Real estate designations separate you from the competition, demonstrate your expertise, and give you access to professional networks for referrals and support. But, with so many designations to choose from, it’s hard to tell which ones are worth your time, effort, and money. We’ve identified eight real estate designations that offer you the best return on your investment.
About Real Estate Designations
Generally speaking, real estate designations are achieved through continuing education and are offered to licensed real estate agents through organizing bodies and trade organizations such as:
- The National Association of Realtors and its Center for Real Estate Development
- The Residential Real Estate Council
- The CCIM Institute
- Institute of Real Estate Management
- The Counselors of Real Estate
- Center for Realtor Development
What Is a Real Estate Designation?
A real estate designation is a special endorsement on your real estate license that certifies you are an expert in a particular field of practice in real estate. Trade organizations and other sources trusted by consumers offer real estate designations to provide specialized training and help you stand out.
What Are the Best Real Estate Designations?
The best real estate designation for you may be different than for someone else. When thinking about which real estate designation to pursue, ask yourself: “Which designation best highlights my expertise?” and “What sort of designation would give me a leg up in my primary market?”
For example, if you work primarily with buyers, the Accredited Buyer’s Representative (ABR) is probably one of the best for you. If your works crosses over residential to commercial real estate, the Certified Commercial Investment Member (CCIM) designation might be the right choice for you.
Are Real Estate Designations Worth It?
Yes, designations are worth it, but you have to leverage them. If you fail to market yourself as an endorsed expert in a particular real estate niche, your designation won’t get you very far.
8 Real Estate Designations That Will Actually Make You Money
Here are eight popular real estate designations that are likely to bring you added financial success in the years ahead. We think they’re worth pursuing.
1. Accredited Buyer’s Representative® (ABR® )
Becoming an Accredited Buyer’s Representative might be the edge you need in a crowded market. This is the most popular NAR official designation and is relatively easy to get and maintain.
Best for: Buyer’s agents looking to separate themselves from the rest of the field
Cost: $295 plus the cost of your elective class; $110 annual membership fee
Time commitment: About a week
Where to get an ABR designation: NAR’s Center for Realtor Development
What Is the ABR Designation & Who Is Eligible?
Accredited Buyer’s Representatives are agents who have demonstrated outstanding skill and knowledge in the real estate industry and completed at least five transactions as a buyer’s representative. With the ABR designation, agents receive specialized training and professional development.
What Does It Take to Get an ABR Real Estate Designation?
To get an ABR designation, you must meet the requirement of five transactions as a buyer’s agent. Then, you’ll need to take eight hours of required classwork, plus four to eight hours of elective classwork from The National Association of Realtors (NAR) and its Center for Realtor Development (CRED). Most agents complete their coursework in about a week.
Is the ABR Designation Worth It?
Absolutely. This is the most recognized buyer’s agent designation available. In competitive markets where everyone wants to represent buyers, this is a great way to show your expertise.
ABR Designation: Must-have or Hard Pass? Here Are the Facts
2. Certified Residential Specialist (CRS)
The CRS is the most valued listing agent designation recognized by NAR. Holders of a CRS designation go through rigorous training to become experts in the sell-side of a real estate transaction.
Best for: Agents who spend more than 75% of their time as a listing agent, a team leader managing listing agents, or a broker
Cost: $2,000 in application and class fees, plus a $195 annual membership fee
Time commitment: Four to six weeks
Where to get a CRS designation: The Residential Real Estate Council
What Is the CRS Designation & Who Is Eligible?
A CRS has demonstrated superior skills and market-leading knowledge when representing seller clients. This designation indicates that the holder has a long and verifiable history of success selling homes to discerning sellers. Held by agents, managers, and brokers, this designation is the benchmark for listing agent excellence.
What Does It Take to Get a CRS Designation?
To qualify for the CRS designation, you must meet the volume requirements of 60 transactions or $30 million in sales volume in the last five years.
If you’ve been a licensed agent for 10 years or longer, you can qualify for the CRS designation with 150 total transactions or an average of $1 million a year in volume with at least 40 lifetime transactions.
