By K.K. Snyder
In today’s saturated real estate market, some professionals are adamant that having a string of designations after your name is the only way to stay competitive. Others say formal real estate education may be valuable, but not as valuable as real world experience.
Jerry Fogelson, chairman of Fogelson Properties and co-chair of Central Station Development Corp., has spent 50 years in the industry and says that to stay competitive, agents need the edge that higher knowledge provides.
Seven years ago, a well-known and highly respected real estate developer in Chicago, Marshall Bennett of Marshall Bennett Enterprises, decided Chicago needed a MBA and master’s program for Realtor education. Fogelson was nursing the same idea, and the two collaborated. Fogelson challenged Roosevelt University to conduct an analysis on whether such a program was needed. He even funding the study, with the understanding that, if it revealed a need, the university would use the balance of his gift to begin such a program, which they would ultimately do.
Since Roosevelt University wasn’t Northwestern University or The University of Chicago, credibility had to be established, thus the birth of the Fogelson Forums. During these forums, internationally recognized real estate professionals present case studies on major real estate transactions covering all areas of the industry.
“When we started having Sam Zell, Tom Pritzker and John Cushman, people realized something big was going on here,” says Fogelson.
Today, Roosevelt University averages 100 students per year in its School of Real Estate. The school offers unique opportunities for the students, such as visiting development projects and other such field trips around Chicago. Students can gain real world experience and information from seasoned professionals. In addition, they have the chance to be mentored by one of the program’s 95-member advisory board.
“Of those advisors, who are all highly successful in this business, less than 20 percent have had the advantage of an MBA real estate program,” says Fogelson. “The other 80 percent of us came out of college without anything to help us in the industry we’re in.” Fogelson’s own alma mater, Lee High University, recently contacted him about starting a program similar to that at Roosevelt.
Using adjunct professors and guest teachers from the industry, the program gives students real world, real-time real estate education with a solid academic program and a lot of role modeling. Fogelson says Roosevelt is ahead of the curve with its programs, which he expects will be on the rise nationwide in the near future.
“When you look around the country, the number of universities that have real honest-to-goodness master, MBA and certification programs in real estate are surprisingly few,” he says. “As the business gets more complicated, which it does; and more competitive, which it is; I believe more universities are going to have this kind of education program to prepare students to go out into the world.”
The time and financial commitment necessary for furthering Realtor education doesn’t come easy for some agents. But Rubloff’s Louise Study, ABR, CIPS, CRS, GRI, QSC, takes her real estate education seriously. After 12 years in the industry, she recognizes the need to set herself apart from the competition and believes knowledge is the best way to do that.
“Today, we all work with both buyers and sellers, but the market has changed,” Study says. “Twenty years ago, your job was to represent the seller. Even if you were working with the buyer, your responsibility was to the seller.
“The more education you have, the better you can assist your clients and the more confident you are in giving them advise and representation,” she adds. Study also notes that some of the more exclusive designations, such as the Certified Residential Specialist (CRS), require a certain volume in sales and 75 transactions within the last five consecutive years. Those requirements seem daunting to some in the industry, especially newcomers. “Of more than 1 million Realtors, only 35,000 have achieved it,” she says. “It really does put you apart from other agents.”
When asked about one of the newer offerings, the Seniors Real Estate Specialist (SRES) designation designed to help agents work more effectively with senior buyers and sellers, Study didn’t seem eager to sign up. “A person is a person, whether they are a first-time home buyer or have bought 100,” she says. “I would think you’d be doing the same for all of them.”
But Dick Reedy, GRI, CRS, thinks that kind of specialty training is invaluable, especially in today’s aging market. “It’s an evolution, and that market is booming because our baby boomers are now young seniors,” he says. “I plan to pursue that [designation].”
Halfway through the process of earning his broker’s license, he has no doubt about the importance of education to his success. “The benefit of formal education in real estate industry is three pronged,” Reedy says. “For one, there’s the benefit of challenging yourself to participate in continuing education opportunities. It satisfies the inner you and gives you confidence.
“Two, people around you respect you for it, and it encourages them to take the initiative by seeing your accomplishments,” he continues. “They’ll take a step forward for some designation as well. And three, in working with clients, they recognize the dedication and commitment, and you are able to deliver the information and knowledge they expect.”
A licensed Realtor since 1991, Terry Anderson, CSP, CNHS, only recently earned his credentials, recognizing that for continued success, he needed to amass the most knowledge possible. “The dynamics in real estate are changing significantly,” says Anderson, a member of the American Institute of Architects. “In an area like Chicago, the prices are getting higher and higher, and there is a tremendous influx of new agents. It’s becoming clearer that to support yourself as a true professional in the industry requires considerably more effort in gaining the greatest knowledge possible.
“I think with the competition in the marketplace not only between agents, but among other players, you’ve got to bring something to the table,” adds Anderson, who has served for a number of years on the Home Builders Association of Greater Chicago’s Remodelors Council Board of Directors. “I couldn’t have made a better investment than the one I made in myself and my expertise.”
In today’s market, can a real estate professional get by on old-fashioned hard work? Sometimes.
“Buyers and sellers have a lot at stake,” says Anderson. “They know they are paying ‘X’ percent for commission, and they want to know what they are going to get for their money. A lot of real estate is based on referrals. Past clients feel comfortable referring me to family and friends, because they know over the years I’ve made a concerted effort to increase myself as a professional.”
Mary Musillo, an admitted “education junkie,” is sales manager for Cambridge Homes. She also teaches real estate courses through the Residential Construction Employees Council sponsored by the Northern Illinois Business School and has noticed a number of changes in the classroom.
“The biggest change in the past few years is that we’re seeing more of a diverse crowd,” Musillo says. “It’s no longer just the salesmen; we’re also seeing more lenders, appraisers, inspectors and others.”
Musillo notes that with the industry being so saturated, professionals have to do whatever it takes to set themselves apart. “I believe education can provide the edges needed to compete in the sales and new construction field,” she says, also recommending agents choose one aspect of the industry and broadening horizons in that direction, such as the “lucrative new construction sector.”
Deborah Lopes, Director of Education for the Chicago Association of REALTORS®, has been a real estate educator for 18 years and said she’s also noted a change in the makeup of students – they’re younger than they used to be and that creates a whole new challenge for real estate programs.
“A simple lecture just is not as acceptable. The MTV generation wants bells and whistles; you have to bring more to the classroom,” says Lopes.
“I think there’s still a need for the basics, but one thing I see happening, especially here in Illinois, is people going from having no license to being a broker and they’re often unprepared for the responsibility of having agents working for them. In Illinois they are trying to turn back the clock on that and require more education for people holding a broker license.”
So what’s on the horizon for real estate education?
“Schools will be teaching agents more about ethics and things like how to convince someone in the general public to use a REALTOR® rather than someone without the designation and how to market themselves better,” she says. “Online courses are also drawing more interest and people have different impressions of what online courses are. Do I just log on and read? Is it interactive? Do I have to long on at a specific time? There will be more of those options available in the near future.”
Lopes predicts a greater use of technology to increase sales and improve marketing opportunities. Computers will play a much larger role in the real estate education classroom and students will rely on them more as they graduate and step out into the highly competitive world of real estate.