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10 Things I wish they taught in real estate school

LibraryMy office has seen a slew of new agents join in the last 6 months.  I suspect it’s largely due to the heavy recruitment efforts of my fabulous branch manager – I just don’t believe that there are that many people out there just itching to become a Realtor right now.

This column was originally published on February 15, 2010.

Talking and working with these new agents got me thinking about my own experience in the principles of real estate course just 3 years ago.  I remember being told that only 10% of the students are still in the business after 2 years.  For my class, that average was spot on (3/32).  The biggest failure I see in training agents is a complete lack of practical education.  It’s great to spend 4 of your required 40 hours of training learning about metes and bounds (which, to this date, I have still never used), but so many basic skills are completely overlooked.  I’m a big supporter of raising the bar (#RTB), so, in no particular order, I’ve put together a short (and, I’m certain, incomplete) list of items that should be required for new agents.

Lead Generation

Wanna know why new agents fail?  Because they don’t know how to generate new business.  It’s all fine and well to make a new agent pay for the course, the test, their dues, their MLS fees, their sentri/supra/multac key charges, their office/desk fees, etc., but when it comes to actually generating business, fuhgeddaboutit!  Why are we expecting people to shell out thousands of dollars to become agents, but god forbid we actually teach them how to find business!  Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime, right?  New agents NEED to know how to actually generate business!  I understand some people take the test without any intent of becoming a Realtor, so for that minority I’d even be willing to see some kind of compromise:

How about creating an optional required add-on course taken after principles of real estate, within 3 months of getting your license?  We could include this sort of core business training and call it Realtor 101 (RE101), charge a few hundred dollars additional and give people a better chance to succeed.  If I became a barber, I’d need over 800 hours of training to get my license, just to have the right to charge for a haircut!  Why do I only need 40 hours training to charge someone for selling their biggest asset?

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Current Loan Programs

Teaching the difference between conventional/203k/FHA/VA seems pretty standard right now, but there are so many additional options out there.  For instance, many local areas have seen huge support by way of foreclosure purchase assistance programs.  While learning every lender’s unique program would be nearly impossible, I think it should be required for new agents to at least learn the federally sponsored programs that are being used locally.

It’s a dis-service to agent and buyer if the agent doesn’t know their clients options.  When a buyer learns about a program they could have used after the fact, it makes the agent – and the industry in general – look bad.  Regardless of whether or not it’s true, it damages the industry’s attempt at transparency.

E-Pro Training

Let’s be honest.  I don’t think E-Pro is a terribly useful course.  The designation is nice on a resume, but I know too many E-Pro certified agents who don’t know how to use their own email.  If (some) E-Pro certified agents are not what you could consider “tech-savvy”, where does that leave the minimum standard of knowledge for a wet-behind-the-ears agent?

This business requires internet knowledge and training, period.  I’m not suggesting that E-Pro become required, but I think it’s necessary to incorporate some of that designations training into a more modern principles of real estate course.

MLS Usage

It never ceases to amaze me, but when I post up the latest market stats on my website, I ALWAYS get a new agent in my office wanting to know where I got my information.  It’s not hard folks, the information is right there on the MLS, all you need to do is download it!

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Beyond that, I know several agents who don’t know how to set up automatic drip feeds for listings, don’t know how to add/modify search fields (you can search by waterfront table depth?!?), and don’t even understand all of the abbreviations that are used.  Knowing how to use the MLS is a must, so why isn’t training on it standard as well?

CAN-SPAM compliance

It’s difficult to comply with federal anti-spam laws if you don’t know what they are.  Ignorance is not immunity and most agents don’t even realize they’re exposing themselves to tens of thousands of dollars in liability simply because they don’t have an unsubscribe link in their mass mailings.  Teach it, learn it, move on.

Liability Limitation

Every agent should be set up as some sort of LLC or S-Corp.  Most don’t, and yet creating your own business entity is cheap and easy.  The peace of mind alone should be enough reason to do so, but if you don’t know any better, how can you hope to protect yourself from expensive litigation.  I’ve seen agents lose their OWN HOME because they we’re sued by an angry client and they had no corporate entity set up to shield their family from that sort of risk.

