Brokers Are Heading Back to School

Take your businesses to the next level by using education as a way to both expand your knowledge and build credibility.

April 6, 2016

Tami McHugh considers herself a lifelong learner. When she found out she could obtain a master’s degree in real estate from the newly accredited REALTOR® University through the National Association of REALTORS®, she knew it was right for her. She graduated with the school’s first class in May 2014, and now hopes to continue with doctorate studies.

“I always valued education,” says McHugh, owner and designated broker at Heritage Real Estate in Meridian, Idaho. “Having the knowledge is great. The long-term friendships I’ve made and the expansion of my peer group across the country has been tremendous. But the credibility is priceless.”

Real estate agents and brokers across the country are finding that continuing their education—whether with a master’s degree from REALTOR® University like McHugh decided upon or through NAR designations or certifications—not only broadens their skill sets but also helps them grow as business owners, communicators, and negotiators. It even expands their personal horizons.

Learn more about how the educational opportunities available through NAR or your local REALTORS® association can help advance your career.

See You at the U

REALTOR® University is the only advanced online education institution focused exclusively on real estate. You can earn your master of real estate degree in as little as two years. But you do have to complete the 36-credit degree within five years.

“We are exclusively online because REALTORS® are so dispersed throughout the country,” says David Overbye, dean of academic affairs.

The school, which began academic operations in March 2012, offers five concentrations of study: Residential Real Estate Sales, Marketing, and Management, Real Estate Asset and Property Management, Commercial Real Estate Investment and Analysis, Real Estate Appraisal and Valuation Services, and Real Estate Association Management.

The university just received accreditation from the Distance Education Accrediting Commission, and Overbye anticipates that will bring in more students.

Students don’t have to be members of NAR to get a degree. Currently, the average student at REALTOR® University is in their mid-40s and mid-career working adults – and most are brokers, Overbye says. McHugh, for example, started her classes when she was 50.

“I have been a CPA since 1984, and I got my real estate license in 1986. I always thought I would get a master’s degree someday, but I couldn’t find a program that appealed to me,” she explains. “When I read about the masters in real estate in REALTOR® Magazine, I was fascinated.”

In the two years since she graduated, McHugh says the degree has increased her business and built up her credibility exponentially with more clients and increased revenues.

McHugh says her colleagues and peers often defer to her when a complicated issue is raised since she now has an advanced degree. “And when my clients see it on my business card (that she has a master’s degree), that means something,” she says.

Designate Your Expertise

The National Association of REALTORS® and its affiliates offer 17 different designations. Through online and in-person courses, you can become everything from a land sales or property management expert to a specialist in buyer representation or international real estate.

The Performance Management Network designation focuses on negotiating strategies and tactics, networking and referrals, and leadership development.

Alissa Rogowski, coordinator of the Seniors Real Estate Specialist designation, which was introduced in March 2007, says 15,000 members in the United States and Canada currently have the designation.

“It’s become a go-to educational resource to be better skilled in the 50-plus age market in real estate,” she says. The course, which can be taken in a two-day classroom setting or online at your own pace, covers many topics, including age-restricted communities, aging in place, and assisted living facilities.

“You learn the ins and outs of reserve mortgages, how to use pensions for real estate, how to protect clients from loan schemes, and how to communicate with the older generations,” Rogowski says. “A lot of our members say they get more business from this designation. They get referrals, too.”

Certifiably Expert

Another way to improve yourself and your business is through a variety of certifications offered at the national, state, and local level. Certifications generally don’t require as much classroom time and don’t have specific experience or production requirements like some designations do.

Jeff Fagan, regional vice president at Watson Realty Corp. and director of the Orlando Regional REALTORS® Association (ORRA), was instrumental in creating the Gold Key Certification for his association. The program was first offered in 2015 after seeing that more than half of complaints filed nationwide with real estate licensing authorities were about issues that aren’t governed by the REALTORS® Code of Ethics.

“When I moved to Orlando from Jacksonville, Fla., I was getting frustrated with the associates that worked for me,” he says. “Some very common elementary givens weren’t happening, like people weren’t returning phone calls. It was basic customer service issues.”

So, he helped the association write a survey given to Orlando real estate agents on professionalism. Eighty percent of members who responded said they consider themselves to be very professional. But 80 percent also said that everybody else lacks professionalism and needs improvement.

“Consumers, in general, are frustrated with the lack of customer service. As an industry, if we don’t address that void and increase professionalism, we are in danger of being obsolete,” Fagan says.

The Gold Key Certification teaches ways to be more respectful, dress properly, and respond to clients and leads in a timely manner. ORRA believes in this program so much that it is offering it free to members this year. There are 11,000 members in the Orlando association, and every one of the classes offered last year was full. There are 12 classes scheduled this year, and Fagan says they are already filled up.

“The members acknowledge a desire to improve and a need to improve, and I’m very gratified that they see the power of trying to be better,” Fagan says.

At the national level, NAR offers certifications such as e-PRO, which teaches how to use up to-date, cutting-edge technologies to win the hearts and minds of savvy clients. The Real Estate Negotiation Expert certification is for those who want the best tips and tools to advocate for their clients.

The NAR certification At Home with Diversity (AHWD) has been around since 1998, and more than 20,000 real estate agents have taken the course to learn how to deal effectively with an increasingly diverse group of home buyers and sellers.

“What’s really cool about this course is that it has a practical application in virtually every situation of our lives,” says Ron Phipps, NAR past president and broker-owner of Phipps Realty in East Greenwich, R.I. He teaches AHWD certification classes because he believes deeply in the message behind the education.

“It’s spiritual regardless of one’s religion. It teaches fundamental elements of appropriate human engagements — and that’s respect,” he says. “It’s troubling that we need to teach it. But we need to prepare our own members to be contributing to a safer and more welcoming environment for everyone.”


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Lee Nelson

Lee Nelson is a freelance journalist from the Chicago area. She has written for Yahoo! Homes, TravelNursing.org, MyMortgageInsider.com, and ChicagoStyle Weddings Magazine. She also writes a bi-monthly blog on Unigo.com. Contact Lee at leenelson77@yahoo.com.

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