REALTORS – Are You Professional?

Illustration by Craig Swanson and idea by James Cennamo

Illustration by Craig Swanson and idea by James Cennamo

Real Estate salespeople are in a business that is requires a precise use of  language. We complete contract forms, describe properties when marketing, and use language to help people buy, sell, lease and rent real property. And still we have endless discussions that revolve around commonly misused and seemingly misunderstood words.

In a recent online conversation the application of the word “professional” became the center of discussion and disagreement, largely, because the word gets used so much that we fail to think about what it actually means.

The word is defined by Merriam-Webster as follows:

a : of, relating to, or characteristic of a profession
b : engaged in one of the learned professions
c (1) : characterized by or conforming to the technical or ethical standards of a profession (2) : exhibiting a courteous, conscientious, and generally businesslike manner in the workplace

Pretty unsatisfying if you’re trying to figure out whether a real estate agent is or is not a “professional” . We could decide that one who abides by the standards of care established through the National Association of REALTORS, and conforming to that Code of Ethics would be sufficient to classify a real estate agent as a professional.

My friend Scott Forcino further muddied the waters of the conversation when he says, “Executors of estates have fiduciary duties but are not professionals. Accountants are professionals with a practice. But have no fiduciary responsibilities. The new Dr after college and med school and residency and a mountain of debt is a professional with a practice. Her pal the new agent after the Groupon $150 course (yes that exists) after two weekends is telling people where they should live. They are not the same”

Scott is right that they are not the same. But maybe that’s because we haven’t answered the question of what a profession is.

Back to Miriam-Webster.

1: the act of taking the vows of a religious community
2: an act of openly declaring or publicly claiming a belief, faith, or opinion : protestation
3: an avowed religious faith
4 a : a calling requiring specialized knowledge and often long and intensive academic preparation
b : a principal calling, vocation, or employment
c : the whole body of persons engaged in a calling

Once we remove the first three uses of the word, we are left with “a calling requiring specialized knowledge and often long and intensive academic preparation“. And to me, that is a great explanation of why a real estate agent should be considered a professional – they are engaged in a profession that requires specialized knowledge and intensive academic preparation – not only to be licensed, but to practice properly.

In Scott’s example, the implication is that when the individual is licensed by the state, they have become a professional, however for most real estate agents, the pre-license course are only a small part of their education. Whether those courses constitute “intensive academic preparation” is a matter of geography, ability and opinion, but that is not where a real estate agent’s education ends, it is where it starts.

Once they have become licensed most agents enter a second phase of their training, either through a formal or informal mentor program, or specific training from their brokerage or franchise, or even later through the designation programs offered by NAR.  Licensing authorities even get into the act, requiring mandatory continuing education in  many states, with more joining the trend of required additional education.

The simple fact of the matter is that being licensed and being a professional is not the same thing for most professions.  I frankly wouldn’t be comfortable being the first patient, or the first court case, or the first tax return prepared by a doctor, lawyer, or accountant, any more than I want to be the first sale or listing of any real estate agent. And if I was the first, I would want the support structure for that professional to be strong enough for me to rely on as a client, patient or customer. Obviously in an industry where there are small one person companies and firms with a  national presence and thousands of  agents and support staff, there is an uneven level of support provided, but that is the nature of the open market, and a reality we must all deal with.

Just as I have believe  that real estate is a lousy job but a great career, I believe we need to recognize the difference between having a license and being a professional. And even more important, we need to explain the difference to the new members of our industry so they know where the bar is because talking about raising the bar without defining the bar is an invitation to complain about the acts of others instead of actually making the industry better.

What do you think?

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6 comments for “REALTORS – Are You Professional?

  1. LoriJ
    July 28, 2013 at 3:07 pm

    Nice post. I agree that real estate agents have specialized knowledge but the argument that NAR designation course and continuing ed added onto a paltry 60 hours or so of coursework is equal to intensive academic preparation doesn’t work for me. I think that to be truly considered a profession, the field of real estate needs to have more intensive academic “pre-entry” preparation and possibly an internship period as well. While I and many of my fellow agents conduct themselves professionally, calling our field a profession when it requires less academic and on-the-job training than that required to become a hairdresser or nail technician, seems ludicrous. We should follow the lead of appraisers. They may have taken it a bit too far, but I think they have the right idea.

  2. July 28, 2013 at 4:12 pm

    I think the word “Professional” has been misused for so long that it doesn’t mean much. My son in considered a professional wrestler only because he gets paid to wrestle. Motherhood is considered the worlds oldest profession and it doesn’t not require any licensure or CE. Personally I am an “experience” which is also different than being a professional.

  3. July 28, 2013 at 6:31 pm

    I’ve always said that I would love to see 75% of the agents lose their license. The standards and education are not high enough in my opinion. Anyone can get a license and many give the rest a bad name. I’d be willing to pay more dues and get more education if it meant 75% drop out and go back to their day jobs. It’s those that make the rest seem “unprofessional” unfortunately.

  4. July 29, 2013 at 5:04 am

    Lori; My point was that additional education is needed for any of us to truly be professional, and that the only places, outside the real estate firm or franchise, that offers education purely directed at professional improvement are the NAR courses and the MCE.I am also licensed as an appraiser, and the course of study required there is not different than that required by IREM for property managers or CCIM for Commercial vendors. If we want to improve ourselves professionally, the opportunities are there, but they are voluntary for the most part

  5. July 29, 2013 at 5:05 am

    You certainly are an experience- I didn’t realize Motherhood was the world’s oldest profession, but I may just hang out with the wrong type of people 😉

  6. July 29, 2013 at 5:06 am

    Being professional isn’t the same as being competent sadly. One only has to look at the number of bad accountants, lawyers and doctors to see that.

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