Red Flag Awareness

Haven’t we all been on the other side of a deal with a new agent, frustrated because closing falls through when some preventable issue torpedo’s the deal?  Everybody makes mistakes, but real estate is a complicated business with lots of things that can sink a contract.  Here’s how we do it:  Add it to RE101, teach people to do preliminary title searches, educate on things that can cause financing to fall through, explain how a short sale does (or doesn’t) work, and teach agents how to identify issues before they become deal-killers.

Business Planning

Another candidate for RE101.  Too many agents don’t even know what a business plan looks like, much less how to create one.  Give new agents business plan samples, explain what goes into creating one, and let them choose to take it or leave it at their discretion.  A little planning goes a long way, and a better understanding of how to create a successful business would certainly help create better agents

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Market Analysis

I never understood why this wasn’t taught in the principles of real estate course itself.  The most valuable paperwork I got as a new agent actually came from an appraiser.  It was a valuation estimation sheet that they used for estimating how much improvements to a property were worth.  Knowing what the average value increase for 2 vs. 2.5 bathrooms?  Priceless.  Providing a new agent with the same powerful tools is cheap and easy, so why not do it and train agents on the mechanics of doing a market analysis?

Wrapping it Up

Obviously, none of these suggestions can replace anything currently being taught.  This is additional information, to supplement current minimum education.  Will it increase the required hours to get your license?  You Betcha!  Will it increase the cost of the course?  Yup!  Raising the minimum standards of training is neither cheap nor easy, but it provides a better service to the agents in the class, their future clients, and the face of the real estate industry in general.

Written By

I'm a Realtor in Southern Maryland. I grew up surrounded by the RE business, spent time as an actor, worked as a theatrical designer and technician, and took the road less traveled before settling down in real estate. I run my own local market website at and when I'm not at the office or meeting clients, I can usually be found doing volunteer work, playing with my 3 rescued shelter dogs (Help your local Humane Society!), or in the garage restoring antique cars.



  1. Joe Runfola

    February 15, 2010 at 1:43 pm

    Excellent article Jonathan!, I agree, these topics should be included in the salesperson’s licensing class.

  2. Ben Goheen

    February 15, 2010 at 2:02 pm

    Do you still have that valuation estimation sheet from the appraiser? You just gave me a good idea. 🙂

    • Jonathan Benya

      February 15, 2010 at 2:41 pm

      what’s your email address? I’ll send it over!

      • Ben Goheen

        February 15, 2010 at 2:54 pm

        ben [at] metrowidemn [dot] com

      • Ben Goheen

        February 15, 2010 at 2:54 pm

        ben [at] metrowidemn [dot] com – Thanks, I appreciate it!

        • Jonathan Benya

          February 15, 2010 at 3:09 pm

          Just sent it, let me know what you end up doing with it, I’d be curious to see!

      • Jackie MacDonald

        February 22, 2010 at 12:50 am

        Great article! I would love the valuation estimation sheet as well. Many thanks!

  3. Diane Colborn

    February 15, 2010 at 2:32 pm

    I agree to all of the above and feel sorry for new agents when they are tossed into the water without the resources that they need. Most of the new agents I talk to always have that look on their face “Well, what do I do now?!”

    • Jonathan Benya

      February 15, 2010 at 4:13 pm


      Great to see you commenting on AG! There’s lots of good stuff here, written by people who are really top-notch industry pros! I always feel bad for those new agents with that “jacklit deer” look when they first start out in the business!

  4. Joe Loomer

    February 15, 2010 at 2:43 pm

    This list could get pret-tay dang long, Jonathan. Phone etiquette alone could take up half the course. Just recording a voicemail message for your callers is apparently too complicated for some folks – others think it has to be a full minute long.

    Another ten days could be spent on “what not to say on Twitter if you work for NAR.”

    OH NO HE DIDN’T!!!!

    • Jonathan Benya

      February 15, 2010 at 3:11 pm

      You had to go there, eh? Your right, this list could be impossibly long, right down to why you should be including your brokerage name and broker/manager contact on your voicemail! You’ll never get everyone to follow the rules perfectly, but a little bit more consistency would be mighty nice!

  5. Bruce Lemieux

    February 15, 2010 at 4:55 pm

    Great list. Bottom line: agents need education on how to Successfully Run a Real Estate Business. All of us receive training from The School of Hard Knocks.

