After four weeks of real estate class, graduation! On Thursday I passed the state exam, which means I now have a New Jersey salesperson’s license. And, Gentle Reader, I can’t resist giving you the benefit of my whole four weeks of experience. If you’re getting your license anywhere, read on:

  • LEARN HALF THE MATH. The math-phobic in our class have spent an inordinate amount of time worrying about the eight or so word problems they’re going to face – only about 10 percent of the test! I’d say let the complicated ones go and concentrate on two kinds of problems. First, square footage – because if you can’t figure square footage you really shouldn’t be selling – and it only takes a simple little geometry brush-up to work it out. Secondly, be able to do a backwards commission problem of the form “if an owner nets $420,000, closing costs are $500 and the agent’s commission is 5 percent, what did the house originally list for?”

  • HIT YOUR GLOSSARY. You’ll feel really dorky, but go ahead and practice with flash cards, asking a friend to give you a definition and make you come up with the word. Very often, a question is structured so the multiple-choice answers are a) avulsion b) open mortgage c) remainderman d) riparian rights. If you just know what all the words mean, you’ll be fine.

  • FOCUS ON THE STATE-SPECIFIC STUFF. The distinctions in the general questions often weren’t very fine:

    “Jane owes her loyalty to a) the seller, b) the buyer, c) Ronald McDonald.” OK, I’m exaggerating, but it’s in the state-specific questions – questions about conduct – where you have to make finer distinctions. And, remember, when you’re studying these, you’re practicing for your actual job. So visualize as you go through what you can put in an ad, and what you can put in a listing, and what the procedures are for dealing with money, and what will tick your regulators off. Know the requirements for being a salesperson, and for where your license is held.

  • USE MEMORY TRICKS. You probably do this to help your kids with their homework, but feel embarrassed using them as an adult. Don’t be. If thinking about Brad Pitt makes you remember the unities of Possession, Interest, Time and Title, then go for it. I remember that tenancy-in-common can be willed and joint tenancy can’t by figuring that you’d never want to offer your kids a joint. It sounds retarded, but it gained me two questions.

  • TAKE PRACTICE TESTS. They’re in your class, they’re online, they’re in books – don’t ignore them. I have one of the “For Dummies” books, and the quizzes have been pretty helpful. Plus, they get you back in the multiple-choice groove that, if you’re like me, you’ve probably been out for 20 years or so.

  • REALIZE SOME OF THIS STUFF IS ACTUALLY MEANINGFUL. I think different kinds of deed restrictions may have been put on earth specifically to plague me, but you will be dealing with leases and contracts and mortgage financing, so you might want to know a little of what’s going on. And there’s one more specific case: the Civil Rights Act of 1866 provides that “citizens of every race and color” have property rights. No racial discrimination, no exceptions. Will you hit this law instead of the Federal Fair Housing Act or a question about blockbusting? I don’t know. But 600,000 people – that’s the population of the city of Boston – died to help establish this right; you honor their memory by knowing it.

Click here to read last week’s “Diary of a real estate flipper.”


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