Want Professionalism? Raise the Bar!

As I noted in my last blog post, the public has a low opinion of Realtors.

I believe that there are many reasons for this.

It’s. Just. Too. EASY.

But I believe that there is one OVERWHELMING reason, and here it is: it’s just too easy to get a real estate license.*

For me, this is – BY FAR – the biggest reason for the state of affairs in real estate today.

Example: in my state – Michigan – you can take a 40-hour pre-licensure course – which is now available ONLINE – and then go sit for the state-administered examination immediately thereafter. So, in theory, if you timed it correctly and if you could work around the clock, you could have a real estate license in less than a week. That’s right, I said LESS THAN A WEEK!

I’m sorry, but that’s just wrong. Imagine if you could become an attorney in a week. Or a CPA. Can you IMAGINE how poor the service in those industries would be if virtually ANYONE could become an active, practicing member of one of those lofty professions in just a week?

I KNOW what you may be thinking right now, which is some variation of this: “Why is this guy comparing being a Realtor with being a lawyer or a CPA? Those are COMPLETELY different things. It’s totally an apples-and-oranges comparison.”

To that, I would reply, “REALLY? Are you sure?” Think about it. Specifically, consider these points:

Most people engage attorneys for matters that involve far smaller dollars than the value of the average American home, now pegged at approximately $220,000. If you had a legal matter with an absolute value of nearly a quarter of a million dollars, I am quite confident you would seek a QUALIFIED attorney to represent you. And yet people buy and sell $500K homes all day long with people with little experience, expertise or even knowledge about real estate.
Most people engage CPAs to help with taxes, where – usually – the difference between a properly prepared tax return and an improperly prepared tax return can be measured in hundreds or a few thousand dollars. Again, we’re talking about far lesser financial magnitude than what many people deal with in a typical home purchase or sale.

For most people, a home sale is the single largest FINANCIAL TRANSACTION they will ever be party to in their lives. I see Realtors make mistakes on a fairly frequent basis that cost their clients tens and sometimes even hundreds of thousands of dollars (I’ll be blogging about one such incident I just witnessed that cost that broker’s client as much as $200,000).

And if you REALLY want a wake up call…

Check this out: there is more – dramatically more – involved in becoming a LICENSED COSMETOLOGIST in Michigan than in becoming a licensed Realtor!

To become a cosmetologist, you have to do the following:

Have completed either not less than 1,500-hour course study in a licensed school of cosmetology, or have served as an apprentice for not less than two years in a licensed cosmetology establishment.

Now THAT is a legitimate threshold! And kudos to whoever decided that such experience was required.

Now, stop and ask yourself this question: does it make ANY SENSE WHATSOEVER that obtaining a real estate license should be DRAMATICALLY quicker, simpler and easier than getting a license to cut or color hair?

I guarantee you that someone has uttered this sentence at least once: “You know, I was going to go to cosmetology school, but that looks like WORK, man. I think I’ll just get a real estate license instead. I can knock that puppy out in a week or two and be wheeling and dealing before you know it!”

Having made those points, now consider just how much more difficult it is to become a lawyer or CPA than it is to become a Realtor. I don’t want to overwhelm you with minutia, but here’s a quick overview of what’s involved:

  • To become a lawyer:
    • Graduate from a 4-year college or university
    • Take and pass the LSAT examination
    • Apply to and be accepted by a law school
    • Complete law school, which is typically another 3 year process
    • Sit for and pass the BAR examination
    • Pass a “Character & Fitness” evaluation
    • Total approximate time to become a lawyer: 7 years
  • To become a CPA
    • Graduate from a 4-year college or university (note that, in many state, including my home state, a Masters Degree in Accounting is now required to sit for the examination)
    • Take and pass the CPA examination (a 20 hour test spanning two full and one half days)
    • Apply for and obtain a job working at a CPA firm
    • Complete a minimum amount of practical work experience which varies by state (in Michigan, it is two years of such experience)
    • Total approximate time to become a CPA: 6 years

I know that many who read this will consider this entire commentary off-base and perhaps even marginally insulting. And if I have offended you – for whatever reason – please accept my apology.

But here is the hard, cold reality: on an OVERALL BASIS AS AN INDUSTRY, the public thinks we’re doing a poor job. And no matter how great of an agent you might be on an individual basis, this affects how we are all perceived.

The statistics don’t lie, as already noted above.

And simple, common sense would seem to indicate that the quickest and easiest way to increase performance, professionalism and, ultimately, the public’s view of us is to establish a legitimate barrier to entry, aka, a higher bar.

And I would argue a MUCH higher bar.

* – I DO realize that some states have higher barriers to entry than Michigan’s – Florida, for example. HOWEVER, I am not aware of ANY state that has a licensing threshold that comes close to what is required for becoming an attorney or CPA, and I think that’s the direction in which our industry should be moving…


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