1st October this year?
    1iii: What is a CORGI certificate, and how often do you need a new one?
    1iv: Which are the (6) professional bodies whose members may carry out electrical installation / repair work on rental properties?
    1v: How do you find out the class rent for your local authority if you want to let to DSS tenants?
    1vi: Of the previous six questions, for which TWO has the answer NOT changed in the last 12 months?)

    2: Understand the law of buying and selling houses / apartments

    2i: Do you need a contaminated land report BEFORE you list a 3-bedroom house with an agent?
    2ii: What about a 2-bedroom house?
    2iii: For which of the above has the answer changed in the last 12 months?

    3: Provide a great customer experience to my tenants (so they renew)

    4: Understand market cycles / discounted cashflow / cash on cash returns

    5: Understand the tax law of landlording

    5i: If a husband owned a rental property prior to being married, how is the rent income split between him and his wife once they are married?

    Under your definition, how many “real estate professionals” could answer those questions?

    There was only ONE question above where the impact of getting it wrong didn’t run the risk of going to court and being hit with a fine or in some cases, prison time!

    OK, I accept that you’re in the US, and I’m in the UK, but I’d be surprised if the majority of UK Estate Agents (what we call realtors) could answer those questions…

  2. Bill Lublin

    June 23, 2008 at 5:13 am

    Mark; Thank you for your comment – As a semi-frequent visitor to the UK, I was fascinated by your response. And as a landlord here in the US, I agree there are a lot of things that we need to know to operate our buildings properly, but any competent property manager here in the US should know those things to act as an agent for a landlord. I actually had to learn the local equivalents to your questions in order to manage property for others in my marketplace. When I was able to own my own real estate, the knowledge was, of course, very useful in operating those properties.

    In looking at your list, I didn’t see anything that I would not want to be familiar with if I were to become an Estate Agent in the UK. I’m not really familiar with the licensing laws ,professional real estate organizations, or standards of practice in the UK, so I would be very interested in anything you can share. I would point out that not being a real estate professional (by my definition here) does not in any way diminish how professional an individual may be in a real estate related business.

    That being said, is it possible that your question is one of competency rather then definition?

  3. Mark Harrison

    June 23, 2008 at 5:27 am

    My question is one of definition.

    My feeling is that ANY professional who works in real estate should meaningfully be described as a “real estate professional”… not just sales intermediaries.

    I do agree that there’s a big difference between the “Professional landlord” and the “chap who thought that he could make easy money buying a rental property last year but acts as a computer programmer by day”.

    I wouldn’t include that chap as a “real estate professional”, but would include:

    – Realtors
    – Professional landlords
    – Real estate lawyers
    – Property managers
    – Valuers / appraisers
    – Real estate bankers
    – Property developers

  4. Barry Cunningham

    June 23, 2008 at 5:30 am

    Bill your semantics and manipulation of the word professional can only be meant to justify the sacrosanct commission and other than that you are playing with words to justify some kind of ill designed caste system.

    You also have the great ability to make giant leaps of categorization. If you truly believe that the only qualification for one to be a “professional” in this industry is to be a “party who acts as an intermediary between sellers/landlords and buyers/tenants of real property” you are sadly ill-informed and your definition is whacked.

    I bet a lot of stagers, title agents, etc would also consider themselves as professionals in this industry.

    Your argument is pointless and much less than I would expect from an “Agentgenius”. Hey…if it makes you sleep better at night thinking you’re looked at in a different light then so be it.

    Reason being that I now find myself indifferent to that what you believe or assume to know. The consumer, the client..those we do business…it is their opinion of what is and what is not a professional that matters to me and in that regard, I find solace in not having to have someone like you define that which we do and succeed at.

  5. Glenn fm Naples

    June 23, 2008 at 6:03 am

    The use of real estate professional appears to be an umbrella term used to cover the many specialities of the real estate industry.

    The term “full-time” implies that an individual devotes all (full) time to specific aspect of the real estate profession.

  6. Bill Lublin

    June 23, 2008 at 6:06 am

    Barry; You’re obviously so upset that you’re having trouble being coherent. Or you didn’t read the post (though it was very short). I actually wrote the post to get some other input on what people thought about that definition.

    I didn’t say anything about commissions, and I certainly never indicated that I viewed commissions or fees as sacrosanct. And your comment about a caste system is just so off the wall I don’t understand it. Are you indicating that I think that we are somehow superior because we are intermediaries?

    My post does not indicate that any professionals in any related field are not professional, they are just different. They may be staging professionals, or Title professionals, or mortgage professionals, but they are not IMHO real estate professionals.

    Title Professionals that I know (including the ones that work in my title company) do not consider themselves real estate professionals, though they are professionals who work in a real estate related business. They are in the Title Insurance Business. They have their own professional organizations, and their own issues. They are in fact Insurance Professionals, not real estate professionals.

