Realtors Think Back to Their Very First Days of Study

(Thursday, July 24, 2008 4:50 PM EDT)

In order to become a licensed real estate professional in Virginia, individuals must take both a state-mandated course on the principles of real estate, and a subsequent examination that focuses on both national real estate principles, and specific-to-Virginia topics.

The Sun Gazette asked local Realtors where they took their courses and exams, and what they remembered of the experience.

Interviews were conducted by Rolly Strauss, Brian Trompeter, Dave Facinoli and Kristen Armstrong. Here are the responses:

Deborah Whitaker, Long & Foster Great Falls: “I took it in Northern Virginia. It's not the exam [that matters], it's the incredible knowledge, the incredible responsibility you need to have, particularly with regard to ethics. Ethics sounds like it should be very logical, but it's not always logical.”

Amy Shafer, Re/Max Allegiance Arlington: “I took it in Northern Virginia almost five years ago. I remember feeling overwhelmed with the amount of information. But putting it into practice was a lot different than what was being taught. So much of it is hands-on. I feel like I'm always learning.”

Nick Kuhn, McEnearney, Associates, Arlington: “I took the course in Arlington through Arlington County Continuing Education and took the exam in Alexandria. It was an excellent learning experience, a very thorough course. It prepared me well. Since then, I've taught the real estate principles course. Every day is a learning experience. I'm continuing to add to my knowledge.”

Robin Waugh, Weichert McLean: “I took it in Fairfax at a great school that's no longer there. It was very, very thorough. I just finished an MBA, so [the real estate exam] was pretty easy for me. I know three or four agents who did not pass it two, three, four times. You've got to prepare and you need to be smart. I hope they make [the exam] more rigorous, because I think we need great due diligence in real estate.”

Tom Wartha, Re/Max Xecutex Oakton: “It was more than 30 years ago, so my memories aren't real fresh. Back then, I took it at [the Northern Virginia Association of Realtors office]. The exam prepares your knowledge for the laws and regulations, but not necessarily to be an effective agent. This requires people skills.”

Dayna Wagner, Long & Foster Arlington: “I took it in Falls Church. I thought it was pretty straightforward. I think it's very different going from the theory to practical application of the theory. The best way to describe it is ‘only the tip of the iceberg.' The course and exam were absolutely miniscule compared with what I've learned since.”

Dianne Van Volkenburg, Weichert Great Falls: “I took it in Northern Virginia. I don't remember its being very difficult. I liked doing the course because I learned a lot about the legal aspects of real estate that I didn't consider before. It's more than just buying and selling a house.”

Kenneth Tully, Re/Max Preferred Vienna: “I got my license in California. It was challenging, but it didn't have a lot to do with the practice of real estate. Getting your license is just the beginning. Much more must be learned before you get out there selling. Most new Realtors should consider taking the Graduate Realtor Institute (GRI) course, which is an excellent source of practical knowledge.”

Kelly Tierney, Re/Max Distinctive Arlington: “I took the exam in Northern Virginia 14 years ago. I took a two-week crash course. The exam was challenging, but I passed it with flying colors. I was so excited about becoming a real estate agent. The biggest thing I got out of my exam was passing it to become licensed. Then I put it behind me. I learn something new every day.”

Casey Thompson, Weichert Great Falls: “I took it in Northern Virginia 25 years ago. I don't really remember the exam at all. It's completely different than [the profession today]. There were no lead-paint and HOA [homeowner association] issues, no computers. The contracts are so complicated now. There's so much more to them. I am so grateful I got my license so long ago, and learned these things as they came along.”

Carol Temple, Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage Arlington: “I was licensed in 1973. At first, I thought I could just read the book and go take the test. Well, that didn't work so well. I failed it. Once I got over that indignity, I went and took a course through Arlington County. I also took a supplemental math course. By that time I was gun-shy and wanted to be really prepared. And, of course, I passed with flying colors.”

Aaron Seekford, Arlington Realty: In Northern Virginia. “I do remember it, and took one for D.C., as well. A lot of things I call ‘streetwise real estate' - you obviously get skills from the course, but more importantly, what I got from the course was a base of knowledge to help me to get started.

Joan Sellers, Weichert, McLean/Old Dominion: “I took the course in Northern Virginia, through NVR. It was excellent in that it gave me a very good basic background, but then I needed specific training in pricing and writing contracts through Weichert.”

Pat Shannon, Long & Foster, Arlington: “I took it in Massachusetts, and I still have an active Massachusetts license, from 1991. When I took the Virginia licensing exam, it was jam-packed with people, I was amazed at how many people were getting their license.”

Kim Sharifi, Weichert, McLean: “I took the test in Northern Virginia - on St. Patrick's Day! There was a group of nine of us, and seven people said they were taking it for the second time or more. I thought, gosh, what are my chances of getting through on the first time? And I did pass it - the luck of the Irish was with me.”

Scott Shawkey, Weichert McLean Center: “It was a fun course; we took it in the summer. It was an overwhelming amount of information to digest. It was a good time to get into the market, and a good time to go through it. And I did pretty well on the test. I had some real characters in the course. It was a fun experience.”

Barbara Simon, McEnearney Arlington: “I took it in Northern Virginia. It's an easy exam. That is not the hard part of being a Realtor.”

Cristina Sison, Re/Max Allegiance Arlington: “I was Realtor first in the Philippines, and when I came here, I got my license in Northern Virginia. Almost all of the exams really don't apply. Basically, it's experience and continuing education and just mentorship from other agents that will help you most.”