  6. Mary Jo Quay

    February 15, 2010 at 6:38 pm

    Wonderful suggestions. Our industry has taken a major turn in the past few years to where we have to be more closely aligned with attorneys, financial planners and tax advisors.
    The real estate course is designed to get us through the test, not do well in business or in life. I’ve often thought that there should be a required apprentice position for new agents to shorten the learning curve. The independent contractor model doesnt’ support apprentice positions, but it would help avoid much of the fallout and legal mistakes that rookies fall into.

  7. Jamey Prezzi

    February 16, 2010 at 10:07 am

    Bravo! Love the “red flag” awareness…

    • Jonathan Benya

      February 16, 2010 at 12:00 pm

      Red Flag Awareness is seriously overlooked by new agents, mostly because they’re too green to know any better. Rather than encouraging the “sink or swim” attitude, I think NAR should take a more proactive approach to #RTB and encourage success. I think the attitude of only the strong survive is a backwards way of thinking and is a big reason for the poor public image of NAR and Realtors in general

  8. Kari A Battaglia

    February 16, 2010 at 11:38 am

    Jonathan, great post. My office just hired a slew of new agents. I feel bad for some of the new agents but at the same time I myself wondering what the heck they are doing here. This one new agent has no tech skills whatsoever, has trouble dealing with the different passwords for websites, has trouble remembering her cell phone number and chooses to leave her phone off stating that if someone wants to get a hold of her they know how to. I asked her what if a prospect wants to get a hold of her and her phone is off how are they gonig to reach her? She decided then she should probably should keep her phone on but she doesn’t.

  9. Kevin Baker

    February 16, 2010 at 12:23 pm

    Great Post and comments! They should teach a marketing course as part of the propgram. Gone are the days of being brought into the office, liscence in hand given a phone and a phone book and being told good luck and start calling. Practicle knowledge is important and if they taught a lead generation class in cojunction with marketing etc. I believe more realtors would be successful out of the gate,

  10. Amber Davis

    February 16, 2010 at 12:34 pm

    Being new in any industry is hard. That’s why experience ends up being far more valuable than your actual diploma. For #1 on your list: Lead Generation: offers a RE Lead Generation service that delivers pre-screened leads to help agents find new business prospects. We have a lot of new agents that find the service incredibly helpful. It’s one less task they have to struggle with!

    • Jonathan Benya

      February 16, 2010 at 12:42 pm


      Completely Shameful. We’re here to discuss helping agents succeed, not shoving another lead generation service down their throats. Internet based leads are the lowest rate of return for an agent right now. Find another place to troll your service.

    • Fred Romano

      February 16, 2010 at 1:09 pm

      Yeah Amber, Your comment should be removed and would be if I had a say.

    • Amber Davis

      February 16, 2010 at 1:40 pm

      I apologize, I certainly wasn’t trying to be offensive.

  11. Kevin Baker

    February 16, 2010 at 12:48 pm

    Great Comment Johnathan. Lets keep it about helping each other get better and not flogging some service or programe. I am sure we all get enough crap internet leads for free off our own marketing programes without having to pay someone for the same stuff.

  12. Fred Romano

    February 16, 2010 at 1:12 pm

    Johnathan very nice article! Though I am sure if “newbies” knew real estate was this complicated beforehand, many would say forgeeetabotit and get an office job.

  13. Judy Sursely

    February 16, 2010 at 2:19 pm

    This is very good advice for the “Older agents” who have been in Real Estate for longer than 5 years. Everyone needs a refreshner course to bring us back to the goal of helping people buy or sell that home.I, too would like a copy of that evaluation sheet. I had been given one 20+ years ago, it has long been lost. A new one would be most helpful. Thank you.

    • Jonathan Benya

      February 16, 2010 at 2:29 pm

      I just sent the sheet to you, let me know that you got it and I hope it comes in handy!

      • Gareth Ellzey

        February 18, 2010 at 11:32 pm

        Me, too, please for one of those appraisal sheets.
        gareth dot ellzey at century21 dot com

  14. Bob Walton

    February 16, 2010 at 2:55 pm

    Great article Jonathan. I am a fairly new agent (2 years) and surviving in this market. I suck up every bit of info I can, and training when ever possible.
    Good stuff, keep it up.

