In a competitive field like real estate, any advantage an agent can get over their competition is a good thing. Real estate designations help separate you from the field and demonstrate that you’re an expert, while at the same time setting you up with a professional network of other designees for referrals and support.
But, with so many designations out there, it’s hard to tell exactly which ones are worth your time, effort, and money. We’ve identified eight real estate designations that offer the best return on investment (ROI) for your unique real estate business, as well as put together a list of honorable mentions for designations you may not have heard of, but could be just what you need to take your business to the next level.
Before we dive into our favorites, let’s get caught up on a couple of real estate designation basics.
What Is a Real Estate Designation?
A real estate designation is a special endorsement on your real estate license that certifies you as an expert in a particular area of the business. Designations are usually offered by trade organizations and sources trusted by consumers, so receiving one these endorsements can help you stand out and win more clients.
What Are the Best Real Estate Designations?
The best real estate designation for you might be different than it is 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 ABR (Accredited Buyer’s Representative) is probably one of the best for you. If you do crossover work between residential and commercial, the CCIM designation is a great choice. Scope out our list below and figure out which makes the most sense for your business.
Are Real Estate Designations Worth It?
Yes, designations are worth it, but you have to leverage it once you receive it. If you work hard to receive a particular designation but then fail to market the fact that you are now an endorsed expert in a particular real estate niche, then your designation won’t get you very far.
Check out the list below to find the real estate designations that are right for you.
ABR (Accredited Buyer’s Representative)
Best for: Buyer’s agents looking to separate themselves from the rest of the field
Cost: $344 plus $110 annual membership fee for REBAC (the Real Estate Buyer’s Agent Council)
Time commitment: About a week, depending on how long it takes to complete your classes
Where to get an ABR designation: The National Association of Realtors’ Center for Realtor Development
If there are a lot of buyer’s agents in your market vying for buyer leads, becoming an Accredited Buyer’s Representative might be the edge you need. This is the most popular of the National Association of Realtors official designations and is relatively easy to get and maintain.
What Is the ABR Designation & Who Is Awarded It?
An Accredited Buyer’s Representative is an agent who has demonstrated outstanding skill and knowledge in the real estate industry, specifically in their representation of buyers, and receives specialized training in the form of classes and professional development to further enhance their skills and knowledge.
What Does It Take to Get an ABR Real Estate Designation?
In order to get an ABR designation, you have to first meet the requirement of five closed 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’ Center for Realtor Development. 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 is trying to represent buyers, this is a great way to show your expertise.
CRS (Certified Residential Specialist)
Best for: Real estate agents who spend more than 75% of their working hours as a listing agent, a team leader managing other listing agents, or a broker
Cost: $2,000 in application and class fees (depending on which electives you choose) plus $195 annual membership fee
Time commitment: Between the application time and the class completion, most CRS designees report the process taking four to six weeks
Where to get a CRS designation: The Residential Real Estate Council
The Certified Residential Specialist designation is the most valued listing agent designation recognized by the National Association of Realtors. Holders of a CRS designation go through rigorous training to provide the most comprehensive service possible to listing clients, making them experts in the sell-side of a real estate transaction.
What Is the CRS Designation & Who Is Awarded It?
A Certified Residential Specialist is someone who has demonstrated superior skills and market-leading knowledge when it comes to representing seller clients. This designation notes an agent’s extensive experience, and is a signal to discerning sellers that the holder has a long and verifiable history of success selling homes. Held by agents, managers, or by brokers, this designation is the benchmark for listing agent excellence.
What Does It Take to Get a CRS Designation?
In order 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 also qualify for the CRS designation with either 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.
MRP (Military Relocation Professional)
Best for: Agents who service military communities that experience a lot of transfer orders; perfect if there’s a base nearby, a national guard facility, or a coast guard training facility in your community
Time commitment: Less than a day for required webinar viewing and application work
Where to get an MRP designation: National Association of Realtors
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 educates real estate agents about working with U.S. service members and their families to provide them the resources they need to make the moves required by their military service smoother.
What Is the MRP Designation & Who Is Awarded It?
The MRP designation is a credential that certifies a real estate professional’s hands-on experience servicing military clients. Holders of this designation have received specific training in the needs of military family homebuyers and sellers, and have access to a library of resources to help them through some of the unique situations buyers and sellers who face frequent moves across the country experience. A Military Relocation Professional is also an expert in servicing the needs of veterans and has a network of Veterans Affairs (VA) lenders available for referrals.
What Does It Take to Get an MRP Designation?
In order to be a Military Relocation Professional, you must be a member in good standing with the National Association of Realtors. Since the only other work required for an MRP designation is viewing two webinars (available on YouTube), 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 towards real estate agents with qualifications uniquely suited to their specific needs, and this designation will get you into that buying and selling loop.
One qualifier here: The MRP designation tends to be most effective with agents who are relatively experienced. If you’re a new agent and don’t have many transactions under your belt, this designation probably won’t help as much.