Once your volume requirements are met, you must complete 30 credit hours of class time (about five classes) in courses presented by The Residential Real Estate Council.
Is the CRS Designation Worth It?
Absolutely. Successful agents know that the best way to scale your business is through listings, and this designation will help you set yourself apart from your competition.
Is the CRS Designation Worth It? + CRS Member of the Year Interview
3. Military Relocation Professional (MRP)
There are many communities in the U.S. that revolve around military bases and the comings and goings of military personnel. The MRP certification program supports real estate agents working with U.S. service members and their families.
Best for: Agents who serve military communities
Cost: $195 application fee + cost of required course, $130
Time commitment: A couple of days
Where to get an MRP designation: National Association of Realtors
What Is the MRP Designation & Who Is Eligible?
The MRP designation certifies a real estate professional has experience serving military clients. Designees receive specific training in supporting military homebuyers and sellers. Because so many of these situations are unique, designees can access a library of resources for this highly specialized work.
A Military Relocation Professional is also an expert in serving veterans and has a network of Veterans Affairs (VA) lenders available for referrals.
What Does It Take to Get an MRP Designation?
To be a Military Relocation Professional, you must be a member in good standing with NAR. Since the only other work required for an MRP designation is light course work and two webinars, this is an easy designation to acquire.
Is the MRP Designation Worth It?
If you live in a military community, this designation is a must-have. Military buyers and sellers gravitate toward real estate agents with qualifications uniquely suited to their specific needs. The MRP will get you into that buying and selling loop.
One qualifier here: The MRP designation tends to be most effective for relatively experienced agents. If you’re a new agent and don’t have many transactions under your belt, this designation probably won’t help much.
4. Seller Representative Specialist (SRS)
Like the ABR designation, the SRS designation helps agents provide an extra level of service to seller clients. This designation enhances customer service skills with specific course work in seller-side negotiations, showings, and events.
Best for: Agents who spend more than 50% of their working hours servicing seller clients
Cost: Around $350 for application and class fees, plus $99 a year to maintain the designation
Time commitment: About a week
Where to get an SRS designation: NAR’s Center for Realtor Development
What Is the SRS Designation & Who Is Eligible?
The SRS designation is another premier credential for seller representatives, similar to a Certified Residential Specialist. NAR awards an SRS designation in recognition of elevated professional standards, personal excellence, and a demonstrated record of success representing sellers across a local market.
The SRS designation is one of the few that will actually appear on your National Realtor Database System record and shows that you are recognized by the largest professional trade organization in the country for your excellence as a listing agent.
What Does It Take to Get an SRS Designation?
To apply for an SRS designation, a real estate agent must be a member in good standing with NAR and have completed three or more transactions as a seller’s agent.
If you meet the volume and NAR requirements, you must also complete a general SRS certification course (about eight hours of classwork) and an elective course (between four and eight hours of classwork).
Is the SRS Designation Worth It?
Definitely. Like the CRS designation, becoming an SRS is another indicator to property owners that you have the class, experience, and know-how to get their home sold.
If you work primarily with buyers in your market, this designation won’t be worth the time and effort.
5. Certified Commercial Investment Member (CCIM)
Anyone who deals with commercial real estate (either exclusively or in addition to residential real estate) should consider becoming a CCIM. A CCIM, or Certified Commercial Investment Member, is someone who belongs to the CCIM Institute, the most authoritative professional organization for commercial real estate professionals in the world. Becoming a member here isn’t easy, but the prestige and authority that come with it are well worth the work.
Best for: Agents with a mix of commercial and residential, especially in major metropolitan markets
Cost: $7,885 plus a $650 annual membership fee
Time commitment: One to three years, depending on your commercial experience
Where to get a CCIM designation: The CCIM Institute
What Is the CCIM Designation & Who Is Eligible?
A CCIM has completed advanced course work, demonstrated extensive experience in the commercial real estate industry, and passed a rigorous membership test. CCIM designees are generally recognized as leaders in commercial real estate.
What Does It Take to Get a CCIM Designation?
To apply for a CCIM designation, you must have completed at least three commercial transactions totaling $30 million or more, 10 commercial transactions totaling $10 million or more, or 20 commercial transactions with no value requirement. After meeting your volume requirements, CCIM applicants must complete a comprehensive curriculum of over a dozen classes to be taken over at least a year.