    • Jonathan Benya

      February 16, 2010 at 6:25 pm

      Thanks Bob!

      I wish there were more agents out there who think like you. Agents (especially new ones) NEED to take it upon themselves to learn as much as possible, because I don’t see better industry mandated training or oversight anytime soon.

  15. Martin Millner

    February 16, 2010 at 5:15 pm

    What a great article. Well written, and well thought out, and great advice.

  16. Carinda Weston

    February 16, 2010 at 8:45 pm

    Great article and it really says alot to all of us Realtors it takes alot of hard work and updating yourself on the newest and best ways..It Is always going to be most profitable in this Business and I sure would like that appraiser sheet as well.. if it is updated with todays market we can use it Now…Today, Thanks

  17. Jordan

    February 16, 2010 at 10:45 pm

    I loved the article. It definitely encompasses all the things you have no clue about until…oh…four years in the business IF you were lucky to actually work a lot of deals in that time period. You know what I’m a big fan of that would offer experience in all of the above points? Apprenticeship. It would knock out a lot of part-timers and people who just aren’t cut out for these detailed contracts or plain ‘ol self-management.


  18. Vicki Looney

    February 17, 2010 at 2:26 am

    Great article, Jonathan! I had 30 years experience in sales prior to becoming an agent. So I knew about the lead thing. That is SALES SURVIVOR 101. The EPro thing should be really expanded and made better. After reviewing the syllabus, I opted not to do it. I find myself struggling with all the ebusiness things but work on it some all the time to improve myself. Although I am a virtual FAILURE at technology (I didn’t even OWN a computer until 1990,) I have made myself VERY saavy in the MLS and other things that I CAN do. But marketing yourself and your properties is essential. I help the newbies in my office to get a better picture (teach classes) of how they should be working a deal. But alas, so few of them really GET the genning leads thing. I could use a copy of the appraiser’s worksheet if you still have. Thanks so much for creating a great list.

    • Jonathan Benya

      February 17, 2010 at 11:54 am

      shoot me an email to teambenya at gmail dot com and I’ll send the sheet over for you.

  19. Maritza

    February 17, 2010 at 9:38 am

    I love your article and I would like to comment on the LLC.
    I just removed my LLC from my license because the accountant the broker and an attorney told me that as far as liability the LLC for a realtor was like nothing.
    Please if you can say more about it.
    Thank you,

    • Jonathan Benya

      February 17, 2010 at 11:50 am

      I can’t really give advice here. I’m not a financial advisor, and can’t pretend to be. I’ve heard the argument, I can’t disagree per-say, but again, I’m no financial wizard. I set up as an S-Corp myself. All money I make is actually paid by the S-Corp and I take a commission based salary out of that. There are lots of different options for incorporation, talk to your financial planner or tax adviser to find out what works best for you.

  20. April

    February 18, 2010 at 12:59 pm

    As a veteran of several national franchises and now owner of an intentionally small firm, I can attest that good on-the-job training is essential to success. The first question to ask when considering a firm is about their training and mentoring program. I spent my first year in the business (and 50% of my commissions) learning from an experienced agent who was close to retirement and willing to share a lifetime of experience. Working part-time doesn’t lead to success. I’ve seen agents sitting with their feet up reading a novel while on floor duty, wondering why business isn’t walking in the door. Make a full time commitment and it will pay off.

  21. Connie

    February 18, 2010 at 8:39 pm

    Thanks for the great article. I have often had the same thoughts–no one ever teaches how to generate leads, which is the one thing we most need to know. If you have a killer presentation, but no one to present to…. OK, I’ll bite: if not internet lead generation serivces, what then? I have services to drive people to my websites, and I do 3-4 large mailouts a year, targeting whatever is currently happening in the market. Please tell me, what else should I be doing? I have never been anywhere near sales in my previous career, and I can barely spell m-a-r-k-i-t-i-n-g…

  22. james g cunningham

    February 19, 2010 at 1:23 am

    In the mid 80’s, there was a wonderful real estate agent in Austin, Texas named Patricia Linn that held a seminar at the local board of realtors and told everyone that a professional agent should know how to tape a house. I never forgot that and eventually became an appraiser as well as a broker in Texas. If more agents knew what appraisers do and who they represent, we would have much fewer problems. Appraisers are the eyes and ears of the man with the money, i.e. the lending institution and try to limit their risk of investment. They are not there to help an agent make a deal. Not now, not ever. An agent should be required to know how to measure the square footage of a home within reason. There is NO SUCH THING as an exact measurement as we all do it a bit different or round up or down an inch or 2. In the end, here’s what a good attorney will hit you with if you pretend not to know the square footage of a home. “The agent, who is a professional in the real estate industry, knew or should have known” the square footage of the subject property within reason. Teach agents how to tape a house and make a basic appraisal course a requirement for licensure.

