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Point & Purpose

Is requiring Realtors to obtain a college degree smart?

The idea is constantly thrown around of raising the bar in real estate, but let’s take a look at why requiring a college degree may not be the answer.

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Last week we brought up the topic of requiring Realtors to hold a college degree as a means of minimum standards for licensing. Any time we discuss with agents what the best thing to do for improving the industry and the image of the industry is to raise minimum standards with most people agreeing that a monkey wearing an eye patch can get a license.

I shared with you what I learned and didn’t learn in college and reasoned that requiring a degree wouldn’t likely improve the industry as many basic business skills are not taught in universities today, barring the business schools.

I got a touching email of a reader that agreed with me. Sig Buster started his career in 1972, before I was even born. According to Sig, he was “broke, busted and disgusted but this [real estate] business gave me something the college didn’t give me. Hope and a chance and that’s all I wanted. I’ve seen many recessions come and go and many college boys and girls bust out of the business, but I am still here.”

Sig’s story is one of a successful agent who does not have a college degree, he is a well respected leader. I would defy anyone to argue that he is not qualified to practice because he does not have an $80k piece of paper like some of you (and I) do.

Sig’s story in his own words:

Try to read this tale and make the argument that degrees should be required. Bachelor’s degrees are nice, they’re fancy, and requiring them is a great default argument but one that I think is lazy.

“I didn’t graduate from HS anywhere near the top 10% of my class. We didn’t have a speech class, thus I was very shy and couldn’t think very quickly on my feet. The Viet Nam War was ramping up in 1965 and no one wanted to gamble any money on a college loan with a young man like me who was 1A for the draft. I did get some college, mostly English and history by working and paying my way to night classes while I worked as a draftsman with the highway department. As a draftsman, I learned how to read maps and survey plats which helped me later with selling land.

When the money ran out, I was talked into trying real estate. I knew this was the only way I would ever have a fighting “chance” to “make good” as they say. We didn’t have any real estate classes or schools, so I studied for the test on my own while working on a framing crew building houses. This taught me how to read house plans and a lot about construction which later helped me spot trouble in houses I listed or sold.

I firmly believe this hard earned knowledge has helped me better serve my clients and kept me from being sued. You know the catch all phrase lawyers like to use. “He/She knew or should have known”. Well, my experience in the field helped me to “know.”

Eventually, I took and passed the real estate exam and received my first year salesman license. The Monday morning I began work as a salesman, I knew for a fact that no one should depend on me to buy a house. I was too poorly trained to sell houses. Fortunately, I had a good sales manager who helped me, and I sold and closed my first VA loan home in 30 days- just in time to pay my rent and buy me another 30 days in the business.

I received a flyer advertising the Realtors GRI classes and I took the first class. This opened my eyes to the education provided by the Realtor association. I took advantage of every class and seminar I could find. Gaining knowledge in my chosen field every day. This specialized knowledge provided by other real estate professionals who knew the business, gave me the knowledge to better serve my clients and the money followed. I learned a very valuable lesson that is hard to teach young realtors. Provide the service and the money will follow. In other words, don’t chase the money.

To make a long, long story short, I eventually received my GRI, and my CCIM designation. I have been chairman of a planning commission and chairman of a zoning board of adjusters. Thus, I have a working knowledge of the government side of development- something they do not teach in college. I will be a guest speaker at a college in April of this year. I will be speaking to a college real estate class of fresh young faces who will graduate thinking they know it all.

As I said in the beginning, our high school didn’t have a speech class so I took two Dale Carnegie courses as well as Toastmasters and now I have the knowledge to speak in public and think on my feet.

I still don’t have a college degree so in this society, I couldn’t be hired to be a dog catcher’s helper, but I do consider myself educated. I’ve read and studied more books than all of my college educated children put together.

I have a degree from the school of hard knocks. I don’t recommend getting this type of education because it takes so long and it is a very hard road. But, this is what I would recommend if we demanded a college education for a real estate career.

1. Continue to develop the Realtor University that is provided by NAR. If possible, get Realtor University accredited as a University. Instead of building buildings and concentrating on research, continue to teach people to function in their chosen field.

2. Have a specialized tract, residential, land, or commercial. Don’t try to do it all, but know a little about all of it.

