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?