    Some attorneys recommend that you play stupid when asked about the size of a home. I’ve always found that intelligence will overcome ignorance all day long and I can defend that in a court of law…………. ALL DAY LONG!

    James Cunningham – Broker/Certified Appraiser – State of Texas

  23. Matt Stigliano

    February 19, 2010 at 4:55 pm

    Jonathan – I’m a little late to the party of this one, but let me say this much – I couldn’t agree more! As someone who not that long ago went through the process, I think you’ve nailed quite a few of my worst fears as I was set loose on the real estate world. Lead generation? What’s that? Market Analysis? How do I do that? I was completely lost and people were talking circles around my head with things like that. I didn’t know what to do. I got lucky and was surrounded by great people willing to teach me loads of new things, but were it not for them, I might have run screaming in fear.

    I think the courses need to be reviewed from time to time as well. I took a marketing class hoping to get a jump start on that and it was so archaic it wasn’t worth my time or money. I learned about postcards and how to make a portfolio to show off myself and that was about it. Not a word was said regarding the internet. Not a word was said about branding. Not a word was said about anything I use today. It was a real shame.

  24. Bob

    February 21, 2010 at 1:24 pm

    Real estate licensing isnt about doing business. Your list is what your broker should be teaching the new agents they hire.

  25. Tom Hernandez

    February 21, 2010 at 10:17 pm

    This is a great article. I am a REALTOR in Missouri and have had my license just shy of 4 years. I am very active at the state level and my Leadership Academy class seriously considered trying to propose a new curriculum which would add new requirements to our state licensing as well as increase the number of CE hours (as a state, we only require 12 hours every two years) but the Missouri Real Estate Commission has final say on this. We found it very difficult to get anywhere with our idea and eventually chose a different idea. Also, the valuation estimate sheet from the appraiser, what a great idea and tool! I will have to check into that.

  26. Jessica

    February 24, 2010 at 10:12 am

    I would be interested in your valuation estimation sheet. If willing to pass along my email is JMillan at

  27. Marti

    March 1, 2010 at 10:53 am

    As a pre-licensing instructor for our local association, I found your comments most interesting. While I agree that the subjects you mention are more practical to the new licensee, keep in m ind that it is our individual states that mandate the curiculum taught by real estate schools. Personally, I add alot of the material you noted in my own classes, but I am continually reminded, and often times reprimanded, for “training” students. That is the responsibility of every broker; to supervise his/her new licensees.

    • Jonathan Benya

      March 1, 2010 at 4:19 pm

      You’re right, the class is strictly to “teach to the test”, and I understand that. I don’t mean to question that, there are plenty of people (investors, lenders, etc.) Who take the class who have no intention of actually being Realtors. You’re also right that it’s the broker’s responsibility to teach the practical, but the fact that such additional training is not mandated by NAR directly is a huge mistake. IMHO, NAR needs to make the practical training a requirement in order to be a Realtor, rather than just a licensed agent. Whether that’s the broker REQUIRED to teach, or required classes at the local association doesn’t matter, but it should be required to come from somewhere.

  28. Property Management Software

    July 10, 2010 at 1:55 pm

    I think the real estate schools also teach one more thing…be honest to yourself…..I don’t say all the real estate executives are dis-honest…but some don’t tell the full truth about the property they are selling..they are after their company’s reputation and their own commission..When anyone buys a house to live, he puts almost every penny of his hard earned income to many cases have we seen where clients have been cheated?? If you Google it, you can’t even count the numbers…

  29. Letting Agents

    October 5, 2010 at 1:38 am

    I don’t think any college really teach the direct money making technique as a part of their teaching syllabus…whether be it any medical college or the real estate school…I think they just try to teach the students about the subject and not how to apply it in the first place to get the income to your pocket…:)

  30. Mark Brian

    December 12, 2010 at 3:00 pm

    This list could go on and on. Maybe that shows we do need more pre and post licensing education?