3. Know how to read plans, plats and have a knowledge of how to read a compass, GPS.

4. Learn something about the governmental side of real estate and how it works.

5. Continue using Webinars and Archived Webinars provided by NAR and CCIM.

6. Encourage Dale Carnage and Toastmasters and courses like that to develop the social skills that are necessary for this business.

I don’t have a problem with people getting a college degree but I don’t think a college degree is the end all of education. It can be a deterrent because of the cost and it will shut out people who can’t afford to pay the price. Real estate has been good to me and I have given back by serving my association as President and in many other ways. This has all been a learning experience and always will be. If we must have a degree, let it be in Real Estate.”

Sig’s accomplishments:

These aren’t your standard Realtors’ back patting, these are some serious accomplishments:

  • Licensed in South Carolina and North Carolina
  • 1972 Entered The Real Estate Business with Associated Realty, Inc in Columbia, SC.
  • 1973 Earned the GRI Designation
  • 1989 Earned the CCIM Designation
  • 1998 Co-Chair CCAR Legislative Committee
  • 1999 President SC CCIM Chapter
  • 2000 CCAR Leadership Program
  • 2000 CCAR-Certified Professional Standards Mediation
  • 2001 Co-Chair CCAR Legislative Committee
  • 2001 CCAR REALTORS Image Award-April
  • 2002 Chairman CCAR Legislative Committee
  • 2002 National Chairman of the CCIM Legislative Committee
  • 2002 Member CCAR Grievance Committee
  • 2004 Leadership SCAR
  • 2004 Chairman CCAR Legislative Committee
  • 2004 CCAR Board of Directors
  • 2004 Realtor of the Year-CCAR
  • 2005 Vice Chair SCAR State and Local Issues Working Group
  • 2005 CCAR MLS Committee-Member
  • 2005 SC CCIM Chapter-Member Board of Directors
  • 2005 CCAR Legislative Committee-Member
  • 2005 CCAR Leadership Program-Dean
  • 2005 CCAR Board of Directors-Member
  • 2006 CCAR MLS Committee-Member
  • 2006 CCAR-Secretary-Officer
  • 2006 CCAR MLS Sub Committee- Commercial
  • 2006 CCAR MLS Sub Committee-Grievance
  • 2006 CCAR Legislative Committee-Member
  • 2006 NAR- Land Use and Environmental Committee
  • 2006 SCAR Director
  • 2006 Chairman SCAR State and Local Issues Working Group
  • 2007 Vice Chairman of SCR Legislative Group
  • 2007 President Elect Coastal Carolina Association of Realtors
  • 2008 President Coastal Carolina Association of Realtors
  • 2008 Chairman of SCR Legislative Group2008 South Carolina REALTOR Advocate
  • Award (used to be the Grass Roots REALTOR of the year award.
  • 2009 Treasure SCR/member Legislative Group SCR/Legislative Committee, CCAR
  • 2011 Legislative Group Chair SC CCIM Chapter
  • 2011 SC CCIM chapter Board of Directors

Can anyone really look to Sig Buster and say that he is not doing good things for our industry simply because he doesn’t have a college degree? No. The argument is lazy and the real requirements should be (as Sig indicated) education that is focused on real estate and encouraging active leadership involvement. What say you?

Lani is the Chief Operating Officer at The American Genius - she has co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH and Austin Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

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24 Comments

24 Comments

  1. Lisa Oden

    February 21, 2011 at 7:34 pm

    I can’t say it any better than Sig did. AMEN! A college degree is certainly not the key to success. It’s an excellent tool and sign of achievement, but not the only way to get to the finish line.
    Great post!

  2. jlittleaz

    February 21, 2011 at 7:47 pm

    Of all of Sig”s recommendations, I had to laugh at “learn to read a compass”.

    Sig is right, the degree won’t guarantee success. A better suggestion might be to require more from brokers. Many are just roster building, desk rental companies.

  3. George Berdos Jr. via Facebook

    February 21, 2011 at 8:15 pm

    What deficiency in the current licensing scheme is the required college degree supposed to cure? Having spend money for a 4 year degree will not make people any smarter nor will it make them more ethical. It will only serve to profit the colleges and the financiers of the college education. It will do nothing to protect the consumer or elevate the status to those that sell real estate.