Is the CCIM Designation Worth It?
Many commercial clients will only work with CCIM certified agents. Developers working on multimillion-dollar projects want to see you know what you’re doing, and this certification shows just that.
The CCIM Designation: Is It Worth It for Residential Agents?
6. Certified Property Manager® (CPM® )
As a licensed real estate agent, you’re legally allowed to act as a property manager for rental properties. Property management can be a lucrative field, especially in major metropolitan areas. According to the Institute of Real Estate Management, the average salary of a Certified Property Manager (CPM) is over $118,000, whereas it’s just $48,000 for property managers without the CPM designation.
Best for: Agents who specialize in property management opportunities
Cost: Between $7,500 and $8,500, plus an annual fee of $495
Time commitment: 12-18 months
Where to get a CPM designation: Institute of Real Estate Management
What Is the CPM Designation & Who Is Awarded It?
The CPM designation is the dominant professional accreditation for the property management industry. It is a signal to commercial property owners that you have completed a rigorous application process and education curriculum and know the ins and outs of the rental real estate industry. Because this designation is so highly regarded, CPMs have a typical salary of more than twice that of non-CPM property managers.
What Does It Take to Get a CPM Designation?
To apply for and receive a CPM designation, you must be a CPM Member Candidate in good standing with NAR, complete a one-year candidacy, and be interviewed and approved by a representative of your local Institute of Real Estate Management chapter.
After that, there are between eight and 10 courses (depending on your choice of electives) that CPM candidates must complete. By graduation, you’ll need to have 36 months of qualifying property management experience.
Is the CPM Designation Worth It?
If you work in a market with a lot of rental property, this is definitely a helpful endorsement to have. If most of your business revolves around buying and selling, and there aren’t many multifamily properties, the CPM designation is probably not worth the time and effort.
7. Counselor of Real Estate® (CRE®)
Unlike the other real estate designations on our list, you need to be invited to apply or have at least 10 years of experience as an agent. However, not every agent with 10 years of experience gets the nod. CRE (Counselors of Real Estate) designees are recognized for their commitment to excellence and professionalism in the industry; it’s as much an award as it is a designation.
Best for: Agents who are leaders in their communities and take an active role in shaping the direction of their market
Cost: $2,500, plus an $1,750 annual fee
Time commitment: 2-3 months
Where to get a CRE designation: The Counselors of Real Estate
What Is the CRE Designation & Who Is Awarded It?
CRE designees are typically nominated for this accreditation by other CREs, who want to recognize them for their industry excellence, effective leadership, problem-solving skills, and commitment to their community.
What Does It Take to Get a CRE Designation?
The only requirement to apply for a CRE designation is active tenure as a licensed real estate agent or broker for 10 years. However, applications are only approved for those who’ve demonstrated excellence in their market and have been recognized for their expertise, experience, and leadership.
Is the CRE Designation Worth It?
This is the perfect designation for real estate agents who prioritize community presence and volunteerism. If you spend a lot of time working with nonprofit organizations, advocating for community organizations, or are just a general do-gooder in your local market, this is a great way to tie those activities to your real estate business and leverage that clout.
If you don’t have much in the way of community accomplishments to brag about yet, this designation probably isn’t right for you.
8. Certified International Property Specialist (CIPS)
Understanding the intricacies of an international real estate transaction can be complicated, which is why the CIPS designation exists. Agents with this designation have the international knowledge and expertise necessary to make these complex transactions go smoothly.
Best for: Agents whose business depends on working with foreign buyers and international investors
Cost: Around $825 for application fees and classes, plus an annual fee of $220
Time commitment: 6-8 weeks
Where to get a CIPS designation: NAR’s Center for Realtor Development
What Is the CIPS Designation & Who Is Awarded It?
A CIPS designation recognizes specific expertise in the complicated world of international real estate. CIPS designees have advanced knowledge in currency issues, international financing, tax law, and more. Real estate agents with a CIPS designation are listed in the CIPS database, a resource frequented by foreign buyers and sellers.
