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Real estate licensing: Should the bar be raised?

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Some San Diego County residential real estate brokers would like to see agents face more stringent licensing requirements.

Newly appointed California Department of Real Estate commissioner Jeff Davi said he's aware of the issues, but leans toward focusing on continuing education.

Obtaining a real estate license is easy, according to Gary Kent, a broker with Gary Kent Homes & Estates, a Re/Max associate. "It's not fair to anyone," he said. "These people think it's a license to learn, not a license to practice. Literally, if somebody cuts a few corners they can take 10 to 12 hours and they can obtain a license. Guess which profession requires more time to receive a license: a beautician or a real estate agent?"

The current system has three losers, according to Kent. First is a person prepares for the test but doesn't get much training or knowledge, and what he or she does learn isn't useful. Second, once they're working they give the profession a bad name. And thirdly, the consumer who believes an agent with a license is competent.

Kent, who had a real estate license for 20 years and a broker's license for five, recalled his experience in his first three months on the job: floundering. A good office manager helped him, but the rest was the proverbial school of hard knocks.

The test should be relevant to the market, Kent said, adding the test would be better "if the stuff that was taught was real-world useful information. It talks about metes and bounds and townships. I don't really even know what that is -- I don't think it applies to California."

It would help if the test were even half as challenging as passing the state bar, he said.

Not everyone agrees.

"The license just give you a reason to get started," said Diane Miramontes, vice president in multifamily investments with Grubb & Ellis/BRE Commercial. "Every four years you have continuing education, 45 hours of continuing education. The proof is in the pudding -- you've got to make it once you get the license."

Davi, whose appointment by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was announced last week, officially starts his job at the end of the month. The managing broker and co-owner of a family-owned and operated real estate and property management firm in Monterey said he'd prefer to explore addressing the issue with continued education rather than raising the bar for licensing qualifications.

"In the past, the Legislature has not embraced raising the bar too much because (of a perception of) pulling up the draw bridge, if you will," Davi said.

Jill Morrow, president of Coldwell Banker in San Diego, said the licensing process could possibly be improved by requiring a certain number of college courses.

"To be a broker, there are higher requirements," she said. "I'm just talking about raising the bar, making sure we get the best people in the business -- I take our obligation to take care of clients very seriously.

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