Required agent, broker education now available online: Rule change gives them option of Web or classroom

April 24, 2006

Indiana real estate agents and brokers need not venture outside the comforts of their homes to complete continuing-education requirements, thanks to a rule change allowing providers to offer courses online.

Licenses expire every two years, and 16 hours of continuing education must be completed in that span for professionals to remain in good standing. The Indiana Real Estate Commission adopted the change that took effect April 1.

"Rather than having to go to a hotel room or a physical classroom site, this allows our licensees to work around their busy schedules and still meet the needs of licensure," said Nicholas Rhoad, director of the commission. "It brings us up to where the state should be."

Forty-one states and the District of Columbia let agents and brokers complete continuing education coursework via the Web. In Indiana, a mix of about 100 real estate firms, education providers and other organizations offer the courses.

One of the providers, the Bloomingtonbased Real Estate Certification Program, so far is one of the few registered to provide the online alternative. A Carmel startup, the Real Estate Career Network School, also has entered the fray.

Tom Battle, executive vice president of RECP, the state's oldest and largest realestate education provider, sat on an advisory committee that had been pushing for the change the past six years, he said.

While completing the coursework on one's own time might not be the best option for everyone, he suspects a good chunk of the 40,000 agents and brokers in Indiana will take advantage of the convenience.

RECP predicts that 15 percent of its clientele will try the Web option within the next year. The figure eventually could reach 35 percent, Battle predicted.

As interest increases, he expects Webbased coursework from more competitors will follow.

"We're just adding a feature; the traditional live class will not go away," Battle said. "Online learning is not for everybody. A lot of real-estate people just like to get together."

Indeed, RECP already serves roughly 40 percent of the continuing-education market through locations at Indiana University and Ivy Tech State College. Those offerings will remain for those who enjoy the camaraderie, Battle said. The company also provides pre-licensing coursework. After completing the classes, candidates must score at least 75 percent to receive a license.

For the Real Estate Career Network School, the rule change gives the upstart an opportunity to become an early adapter and grab market share. It, too, offers classroombased courses, but only for professionals working toward a real-estate license. Only continuing-education classes needed to maintain a license can be offered online.

Jeff Gilliam, an agent who sells homes for the Carmel office of Austin, Texas-based Keller Williams Realty Inc., founded the new school and will launch his online catalog of courses this summer.

He began enrolling agents in January and expects to add 50 this month, although he declined to divulge total enrollment figures.

Depending on the type, courses can take two hours to five hours to complete, and normally cost about $12 a credit hour.

Gilliam said he will offer five-hour courses and is partnering with Dearborn Real Estate Education in Chicago, the nation's largest provider of real estate training materials, for his curriculum.

His list of nine class offerings includes such topics as "Introduction to Commercial Real Estate," "Understanding Commercial Investments" and "Property Management."

Gilliam is more confident than Battle about the future of the online alternative, predicting that classroom learning will become obsolete.

Rhoad at the real estate commission is sure there will be demand. Otherwise, the commission would not have adopted the measure. What the demand will be, however, remains uncertain, he said.

At this stage, most in the industry think both options can co-exist. Debbie Fairfax, professional services director for the Metropolitan Indianapolis Board of Realtors, is among the contingent.

"This just offers them more choices and more flexibility," Fairfax said.

While not every state has adopted distance-learning alternatives, each does require real estate agents and brokers to complete continuing education. Hours range from as low as six in Arkansas and Kentucky to as many as 45 in California and Wyoming, according to the National Association of Realtors in Chicago.
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