Hope Skilling, McEnearney McLean: “I took the test in Ohio, and I got my Virginia license through reciprocity, because Ohio's requirements were twice what Virginia's were. So I never took the training in Virginia - they gave me a copy of the law, and told me to read it. My opinion is that [Virginia's training] is inadequate. It would help them buy their own house, but it is still too easy to become a Realtor. Standards are a little better today, but, frankly, there should be better quality training for Realtors, as they're dealing with people's big financial investment.”

Beth Slucher, Long & Foster Vienna/Oakton: I took the course at Northern Virginia Community College. My professor was a Ph.D. and was a legal authority serving on the Virginia Real Estate Board. I enjoyed it because it was very academic and got us ready for the national test. We were left to study for Virginia on our own. It was rigorous, but it's only the tip of the iceberg, because we're required to get post-licensing credits and really get into the details.”

Lisa Smith, McEnearney McLean: “It was 21 years ago, and I remember thinking I had taken a local course by a company in Virginia and I was looking to leave the Senate after 14 years. I was pretty nervous whether I would pass, and had to wait a month to get the results back from Richmond. It was good training. My company is very supportive of our getting additional accreditation and additional training and continuing education.”

Nancy Sorensen Willson, Long & Foster McLean: “I took it in Northern Virginia when I was 18 years old and I was in high school, and I was probably the only person in the course who didn't own a car or a house or hadn't yet graduated college. I was in the middle of SATs.”

John Steele, Long & Foster McLean/Dolley Madison: “I took it in Northern Virginia. I remember most that the licensing information was not useful to the practice of real estate. It's academic. I'm not saying it's not helpful, that's not my point. It's that working day-to-day in creative real estate, the bulk of the data was not relevant.”

Jisue Sue, Long & Foster Tysons: “I took a Long & Foster course, 40 hours per week, and it was intensive and it was very hard, but when I took the examination, it was easier. I had an excellent instructor.”

Jake Sullivan, Re/Max Allegiance McLean: “I took it in Northern Virginia, over 25 years ago. Much of the information in my licensing course I still use today.”

Eileen Summers, Long & Foster Great Falls: “What popped back in my mind was how little of it was relevant to getting out in the real estate market of the real world. And that I passed the first time.”

Sally Swanson, Long & Foster McLean/Dolley Madison: “I took it in Newport News. I had to study for it but I didn't think it was bad. What was more challenging to me was the broker's exam.”

Michelle Sagatov, Fall Properties Arlington: “At the beginning, I think people think the course is a lot easier than it is. It is challenging and a great experience.” [Sagatov said of the 150 people who were scheduled to take the exam on the day she took the test, only 30 appeared.] “I think that shows some of the people weren't prepared, so they didn't show up to take the test.”

Sherry Schaffer, Long & Foster Arlington: “The course was very businesslike. The test was a positive experience for me, because I really studied the material.”

Mary Schrodt, McEnearney McLean: “I learned a tremendous amount of information, and I have carried that with me throughout my real estate practice. I ate it up. I found the exam easy, because I studied so hard.”

Kate Ryan, Long & Foster McLean: “I thought the course was fascinating, but I didn't think it had much practical applications as far as running a day-to-day real estate practice business.”

Debra Rubin, Long & Foster Great Falls: “The exams are tough, but it is important to renew your license every two years, because you do forget stuff.”

Mercedes Robinson, Long & Foster Arlington: “There was a lot of information to study. I remember the state and national exams were very challenging. Only two of the five who took the exam the day of my test passed.” [Robinson did pass.]

Ann Romer, Weichert McLean: “The course teaches you the framework of the terminology, but has little to do with negotiating contracts. There is not a lot of daily relevance to the daily practice of real estate.”

Leslie Schultz, Re/Max Distinctive McLean: “I think the course teaches you how to pass the exam, but not how to be a Realtor. You learn the basics in the course.”

Ann Shirey, McEnearney Arlington: “I took it in Northern Virginia, at a Realtor's school near Gallows Road. I took the courses sequentially; there were multiple courses to take, and they prepared us well.”

Jim Shirey, McEnearney Arlington: “I took the course in Northern Virginia. It was primarily compliance-oriented. The training is not designed to teach people how to sell real estate. It's about keeping people out of trouble: It's about protecting the consumer and protecting the brokerage houses. But it's not about effectively building a business.”

Steve Wisemiller, Re/Max Allegiance Arlington: “I took my exam in Northern Virginia. Dealing with real estate, you learn to abide by a code of ethics, as well as the laws and regulations involved as you get to know the business for what it is.”

Bradley Winkelmann, Re/Max Allegiance Arlington: “My family's in real estate, so I've been around it my entire life. I was actually a law enforcement officer, but I finally took the plunge. I passed the exam successfully - on the first time, I'd like to add.”

Ann Wilson, Re/Max Allegiance Arlington: “I recall the math section as being particularly cumbersome. I experienced a little bit of anxiety over that part.”

Rowena Wolf, Long & Foster Great Falls: “I think it's a tough exam, especially because your experience comes from working the field, and you haven't worked in the field yet. I took it in Northern Virginia. The components are math as well as law and knowing about acreage sizes. There are so many different things. Everyone has their own strengths. It's a hard exam.”

Ingrid Wooten, Long & Foster Arlington: “It was so many years ago that I don't remember it too well, except that I learned a great deal. In the meantime, I have, of course, taken many more courses in order to stay informed of the newest laws and trends. My husband has recently become an agent and went through training earlier this year. Training requirements have increased, particularly for new agents.”

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