A Way of Giving Back

By Elaine Misonzhnik

Real Estate Weekly
October 4, 2000

The main objective of the Academy for Continuing Education (A.C.E.) is
to make every real estate agent in New York a true professional, claims Esther Muller, the co-founder and master teacher of the school.

The Academy, which regularly attracts such high-profile lecturers as Andrew Farkas, the chairman of Insignia/ESG, Barbara Corcoran, president of the Corcoran Group, Neil Binder, principal of the Bellmarc Realty, and many, many others, organizes such classes as salesperson licensing and broker licensing, in addition to 22-hour seminars on various industry-related topics. There is a number of excellent real estate schools in New York, but what Muller insists makes the Academy special is its ability to turn continuing education into a pleasant professional experience, rather than a chore.

“We try to provide a nice environment, holding classes in conference rooms, and hotels,” she explained. “This way, the students feel that they are on a business trip, rather than in a boring classroom. After all, these people are selling the most expansive apartments in the City, and they need to understand the intricacies of the business. And I find that when education feels less like a must-do requirement, and more like an added bonus, people find it easier to learn. I have people coming up to me all the time, saying ‘Esther, I can’t believe our Wednesday nights together are over. I am going
to miss the school.’”

Although the courses at the Academy for Continuing Education are slightly more expensive than average, Muller believes that they are well worth the extra price. “When NYU’s and REBNY’s enrollment was low, they lowered their prices to attract more people,” she said. “But in addition to a smaller fee, the agents want to feel like they are getting something out of those twenty two hours. Our classes were filled to capacity that season. So the competition from our side forced the other schools to take a closer look at their curriculum and change it for the better. And I find really satisfying that the Academy can provide an incentive for other institutions to improve their programs. After all, this is what it really is about – sharing information and improving the profession as a whole.”

According to Muller, continuing education is a must for anyone who deals
with real estate transactions. “No so long ago,” she explained, “real estate used to be a part-time profession. Housewives would do it in their spare
time, or retired people to kill the hours. But in this market it has become a
real profession lately. And I want to make it a respectable profession. I
want New York City to be the first city in the nation where every agent has received a Harvard-level degree, and I believe our Academy is the Harvard for the industry.”

Muller, who regularly teaches a real estate ethics course, feels that many agents are unaware of the intricate ethical and legal dilemmas involved in the business, so learning which pitfalls to avoid is a requirement for anyone who wants to have a good professional reputation. “Sometimes the agents just don’t know that what they are doing in unethical,” she said. “They come to class, and tell me ‘But I never knew that I couldn’t do that.’”

Muller, who started her own career as a part-time substitute teacher at a Connecticut school, has experience in virtually every niche of real estate from co-op and condo conversions to new developments. She believes that it is her training as a teacher, combined with a hands-on knowledge of the industry, which makes her the ideal person for her current job. “Some of the other schools have instructors that know real estate only in theory,” she said. “Here, every lecturer who comes to teach a class is not only a practicing professional, but an industry leader.” Muller’s ability to get A-list names to lecture at her school is another thing that sets the Academy apart. “Most of the other schools are able to get the managers to come and lecture, while we have the chairmen and presidents teach. And this is good, because we compliment each other in this way.”

The Academy for Continuing Education was founded in 1995 by Professor Benjamin Wieder, a 25-year veteran of real estate education, who taught and served at the City University of New York. Along with Muller, who worked as a broker, investor, and developer in the City since the mid-1970s, they founded the school, hoping to create a free flow of information among the industry’s professionals. A very important aspect of the Academy for Continuing Education, Muller notes, is its complete financial self-reliance. She swears that the school does not accept sponsorship from any individual or organization, and that in the course of its five-year existence, “no one has contributed a dime toward the maintenance of the Academy.” This allows Wieder and Muller to remain totally independent of anyone’s personal interests, and to do whatever it is in the best interest of their students.

In addition to its regular schedule, the Academy also provides long-distance training through its web site, which Muller feels will become a growing trend
in the new century. “A lot of brokers are calling us from out of state to enroll
in our long-distance education program. It is moving further than New York, and in fact, we are currently looking to align ourselves with some of the top real estate Internet companies in the business, to be better able to provide that service.”

“Real estate professionals are involved in what is probably the most important business in the City right now,” Muller concluded. “In order to practice it in the right way and be respected, they need to educate themselves. And I am very proud that the Academy is able to provide them with the training they need to succeed. I see it as a Jewish tradition of doing Mitzva – helping other people live up to their potential. And since the lecturers who teach here do it just for the sake of helping others, it proves that there’s more to the real estate industry than just money.”