What Does It Take to Get a CIPS Designation?
The requirements for a CIPS designation are fairly involved. Agents pursuing a CIPS designation need to have at least three transactions involving foreign parties, meet a minimum threshold of international business experience or foreign language mastery, and other qualifications you can find on the full application here.
Additionally, you must also be a Realtor in good standing with NAR. If you meet the volume requirements, the next step for the CIPS designation is completing two required courses and three elective courses.
Is the CIPS Designation Worth It?
If you meet the requirements for a CIPS designation, this is definitely a good move for you. Foreign investors often qualify agents on paper before scheduling interviews. This designation speaks volumes about your experience and can help get that interview.
Because it is so specialized, if you don’t meet the qualifying requirements (and don’t foresee yourself doing so in the near future), this designation isn’t worth considering.
A Pro’s Perspective: What Designations Mean to a Busy Agent
We wanted to know what a busy agent thinks of these real estate designations, so we reached out to Bruce Ailion, attorney and licensed Realtor with RE/MAX Town and Country. As he has over 35 years of experience, we were eager to get his take:
“I am definitely a proponent of continuing education and designations. Some, like a CRS or CCIM, are top-level residential and commercial designations, are hard to obtain, and are highly valued, while others can be obtained with a six- to eight-hour class and do not signify a high level of proficiency—just better than average competency. Regardless of where you start, a designation demonstrates your commitment to excellence in the industry.
That being said, I find the primary benefit of designations is actually receive from other agents. As an agent, I would prefer doing business with a CRS or CCIM because I know I am doing business with a prescreened professional. I send referrals to CRS and CCIM agents and I receive referrals because I have professional designations.”
Real Estate Designations: Honorable Mentions
A handful of other real estate designations aren’t as well-known to most licensed real estate agents. We selected these four as our honorable mentions that might be perfect for you and your specific business.
SRES® (Seniors Real Estate Specialist®)
If you work in a market with a lot of senior citizens, this is a designation to consider. Here’s what NAR says about it:
“The Seniors Real Estate Specialist® (SRES®) designation is for REALTORS® who want to be able to meet the special needs of maturing Americans when selling, buying, relocating, or refinancing residential or investment properties. By earning the SRES® designation, REALTORS® are prepared to approach mature clients with the best options and information for them to make life-changing decisions.”
The SRES Designation: Is It Worth It for Residential Agents?
Accredited Land Consultant (ALC)
If you live in a rural market, you’ve undoubtedly handled your fair share of vacant land sales. If this makes up a large portion of your business, the ALC designation is worth considering. Here’s what NAR has to say about this designation:
“The esteemed Accredited Land Consultants (ALCs) are the most trusted, knowledgeable, experienced, and highest-producing experts in all segments of land. Conferred by the REALTORS® Land Institute, the designation requires successful completion of a rigorous LANDU education program, a specific, high-volume and experience level, and adherence to an honorable Code of Conduct.”
Certified Real Estate Brokerage Manager (CRB)
If you’ve moved off the sales floor and spend most of your time managing other real estate agents, the CRB designation is worth its weight in gold. This designation has three comprehensive courses covering management, technology, cost estimating, budgets, and more. Here’s what NAR has to say about this designation:
“The Certified Real Estate Brokerage Manager (CRB) designation is designed for experienced owners, brokers, managers, and supervisors to raise professional standards, strengthen individual and office performance, and sharpen expertise in brokerage management. Since 1968, CRB has represented the highest level of professional achievement in real estate brokerage management. You do not need a broker’s license to earn the CRB designation.”
GREEN (NAR’s Green Designation)
For any agent whose clients show an interest in green infrastructure and home features, this environmentally conscious designation is right for you. The best part about this designation? It’s free for the first year (no application or class fees), then just $98.50 a year after that. Here’s what NAR has to say about this designation:
“NAR’s Green Designation is designed for agents looking to learn about issues of energy efficiency and sustainability in real estate.”
Bringing It All Together
Designations in real estate go a long way in making you a more credible agent. What real estate designations are you considering? Which do you think will be most helpful in your market? Tell us in the comments below, and let’s keep the conversation going.