Should Real Estate Be More Sheepskin-Based?


Future REALTORS of America!

My good friend Michael McClure (@ProfessionalOne on Twitter) has been banging the “Raise The Bar” drum for quite some time now. Recently, he wrote a post accompanying a survey in which he wants to establish “the baseline for professionalism” in the real estate brokerage industry:

All that being said, let’s get to the point of THIS post: to begin to formulate some kind of consensus on what it means to be a “professional” in the real estate industry.

Should it be based on experience? Number of transactions? Number of satisfied past clients? Perceptions of the agent’s peer group? Or some combination of these or other factors?

When the public – in the form of the Harris Polls – and Realtors themselves – in the form of the aforementioned Realtor Magazine survey – agree that there is such significant room for improvement, we think practical steps should be taken to begin to move the industry in a more professional, and more uniformly professional, direction.

Of course, I heartily agree with Michael’s goals. I did have a small quibble with him about the survey itself, as many of the questions were frankly leading questions, but I suspect we’d have seen mostly the same results anyhow.

There is one result, however, from the survey that’s frankly interesting given what’s going on outside the industry. Question #5 of the Survey asks, “How important is it that a Realtor provide evidence of some level of “minimum educational experience”? 57% of respondents say “Mandatory” and another 25% say “Very Important”; 84% of those responding have said that educational experience is at least very important to be a realtor.


The Education Bubble

See, one of the more interesting phenomena of the Nation in Decline is the growing awareness on the part of the public that we have a bona fide education bubble inflating in society. I happened to be in Boston this Labor Day Weekend for a family event, and with some free time, have gone by the campuses of Tufts University that is starting to fill up with students. The idyllic scenes of young, fresh-faced undergraduates, laying under the shadows of ancient trees, talking to each other (either about the upcoming class schedule, or flirting I suppose) and throwing a football around clashed in my head with the knowledge that most of these young people are screwed.

Then you have posts like this one from a well-respected career advisor, Penelope Trunk, that more or less eviscerates the idea that education and degrees help in a career:

It’s pretty well established that non-science degrees are not necessary for a job. In fact, the degrees cost you too much money, require too long of a commitment, and do not teach you the real-life skills they promise.

She’s writing about graduate school, but I don’t see why her arguments wouldn’t apply to college as well.

The Value of A Degree for a Realtor?

So… I guess I’m curious why the 84% of respondents feel so strongly that some minimum educational requirement exist for realtors. I can think of a few reasons.

1. Getting your college degree is evidence of discipline.

All I can say to that is… have you been to a college campus recently? What discipline amongst the fair youths of the most pampered generation in history? How much discipline could it possibly take to attend minimum number of classes and combining that with as much drinking, partying, and sexual experiences as possible?

2. Brokering real estate requires certain skills that can only be taught in college.

I’d like to know which skills those are. Real estate isn’t electrical engineering, or biotechnology. I can’t imagine calculus would be required.

Plus, were it true that real estate does require certain business skills, then wouldn’t the educational requirement exclude 4 year degrees in Women’s Studies or German Literature?

3. It’s All For Perception

The idea here is that because realtors are held in such low esteem by the public, one way to fight it is to set forth stringent standards that only a few could reach, thereby reassuring the public that realtors (or perhaps REALTORS, members of NAR) are truly amazing, trustworthy, and skilled practitioners of an ancient art.

I suppose I could see some PR benefit. But shouldn’t we ask whether such public perception benefits do in fact exist? For example, shouldn’t we look to see if there is any correlation (nevermind causation, but at least correlation) between top rated agents (not top producers, mind you, but top rated agents by public perception) and their level of educational achievement? That is, if the PR benefit is real, shouldn’t we see that a realtor with a MBA would receive higher ratings from the public than one with just a BA?

4. College Graduates Are More Ethical

A final reason, at least one that I can think of, is that a person who has completed a 4-year degree is somehow more ethical than someone who only has a high school diploma. Given that some of the truly heinous unethical crap in our society appear to have been perpetrated by people who have not only college degrees, but oftentimes, far more advanced degrees (Jeffrey Skilling of Enron comes to mind)… I’d like to know the basis for this belief.

So… Why Value the Sheepskin?

If you’re one of the 84% that answered that educational attainment is at least Very Important, I’d like to know why you answered that way. Was it one of the four reasons above? Some other reason? Or a combination of them?


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Rob Hahn

Managing Partner of 7DS Associates, and the grand poobah of this here blog. Once called "a revolutionary in a really nice suit", people often wonder what I do for a living because I have the temerity to not talk about my clients and my work for clients. Suffice to say that I do strategy work for some of the largest organizations and companies in real estate, as well as some of the smallest startups and agent teams, but usually only on projects that interest me with big implications for reforming this wonderful, crazy, lovable yet frustrating real estate industry of ours.

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