  4. Brad Balmer via Facebook

    February 21, 2011 at 9:23 pm

    I think it’s smart if the motives are to aid in improving the public’s perception of realtors; and, to attempt to balance supply of agents with demand.

  5. Brad Balmer via Facebook

    February 21, 2011 at 9:23 pm

    I think it’s smart if the motives are to aid in improving the public’s perception of realtors; and, to attempt to balance supply of agents with demand.

  6. SedonaKathy

    February 21, 2011 at 10:40 pm

    Lani, many people think college is the answer to all the real estate woes, but it’s not. In Arizona and other states we have to battle the fact that there is NO education requirement for prelicensure…only requirement is they can pass the course and the test. I once had an agent that it took 7 tries for her to pass the test to become a licensee. She did and she was a very good agent. Not a Sig. But good. Her clients loved her and her paperwork was excellent. No. She was never sued. More than anything, I see that brokers do not supervise their agents, let alone train them. To me, that is the key. As a broker/trainer/agent I see the pitfalls, the potholes, and the testing of ethics myself. And in my classes, I hear that their broker is “not available”. The answer is training and education, IMHO. Sig is right. Real estate has given many people a leg up. We should keep it that way.

  7. Jen Evans via Facebook

    February 21, 2011 at 11:45 pm

    Right now ANYBODY can get a license. A college education can only raise the bar and bring some credibility to the profession.

  8. AgentGenius via Facebook

    February 22, 2011 at 1:04 am

    Thank you for weighing in, we hope you’ll get a chance to read the article. 🙂

    People who read this article know that we are not proponents of requiring a college degree and the above is a story of an extremely accomplished agent without a degree and the previous article in the series focused specifically on what a degree does NOT teach you.

  9. BawldGuy

    February 22, 2011 at 11:34 am

    The difference between Sig and I is he that enjoys being involved in government and trade associations. It’s not a good/bad thing, just different. Though I was given every chance to get my degree, I wasn’t mature enough to at the time to see it through. College degrees? I’ll admit that the only agent I’ve hired in my firm’s 34 years had a college degree due to my rigid and uncompromising insistence. It’s completely irrelevant that he shares my DNA, and I’m pretty sure his knowledge of ‘International Business’ will help in some way, some day. 🙂

    Sig’s custom designed education, as varied as it’s been, has a common thread: All of it has allowed him to produce higher quality results for his clients more quickly. Though we’re proud of those who’ve demonstrated persistence in finishing a degree, those years in college helped mainly by teaching them to type and that consistent hard work produces positive results.

    The rest, as I’m sure Sig would agree, is HappyTalk. I have profound respect for Sig and those like him.

  10. Barbara Singleterry

    February 28, 2011 at 3:46 pm

    I dislike the comment “anybody can get a Real Estate License” used as a pejorative. Yes, anybody CAN get a real estate license, this does not meant that anybody can be a good REALTOR. There is lots of training needed, lots of continuing education and lots of just doing the business. I love Sig’s take on what is needed to be a good REALTOR.

    A college degree does not mean you are educated, just means you spent 4 -5 years after high school hopefully learning how to learn….

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Point & Purpose

What makes a top producer in real estate?

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What makes a top producer?

Stop and think for a few minutes about who the top producers are in your market?

Ok, now think about what they doing that has allowed them to continue to consistently produce in a down market, when everyday REALTORS are throwing in the towel.

Every day I scan the MLS to see, what has sold, what is active, and what went under contract (I assume that is something most agents do every day.)

Over and over again the same names pop up as the listing agent with the home that sold or the actual buying agent that sold the home.

Teams

Except for one agent in my area, all the top producers have teams. Now it may be a two person, husband and wife team or a well oiled team with a team leader, several assistants, a listing coordinator or a closing coordinator. But, they all have HELP.

In my area, the names that keep popping up are on Teams. I believe it is virtually impossible to be a top producer without help. Well, you could do it alone but if you do how is that effecting time with your family? Realistically how many transactions can you juggle and give good service?

Running a Business

The second thing I notice about those top producers is the fact that they treat their business like a business. Real Estate to them is not just selling a house, but something they brand, allocate resources for, grow and manage. Not only are they thinking of ways to grow their business but they also thinking of the future and how to sell it down the road.

