Agents await easier license renewal task Their annual ordeal, under way now, will soon go high tech

Relief through the Internet

Goal is to complete work on an on-line system in 1997

Regulation

March 03, 1996|By Daniel H. Barkin | Daniel H. Barkin,SUN STAFF

All over Maryland, tens of thousands of agents and brokers are trudging through the tedious real estate license renewal chore, inking paper forms, stroking checks to the state and stuffing and mailing in the whole shebang.

But -- if it's any comfort to time-starved agents -- this year may mark the twilight of this low-tech process. In the future, renewals may be made by Touch-Tone phone; ATM-like machines in shopping mall kiosks; or personal computers at home, in the office or in the car.

The change is being driven by Gov. Parris N. Glendening's vision of state licensing functions trans- ported to cyberspace, the so-called Maryland Electronic Capital that can be accessed through the Internet's graphics-laden sector, the World Wide Web.

"We're trying to do this on a fast track," said Jonathan Seeman, deputy secretary of the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.

"We're very excited about it."

The project is in "very preliminary stages," he added, with continuing studies of the licensing processes in his department.

The next phase will be to find a vendor who can design the software to computerize the processes.

The goal is to complete work on an on-line system in 1997.

"The Internet is what we're looking at," he said.

Conceivably, renewals on the Web might be possible by 1998, the next renewal year in Maryland.

By law, real estate licenses in Maryland must be renewed every even-numbered year.

For now, the task is still being handled in the old-fashioned way.

"We have to mail every single licensee an application," said Elizabeth Beggs, executive director of the Maryland Real Estate Commission.

March 1, this past Friday, was the deadline for brokers -- the heads of real estate companies -- to file their renewal forms, accompanied by proof of continuing education courses.

April 30 is the deadline for the state's 3,388 associate brokers and 32,621 real estate agents.

Renewal forms for a company's associate brokers and agents can't be mailed by the real estate commission until their broker's renewal forms have been received, along with a current credit report. Some brokers are better than others at filing on time.

By early last week, less than one-third of the approximately 5,000 brokers had filed, according to Ms. Beggs.

"I wonder sometimes if the industry really pays attention to their due dates," she said.

"I mean, that does hold up everybody else. You can call me, but I can't give you a renewal form, because your broker hasn't done the process."

Most of the tardy brokers run small operations.

"Mine's long been done," said James P. O'Conor, chairman and chief executive officer of O'Conor, Piper & Flynn, which has more than 1,400 agents. "We have to get me out of the way first."

One of the requirements of the renewal process will remain, regardless of whether it's handled through the mails or the Web. All brokers and agents must sit through 15 clock hours of continuing education classes to keep their licenses. They have had since spring 1994 to fulfill this requirement, which has increased from 12 hours.

The extra three hours of study must be on changes that have occurred in federal, state and local laws in recent years.

Mr. Glendening, who began his career as a college professor, helped teach one such course -- good for 1 1/2 continuing education hours -- at the Realtor Legislative Day held in Annapolis last month by the Maryland Association of Realtors.

"We police that pretty good," Mr. O'Conor said of the continuing education requirements. "We're constantly reminding people" to complete the required courses, which cover all aspects of real estate law, regulations and financing.

Most large brokerages offer courses throughout the year, as does the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors.

William Cassidy, a Baltimore manager for Long & Foster, said he expects to see the anxiety level rise among agents who have yet to log enough hours.

"There's always a couple of people who have procrastinated and suddenly say, 'I haven't done any of my 15 hours,' " he said.

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