Thursday
October 2, 2014

Mastering the Business

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Mastering the Business

Inaugural MRE class says lessons are paying off in the field.

Al Naticchioni, CCIM, CRS, a 30-year veteran real estate practitioner in Redding, Calif., went back to school in the spring.

He’s earning his master’s in real estate for one simple reason: competitiveness. “People are demanding more from their agents today,” says Naticchioni, broker-owner of RE/‌MAX of Redding. “Your customers expect you to be more professional and more educated, and with a master’s degree, you’re on the cutting edge.”

Naticchioni is one of about two dozen students in REALTOR® University’s inaugural class, all working toward a Master of Real Estate degree. The school launched classes in February after receiving degree-granting authority from the Illinois Board of Higher Education. It’s one of about 20 graduate programs in the United States offering the MRE or similar degree, but it stands out from others as a strictly online university. And it was conceived with the interests of real estate practitioners in mind, covering topics such as residential sales, marketing and management, property management, and appraisal and valuation services.

“NAR is committed to raising the bar of professionalism and offering foundational education through a rigorous graduate program in real estate,” says Richard Rosenthal, chairman of the REALTOR® University Board of Regents. “Most of the major universities that have real estate programs have concentrations in real estate finance—that’s Wall Street finance—or they have concentrations in development or project management. But what they don’t have, with few exceptions, is a concentration on what our members do to make a living.”

Insights on Everyday Challenges

Erica Ramus, CRS, broker-owner of Ramus Realty Group in Pottsville, Pa., said the program’s real estate law class was the most rigorous university class she’s ever taken—and it was also very helpful at a practical level. “Right off the bat, I needed something I learned in the class to analyze a shale gas lease,” says Ramus, whose market is a major shale-gas producing region. “So, I’ve already used my education in a very concrete way.”

Naticchioni has been able to put the law class to practical use, too. Recently, he represented a household buying a property from a trust. When the primary trustee passed away, the new trustee said the property was no longer for sale, so the listing agent said he was taking the property off the market. But Naticchioni was able to keep the transaction on track. The class had explored trust issues extensively, and he knew the transaction had to proceed if it was in the best interest of the trust, which he was able to show. “That’s what education can do for you,” he says. “Even if you get one item out of it, you’re ahead of the competition.”

That kind of concrete focus was intentional, says Merle Whitehead, a member of the university’s board and the president and CEO of RealtyUSA.com Inc., a regional real estate brokerage in New York. “The courses were designed to be precise and to provide students with knowledge and skills they can use to improve how they do business,” he says. “It’s all focused on the outcome.”

Samplings from the Course Catalog

REMM 560: Real Estate Brokerage Management

Tactical and strategic marketing plans, personal selling, advertising media, sales promotion and publicity, recruiting, business management, managing and leading teams. It also covers sales strategies, listing strategies, networking and referral systems, and customer service.

REMM 570: Real Estate Transaction Management

Document organization and management, due diligence preparation, managing client expectations and third-party service providers and counterparties, and establishing timelines. It also addresses conflict resolution; navigating unforeseen title, environmental, and physical obstacles; and identifying and avoiding deal breakers. It covers closing preparation and post-closing activities.

REMM 580: Brokerage Reporting and Performance Measurement

Regulatory requirements and best practices, technologies for reporting and measuring performance, developing personal and team performance goals, and conducting performance audits, trends and analyses reviews.

How It’s Done

To earn an MRE degree from REALTOR® University, students must have an undergraduate degree and meet admission standards. The school looks for a minimum 3.0 undergraduate grade point average, although it also considers standardized test scores, which can be helpful to students with less than the minimum GPA. Students are required to take at least 36 credit hours (12 classes), though some core business classes, such as general accounting and marketing management, can be waived based on the student’s previous academic work.

Classes are eight weeks long and take place entirely on the school’s e-learning platform. That means students access their assignments, lectures, and reading material and submit their work online at www.REALTORU.net. They participate in class discussions and talk with their instructor via a blogging platform.

The online platform enables students to organize their courses in a way that makes sense for them. But it also requires them to stay disciplined, because work must be completed on a weekly basis. Vernice Ross, gri, broker-owner of Ross and Ross Realty in San Diego, says she does most of her work in the evenings and on weekends. “I get up in the morning and study, and it’s the last thing I do at night,” she says. “I think I’m putting in 20 hours a week for the class.”

Naticchioni also does a lot of reading and writing in the evenings. He uses pockets of downtime during the day to participate in class discussions. “I can jump in on questions wherever I am,” he says. “I can come in at 3 in the afternoon if I have a break, answer a few questions, and come back in at 11 p.m. to answer more,” he says.

Tuition is $1,500 per course, or $500 per credit hour, a very competitive rate, says Jonathan Salk, dean of student services. Ross, Naticchioni, and Ramus are offsetting a portion of their tuition costs with scholarship funds made available through the university. “I have a scholarship and a REALTOR® University grant, as well as a grant from my local association,” says Ross. “I have a lot of support.” In addition, the school has a relationship with the REALTORS® Federal Credit Union, a division of Northwest Federal Credit Union, which makes education loans available at competitive rates.

Ambitious Plans

Now that classes have begun, RU is looking toward gaining accreditation. “You need to have at least two years of stable operating history behind you, so the school won’t apply for candidacy for accreditation until at least 2014,” says Salk. In the meantime, it’s following the standards required for an accredited institution and aims to get there as quickly as possible.

“Accreditation is an arduous path, but it’s a critical mission for us,” Rosenthal says.

The school also has plans to open its enrollment to students abroad. “We are about to start our marketing campaign to the global community,” Rosenthal says. “NAR has accords with real estate associations in 80 countries, and we’re already talking to representatives from many of them.”

Learn more about the MRE program, as well as designation and certification courses offered through the REALTOR® University School of Professional Development and Continuing Education, at REALTORU.com.

Also on the agenda is building on the strong start for the school’s academic research arm, the Center for Real Estate Studies, which earlier this year released its first two academic papers and has two more slated for publication by year’s end. Upcoming releases will look at housing characteristics of interest to buyers in different age cohorts and what housing demand is expected to be over the next few decades.

“This program is about the future,” Rosenthal says. “Our goal is for young professionals to get a solid grounding in real estate as a business discipline, enter our business as their first career, and be ready and functional on day one.”

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