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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.

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.

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.

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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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 COO and News Director at The American Genius, has co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH, Austin Digital Jobs, Remote Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.



  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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