    As far as my argument being pointless, I wasn’t making any argument, as I mentioned earlier, I was looking for other people’s opinions.

    Contrary to your assertion this isn’t about how I look at myself, or even how I look at others. Most people are defined in many different ways. They can be a coach or referee or real estate professional , Dad, Son, brother, Investor, or Lawyer, all at once. Me, I’m a Father, Husband,Friend, Business Owner, Landlord, Tenant, Mortgage Lender, Real Estate Professional, Instructor, Writer, Entrepreneur, Eagles & Sixers fan, Comic Book Collector, Reader, and much more. And after Father, Husband, and Friend, and then being prioritized first to business and then to leisure, those things come in no particular order of importance to me.

    And finally in response to your statement “I find solace in not having to have someone like you define that which we do and succeed at.” – You seem very insecure – What in this post indicates to you that I am trying to define what you do or what success is for you? All I’m trying to do is find out what other people think about a definition of a term. Don’t take it so personally Barry – Its really not all about you.

  7. Bill Lublin

    June 23, 2008 at 6:07 am

    @Glenn – SO how would you write a definition then? All suggestions welcomed 😉

  8. Barry Cunningham

    June 23, 2008 at 6:41 am

    Bill this post was borne from the comment thread on Teresa’s post where you most assuredly stated that I was not a real estate professional and the the definition that you proffered there, YOUR definition, was on that thread. So this not being about me is a back pedal now.

    In any event, this won’t be a 100 comment thread, at least not one I am going to be participating in, so you can have the last word as always. Done with this. This “non-real estate professional” actually has some houses to buy and sell today. Have a great week.

  9. Bill Lublin

    June 23, 2008 at 7:10 am

    Barry; You’re absolutely correct thsi was born of the other post, but it is not and never was about you – As I saide earlier, All I’m trying to do is find out what other people think about a definition of a term.. And I hope we see some other definitions if people disagree with the one I proposed.
    Hope you have a great week also.

  10. Jim Duncan

    June 23, 2008 at 8:29 am

    Regardless of the above commentary, my definition of a “real estate professional” is not so constrained.

    My definition of a “real estate professional,” and only for myself is this –

    I advocate for and represent my clients’ best interests. I guide and advise as appropriate and necessary; my clients come first. My commission is vital to my success and survival, but it is not my focus. My word is my bond and I will not sacrifice my integrity for anybody or any transaction, even if my survival depends on that sacrifice; the Realtor Code of Ethics is secondary.

  11. Benn Rosales

    June 23, 2008 at 8:49 am

    The license you hold makes this not semantics because it determines by its definations a legal minimum responsibility to consumers and other licensees.

    I am a licensed real estate professional, not a Mortgage Professional because I may help someone get prequalified or apply myself for a real estate loan.

    In saying this does not detract from the fact that one is professional in all that they do.

  12. Mark Harrison

    June 23, 2008 at 9:06 am


    You were a Licenced Real Estate BROKER.

    I am a Professional Landlord. (In the UK licencing sense, not just in terms of how I describe myself.)

    Both of us are “Real Estate Professionals”.

    There is a huge difference between saying:

    1: “We, as Realtors, are Real Estate Professionals”.
    2: “We, as Realtors, are the ONLY Real Estate Professionals. Professional Landlords, Property Managers, Attorneys specialising in Real Estate, Appraisers, Property Developers, and Bankers are NOT Real Estate Professionals.”

    Realtors are salespeople, or brokers…. sales and brokerage is by far from the only part of the industry that can be called a “profession.”

  13. Benn Rosales

    June 23, 2008 at 9:26 am

    We’ll, I am not a Broker, on purpose.

    I am a licensed real estate professional. I am a member of the national association of Realtors.

    Do not misquote me:

    I have never in a million years ever said “because I am a Realtor” – If anything I am using the basic fundamental licensing as a boiler plate bottom line for entry as it requires a professional standard.

    A standard is what seperates the titles (regardless of whether you like the standard set or not).

    I do not believe that I will change your opinions on the matter, so I’ll simply agree here to strongly disagree. =]

  14. Bill Lublin

    June 23, 2008 at 9:51 am

    JIm; I would want your definition to be that of any professional with integrity or perhaps even any honorable man. I think its much broader then our business definition (Maybe thats why I like you so much)

    Mark: Here a Broker’s licence is a class of licence (thanks for giving me the excuse to use the English spelling – it just feels so classy) and agents, and rental managers (who do not have specific licences here in Pennsylvania). Our landlords are not licensed as such in Pennsylvania (though rental licences are required for properties, and business licences are required to collect rents) For that reason, though I understand your point, I would respectfully disagree here in the US. Maybe this is an example of George Bernard Shaw’s famous quote,”America and England, two countries separated by a common language.”