I remember being told by a entrepreneur friend of mine years ago, “all businesses are built to be sold.”

Far to many REALTORS, think of Real Estate as a job they do and someday when they retire then all the hard work of creating and nurturing relationships they have built is gone. (I’m outta here)

Focused and Positive

One other observation I have observed with top producers is they are focused and positive. I never see them “hanging out at the office”, or attending broker opens, or really for that matter, serving much at all on their local boards. Oh there are a few, but really very few.

Finally, I don’t see many top producers in my market on Twitter, Facebook, Empire Avenue or other social media sites during the day. I don’t see them at every conference known to man around the country.

What I do see is they work everyday, on their business and in their business.

How ‘bout you?

Think of the top REALTORS in your market, what characteristics do you see?

Flickr Photo Credit

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Point & Purpose

Should Realtors be required to have a college degree?

In Texas alone, barbers are required to have seven times more education hours than Realtors, and most licensed professions require more continuing education. This got me to thinking about what I did and didn’t learn in college, and what “raising the bar” really means.

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We’ve been discussing for years how to personally improve the practice of being an individual agent as well as how to improve the profession overall so that consumers have a better experience from industry insiders. Everyone has a different idea of how to raise Realtors above used car salesmen in the eyes of consumers and while social media has helped America see the personal side of real estate professionals, it hasn’t quite elevated the profession.

You’ve been to Starbucks this month, right? Everyone can spot the Realtor in the room- the hair is a little too big, the cell phone conversation is too loud and self important and the knock off Louis Vuitton bag is so far from the wrong brown it’s not even funny. As a Realtor, you roll your eyes and think “if only there was SOME way that it was a little harder to get licensed.”

We all know that gal or guy- they make the industry look horribly and in a single second undermine the entire industry. What should be done?

Any time we have this discussion, since the beginning of time, most people simply say that a college degree should be required. Really? That’s the answer? If you’ve been to college, you know that a lot of really, really, really painfully stupid people have graduated. It happens.

So this got me to thinking…

How would requiring a bachelor’s degree help the industry? I began thinking about my own college experience. I studied English at the University of Texas (then Spanish, then back to English, then Spanish and eventually left on year five with both).

College is supposed to prepare you for the “real world” and make you a better citizen, right? I’m not so sure. Regarding my own college experience, here is what college did do for me:

  1. I learned to hustle for myself. In a college so big, there was no accountability from anywhere but within myself.
  2. I learned how to research and how to tell junk from gems.
  3. I learned how to prioritize at my own risk.
  4. I learned how to work efficiently on very little sleep.
  5. Believe it or not, I learned the value of the professional network. If you didn’t go to office hours, your professors didn’t know who you were and if you didn’t keep up with them over the years, they couldn’t write letters of recommendation.
  6. The value of a personal network became apparent very early on as well- not just for getting into the best parties, but finding a roommate, a sofa when I needed one, a ride when my car broke down, a job when I needed cash, etc. If I’d stayed in my apartment alone, none of that would have panned out.
  7. Ultimately, I learned how to compete for my spot. UT is so big that it’s near impossible to get into if you’re not in the top 10% of your HS class. I also learned how to compete for a professor’s attention that hated teaching and was only there to research. Going to college also taught me how to compete for my spot in popular classes.

That all sounds good and wouldn’t those things all help elevate the real estate profession? Sure, why not? But it also got me to thinking about what I did NOT learn in college:

  1. Because I was an English major, I did NOT learn how to get to the point. We were required to write ten to twenty page papers several times each week and with that minimum, being concise was never necessary.
  2. I didn’t learn how to present well because the emphasis was on the information and not how it was presented. The most I had to do was read portions of my works out loud, but I could have read in a monotone voice and it wouldn’t have mattered.
  3. I did NOT learn how to work on a team. In the business school, this was a priority, but not in the liberal arts program. I learned how to push myself to be better than everyone, not how to function properly on a team… which is what most jobs require, especially real estate.
  4. I didn’t learn how to write a resume or sell myself. I now work frequently with interns and they are experiencing a similar lesson but now that social media is a part of their life, they think they know how to sell themselves because they can tweet. College does NOT prepare effectively how to sale, barring a few business courses.
  5. I did not learn money management. Again, the business school teaches this, but I left college having spoken to several financial advisors about my own loans but with conflicting information, my limited money experience was completely insane.
  6. I did not learn how to dress for success. I wore pajamas to most of my classes and the professor was lucky if I brushed my teeth or slept the night before. It didn’t impact my grade one iota.
  7. I didn’t learn how to negotiate. I knew how to manipulate and could get extra credit with some instructors, but overall, I learned nothing about negotiation, possibly one of the most critical tools in the real estate industry.
  8. I didn’t learn how to quit. In college, you keep pushing and pushing and pushing until you’re almost dead. In the real world, you have to know when to fold ’em. You have to know the signs of when a project isn’t working or when a tactic is failing, but college only prepares you to beat your head against a wall.

