Trent Pettus: Teaching Real Estate the Right Way

Trent Pettus

When Temple University Real Estate Institute Instructor Trent Pettus steps into his classroom, you are unlikely to find a more eclectic mix of students.

“I have students who just graduated from high school to people who are in their 70s and 80s. People who want a second career; people who are looking for part-time employment; people who are changing careers,” said Pettus who brings decades of experiences to the classroom as a realtor and broker. “You get the younger people, 18 and 19, who are coming in looking for a profession. I’ll have someone who just graduated high school a month ago sitting next to a doctor or a lawyer.”

With the broad range of experiences and backgrounds in each class “you have to teach the class in a way that all of the students are able to connect with,” Pettus said.

“It’s a balance. You can’t teach it like you’re teaching a typical Temple class where most of the students might be around the same age and may have the same aptitude, or close to it, when approaching a subject,” he said. “You have a classroom full of students who may be coming from different backgrounds and points in their life — they may not all have the same goals or the same reasons for taking the courses. In one of my classes right now, I have about 12 18 and 19-year-olds, but also about the same number of 70 and 80-year-olds, at least two PhDs — a lawyer and an architect — and five nurses.”

While their backgrounds may be different, Pettus said his goal as an instructor is to make every student who wants to get into the real estate business “feel comfortable, feel empowered and feel that they must do it with integrity.”

“I have a passion for teaching and a passion for this business, but I also have a passion for doing it the right way. That’s why I teach — I know I’m going to teach my students how to do it right,” said Pettus, who teaches both Fundamentals of Real Estate and Practice of Real Estate. “My business is called Integrity Real Estate Services, I say not because I was looking for a word that starts with 'I' but because this is how I live my life and how I conduct business.”

After decades in the business in addition to serving on ethics and professional standards boards for organizations such as the Pennsylvania Association of Realtors and the Great Philadelphia Board of Realtors, Pettus said he’s seen too many people approach real estate “in the way it shouldn’t be done.”

“I want people who are coming into the industry for the first time to be taught the correct way to do this business. I am big on training new agents to approach this business with ethics and integrity,” he said. “Every state also has different rules and requirements so you have to stay up-to-date on changes wherever you may be practicing. I have licenses in Pennsylvania, Delaware and Florida and each state is drastically different; for example, in Pennsylvania you can represent both the buyer and the seller in the same transaction while in Florida it’s illegal to represent both.”

According to Pettus, Fundamentals of Real Estate starts with students gaining an understanding of the terminology of the field.

“Then we get into the practice of real estate, how you sell, the contracts, agreements of sale. We explore all different areas of specialization, like appraisal and home inspection — everything you will deal with in this business,” he said. “In my classes, I do a lot of roleplay — I want students to walk away with an understanding of real estate that is as close to reality as possible. I teach from the book, of course, but I want them to have a classroom experience that is more grounded in the real world.”

Pettus said he also focuses a portion of his classes on talking about the PSI (Professional Service Industries) exam.

“The PSI exam is an exam that potential realtors have to take after they pass the two courses in order to get a real estate license. I want to ensure my students aren’t just ready to take the PSI exam, but to pass it; that’s the ultimate goal,” he said. “I think Temple has the best real estate program in the tri-state area. It’s not about how fast you can get a license, it’s about the quality of the education that Temple offers.

Pettus said he wants Real Estate Institute students — if they want to become realtors — to have the knowledge and understanding of the material to pass the state exam while also understanding “that this is a great profession if you do it the right way.”

“You need to ask yourself ‘Why do I want a career in real estate?’ Is it just because of HGTV or you think it looks easy — or is this something you really want,” he said. “If money is your sole motivation, this is the wrong career for you. My advice is to have an understanding about why you want to do this. If you don’t love it, it’s going to be even harder than it already is.”

Today’s gangbusters housing market combined with a glut of real estate-focused reality programs has resulted in a great deal of interest in real estate as a profession, Pettus said, but it has also caused some unrealistic expectations. 

“One thing that I don’t like are these ‘million-dollar listing’ shows that have proliferated over the past few years — they are so unrealistic. With many of the young people who come into my class, I ask them how many of you watch these non-reality shows about real estate and everybody raises their hand,” he said. “I tell them to pretend like they’ve never seen them because none of that stuff is grounded in reality. No one sells a $10 million house in 22 minutes and walks away with a $150,000 commission. That is not likely to happen. This is a tough profession.”

Pettus said he always focuses on the reality of the profession, not an idealized version of it.

“I had one young student a couple of years ago, he was just 19, and he came up to me and said ‘Mr. Trent, do you think it’s realistic to make a $1 million in real estate in a year?’ I said listen, why don’t we sit down and work it out,” he said. “He said he was making $9 an hour, about $13,000 a year or a little over a $1,000 a month gross. So, he wanted to go from about $1,000 a month gross to about $120,000 a month gross.”

Together, they worked the numbers to determine how many deals, on average, it would take a month to achieve that lofty $1 million a year goal.

“We broke it down and he’d have to sell close to 75 deals a month. He saw that it was unrealistic so we talked about what realistic goals might be — you make $13,000 now, why not shoot for $20,000? The following year, shoot for $25,000 or $30,000; have something that’s attainable,” he said. “When students come out of my class, they have realistic goals and a plan to achieve them.”

Real estate is not a profession for someone who isn’t self-motivated, Pettus said.  

“This is not an easy profession. No one is giving you the business,” he said “You have to go get it. You are an independent contractor — you are your own business.

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