    The differences in the business environment fascinate me, so I hope you don;t mind a couple of questions. Does the Landlord Licence in the UK require specific courses or examinations? Does it vary across the UK? Where in the UK are you?

  15. Benn Rosales

    June 23, 2008 at 10:00 am

    I need to clarify something I said:

    [A] not [the] license would establish the term Professional. That is where the disconnect is and one I would assume if someone wanted to sue you and hold you to that professional standard, that distinction would have to be made.

  16. Heath Coker

    June 23, 2008 at 11:39 am

    I have used “real estate professional” in place of broker/agent. The public often doesn’t understand the difference. Of course, you could also add the further designations of buyer/lister/facilitator/dual/agent|buyer/lister/facilitator/dual/broker, etc. Other parts of the real estate transaction are a more specific with their “title”.

  17. Mark Harrison

    June 23, 2008 at 12:19 pm


    I think there are two different arguments going on.

    1: Should we use the word “Professional” to mean “Licenced.”

    In many areas in life the word “professional” means “does this as their main income” rather than “has a licence”. eg – Professional Actor (vs. local AmDram member), Professional Driver ( = taxi driver, trucker, bus-driver, or even F1 racing driver) as opposed to “someone who just drives him/herself to work and the kids to school.

    For example, I’m lead tenor in my local Church. If I sing for a wedding, I get paid, but that doesn’t make me a “Professional singer” in any meaningful sense.

    However, my friend Richard, who used to play Andre in the UK “Phantom or the Opera” and earns a good living in the Corporate Entertainment circuit by singing at company functions IS a professional singer… even though he has no “licence” as such.

    2: Should we use the word “Professional” to ONLY mean “Realtor”, or should the word apply to ANYONE who is (depending on the answer to question one [“Paid” or “Licenced”]) to work in the sector.

    If we said “licenced”, then “licenced realtor”, “licenced landlord”, “licenced property manager”, “licenced appraiser” could all be “Real Estate Professionals”. (Obviously, only Realtors would be able to describe themselves as “Realtors.”)

    If we say “main income”, then anyone whose main income was Landlording could call themselves as “professional landlord” (to distinguish them from the ranks of the middle class who bought a rental unit or two in the hope it would be a better pension than their pension).

    Your use of the term [A] Licence makes me think that we’re probably broadly in agreement.


  18. Benn Rosales

    June 23, 2008 at 12:48 pm

    In the states, you do not have to be a “realtor” to practice real estate, but you must hold a license to be a real estate agent.

  19. Jim Lee

    June 23, 2008 at 1:51 pm

    Here’s what the IRS calls a “real estate professional:

    “Qualifications. You qualified as a real estate professional for the year if you met both of the following requirements.

    *More than half of the personal services you performed in all trades or businesses during the tax year were performed in real property trades or businesses in which you materially participated.
    *You performed more than 750 hours of services during the tax year in real property trades or businesses in which you materially participated.”

    Here’s one of Webster’s definitions: “participating for gain or livelihood in an activity or field of endeavor often engaged in by amateurs”

  20. Jay Thompson

    June 23, 2008 at 3:24 pm

    To bastardize Supreme Court Justice Potter Smith’s quote:

    “Professional” may be hard to define, but I know it when I see it.

  21. Matthew Rathbun

    June 23, 2008 at 7:49 pm

    Um, I know that I am dumb and all, but I don’t care what you call yourself, so long as you have a license to do what your doing.

    I want my clients to to call me “honest, helpful and understanding.” I don’t care if they call me a Realtor, Consultant, Salesperson, Real-a-tor,Broker or Jim Bob so long as we meet their goals at the end of the transaction and they feel as if they made the right choice in hiring me to serve them.

    I think that people spend wayyy too much time trying to define themselves as opposed to just doing the job.

    I know that I am the village idiot here, but really you can call it Executive Assistant, Receptionist or Administrative Assistant… if you take notes, answer the phone and get coffee – you’re a secretary and the pay doesn’t change.

  22. Mark Eckenrode

    June 23, 2008 at 10:19 pm

    lively discussion and there’s good points raised regarding degree of knowledge or expertise. but…

    when does the ability to provide a quality of intangible service become a measure?

    sure, joe proagent may know what T’s to cross and how to keep me from being sued but if he’s a jerk… to what degree does mannerisms and intangible service enter the picture?

  23. Bill Lublin

    June 24, 2008 at 3:06 am

    @Jay Thompson – I love it 😉

    @Matthew I have to agree that our satisfaction has to come from doing the job right rather then any title – And I’m glad I wasn’t the only one to notice that all the secretaries disappeared 🙂

    @Mark – Really well made point about comportment in the performance of any set of services. It puts me in mind of an insufferable but exceptionally competent Doctor my wife once visited. Regardless of the quality of his services, he was impossible for us to work with him.

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