  31. Nadina Cole-Potter

    December 12, 2010 at 11:33 pm

    I am reading this list and shaking my head in wonderment. I have always been affiliated with Keller Williams. Two different offices. These items are available to all beginning agents (and veterans who want to be updated) through the various Keller Williams University courses which are taught regularly, on-site in Keller Williams offices. Because of what I learned in these courses, plus the free courses regularly offered by allied professional organizations — escrow/title companies, lenders, any Keller Williams agent who isn’t up to speed isn’t attending the courses. Plus, online, through KW University there are myriad mini courses available “on demand”. And our KW region sponsors many day-long seminars with KW certified master instructors that are available for very reasonable fees. That is why I am happy to pay my split to the office. KW market centers deserve every penny because of the rich learning environment and tools they provide.

  32. Laurie Matthias

    December 13, 2010 at 7:40 am

    Well said. I’d like to add one more idea. How about going over the many documents needed for a buyer and a seller to close a deal? We’re handling someone’s most valuable asset and we’re literally taught nothing about the contracts in class. Maybe this should be covered under the liability portion you mentioned. There are so many different forms and every single one can land us in hot water if we don’t understand it well enough to explain to our client/customer. Rather basic stuff, don’t you think?

  33. Bob Wilson

    December 13, 2010 at 9:33 am

    Training on how to do and get business is the job of the broker.

    Its no different than with licensing in other fields. Series 7 licensing doesnt cover lead generation or how to answer the phone.

  34. Rich Gaasenbeek

    December 13, 2010 at 10:51 am

    Great suggestions Jonathan! But I’d add an 11th — effective contact management. Too many Realtors realize too late that the real foundation of long term success in real estate sales is growing a steady stream of referrals and repeat business. They have no idea of the true value of a client and spend tens of thousands of dollars generate vast numbers of meaningless “leads”. A far wiser investment is an easy-to-use contact management system that helps them keep in touch with the folks in their sphere of influence.

  35. Agent for Movoto

    December 13, 2010 at 1:13 pm

    these are great tips! (as the massive number of comments testifies.) in education in general there is way too much emphasis on abstraction, way too little on the real-life, common-sense ways to make abstraction work for you. thanks for posting!

  36. Ben Clauss

    December 13, 2010 at 4:23 pm

    11th or 12th idea, develop a solid marketing plan. I have been in the RE business for the past 14 years and have seen agents come and go with the tide of sales. The one constant I have seen is that the top agents that I work for have developed a solid strategy for marketing their listings. The process includes organizing the marketing materials into internet and office based, with the inclusion of photographs and a floor plan in the overall package. We have been providing floor plans for agents since 1997 and have noticed that regardless of the selling price of the home the best agents in the business had used the same system for marketing the property time and time again. Once the process is set up and relationships established with vendors you will see more results for less time and money.

  37. Coleen DeGroff

    December 13, 2010 at 4:43 pm

    Hi Jonathan,
    GREAT list! Because there are so many subjects which aren’t covered in the real estate exam, newly licensed real estate agents owe it to themselves (and to the people they will be serving) to do a diligent search of brokerages to investigate what type of training is offered before hanging their license with one.

    I was very fortunate to sign on to Howard Hanna Real Estate when I first got my real estate license in Pittsburgh, PA. Howard Hanna has a GREAT training program for its agents….I honestly don’t know if I would still be in business today if it wasn’t for the great foundation I got in the business through their training program.

  38. Missy Caulk

    December 14, 2010 at 7:11 am

    Good reblog, repost…

    I have added 4 brand new agents to my team in late August. My son in TN was licensed in the Spring. Let’s say my time has been totally absorbed in training and helping them with lead generation, writing contracts, telephone skills, follow up, data base management, and the thousand of other things a newbie needs to learn.

    It is true as one commenter said above KW does have the tools, I know Re/max does too but not the same as one on one time. I learned a lot these past few months and too numerous to post in a comment.

    I have no problem at all with the barrier being higher but not sure it is a class that will do it, more mentoring, internships with a top agent, following, absorbing, things caught not taught.

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