Most of these lessons I learned in my first jobs, not because the University helped me in any way.

So require or don’t require?

So, overall, when I think about whether or not a college degree is relevant in the real estate industry, I would argue that some of the most critical business survival skills are not taught in a traditional University unless students attend the business school (which is a minority of college students). Most colleges barely address the topic of real estate and graduate programs on the topic are forming, but going to school to be a Realtor is nearly unheard of (which would be the ultimate answer to the “what do we do?” question).

I believe that requiring a college degree would make for a beautiful Utopia and that in a dream world and on paper it looks good. Everyone with a framed BA or two would rule the world and help consumer trust levels, but I don’t believe it would actually make for better Realtors, it would just be more letters to add to the alphabet soup. What do you think?

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Business Marketing

Don’t hate me because I’m a real estate agent

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ocar magLast month I spent a day at a seminar for real estate agents. The hotel I stayed in was packed with other real estate agents all attending the same event and following dinner, I went to sit down in the packed lounge. Tables were filled and there were very few empty chairs, however one nice guy, we’ll call him John Doe,  invited us to join his table.

This article was first published here on September 09, 2009.

Poor John… can you imagine poor John’s surprise when he realized that his business trip coincided with this huge real estate extravaganza?  He was surrounded with 100’s of those in the real estate industry.  And guess what?  He wasn’t a huge fan…he didn’t really like real estate agents.

John Doe Has Some Questions

When I sat down initially we talked about family, our kids, their ages, and then of course – ‘what do you do?’ came up and I could sense the hesitation when I gave my occupation.  He was really pleasant and I think he genuinely was curious to hear my answers to some of his questions.  As we talked, another agent had just joined our table and conversation.

John said, “It doesn’t seem right to me.  Our last home purchase, I did all this research and found the homes we wanted to see online and the agent just showed them and got this big paycheck.  Can you explain that to me?”

Of course, I have a lot of knee jerk responses to this question but instead I really wanted to know more about what he had experienced.  Sadly, my agent counterpart took this on as a challenge.  Clearly, it had become her goal to convert our John Doe friend before the night was over.  I admit I did withdraw from the conversation a bit as she worked her magic and he glanced over at me periodically with eyes glazing over.

No Conversion That Night…

…and not likely ever.  Poor John may have been one lone voice in a sea of Realtors that night, but the reality is, he is very common.  His perception of our industry is pervasive and was probably only further validated that night by the verbal barrage of justifications he received from my agent counterpart.   Yet, I know that his one question is the tip of the iceberg.

The Perception Versus The Reality

The perception is that this job is easy.  Income is unearned.  We make too much.  Real estate agents lack training and real knowledge.  Real estate agents are just looking for a sale.   Maybe real estate agents aren’t necessary at all.

Maybe that’s all true – I don’t think that it is – but the fact is that it really doesn’t matter.  We can debate it with the same verbal justifications that John Doe heard that night or we can really hear our consumers and respond in ways that provide real tangible value and real industry change.

I cringed a little when I saw the cover to our local association’s publication.  I know the idea of promoting the value of a ‘Realtor’ has become so important but I think it’s fallen on deaf ears.  While I know how hard many of us work and I know how dedicated we are, I also know that if John Doe were to read that cover, ‘The hardest working letter in the alphabet,’ his eyes would surely roll.

When the industry starts to hold itself to a higher standard, when we as agents start providing real value rather than marketing pieces dripping with ego, when we talk less and listen more, when integrity begins to be more that a catch phrase on our cards, only then will we see the John Doe’s of the world not cringe at a hotel filled with real estate agents.

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