SRS (Seller Representative Specialist)
Best for: Real estate agents who spend more than 50% of their working hours servicing seller clients, or agents who are working in a very competitive market and want a leg up on their competition
Cost: $350 for application and class fees plus $99 a year in order to maintain the designation status
Time commitment: Most SRS designees report that the application, classwork, and testing takes about a week to complete
Where to get an SRS designation: National Association of Realtors’ Center for Realtor Development
Like the ABR designation, the SRS designation works to provide an extra level of service to seller clients. A Seller Representative Specialist receives training on how to elevate the experience of their listing clients to a new level with specific training in seller-side negotiating, showing and events training, as well as strategies for making the listing process as smooth as possible.
What Is the SRS Designation & Who Is Awarded it?
The SRS designation is another premier credential for seller representation, similar to a Certified Residential Specialist. An SRS designation is awarded by the National Association of Realtors, and is given in recognition of elevated professional standards, personal excellence, and a demonstrative record of success representing sellers across a local market.
The SRS designation is one of the few that will actually appear on your NRDS record in the national real estate database. It is a signal to your clients and prospects 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?
In order to apply for an SRS designation, a real estate agent must be a member in good standing with the National Association of Realtors as well as 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 a Seller Representative Specialist is another indicator to the property owners in your market that you have the class, experience, and know-how to get their home sold—and sold for the right price.
If you work primarily with buyers in your market, this designation won’t be worth the time and effort.
CCIM (Certified Commercial Investment Member)
Best for: Real estate professionals whose business is a good mix of commercial and residential, especially in major metropolitan markets where commercial real estate is very competitive
Cost: $7,885 for application fees, class fees, and testing plus $650 annual membership fee to the CCIM Institute
Time commitment: One to three years, depending on your commercial experience
Where to get a CCIM designation: The CCIM Institute
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 comes along with it are well worth the work.
What Is the CCIM Designation & Who Is Awarded It?
A CCIM, or Certified Commercial Investment Member, has completed advanced coursework covering subjects like financial and market analysis, demonstrated extensive experience in the commercial real estate industry, and passed a rigorous membership test. CCIM designees are recognized as leaders in the commercial real estate industry.
What Does It Take to Get a CCIM Designation?
In order 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?
There are many commercial clients that will only work with CCIM certified agents. When you’re dealing with transactions on such a major scale, having some outside certification that you know what you’re talking about is critical for developers working on multimillion dollar projects.
CPM (Certified Property Manager)
Best for: Real estate professionals who specialize in property management or are looking to diversify their buying and selling business with property management opportunities
Cost: Between $6,500 and $8,000, including all application fees, course fees, and testing fees; there is also an annual fee of $495 in order to maintain the designation
Time commitment: About a year, depending on how long it takes to complete the required classes
Where to Get a CPM designation: Institute of Real Estate Management
As a licensed real estate agent, you’re legally allowed to act as a property manager for rental properties. Especially in major metropolitan areas, property management can be a lucrative field, and according to the Institute of Real Estate Management, the average salary of a Certified Property Manager is over $118,000, whereas it’s just $48,000 for property managers without the CPM designation.
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 are knowledgeable of the ins and outs of the rental real estate industry. Because this designation is so highly thought of, CPMs have a typical salary of more than twice what a property manager without it makes.
What Does It Take to Get a CPM Designation?
In order to apply for and receive a CPM designation, you must be a CPM Member Candidate in good standing with the National Association of Realtors, 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.
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 isn’t much multifamily property, the CPM designation is probably not worth the time and effort.
CRE (Counselor of Real Estate)
Best for: Real estate agents who are leaders in their communities and recognized among their peers as someone who takes an active role in shaping the direction of their market
Cost: The application fee for the CRE designation is $2,500; there is also a required annual fee of $1,750 in order to keep the designation active
Time commitment: The application, review, and interview process for the CRE designation is quite involved; CRE holders report the process to take anywhere from 60 to 90 days to complete
Where to get a CRE designation: The Counselors of Real Estate
Unlike the other designations on our list, to become a designated Counselor of Real Estate, you either 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 designees are recognized for their commitment to excellence and professionalism in the industry; this is as much an award as it is a designation.
What Is the CRE Designation & Who Is Awarded it?
A Counselor of Real Estate first and foremost provides expert, unbiased real estate advice to their clients. A CRE designee is typically nominated for this accreditation by other CREs, recognizing them for their industry excellence as well as their effective leadership, problem-solving skills, and commitment to their community.
Holders of this designation are more likely to be awarded leadership roles in their local MLS organizations, in professional groups like the Women’s Council of Realtors, or the Young Professionals Network.
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 whose community presence and volunteerism is a big part of their resume. If you spend a lot of time working with nonprofit organizations, advocating for schools or other community organizations, or are just a general do-gooder in your local market, this is a great way to tie those activities together with 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 quite right for you.
CIPS (Certified International Property Specialist)
Best for: Agents whose business depends on working with foreign buyers and international investors
Cost: $825 for application fees and course work plus an annual fee of $220 to maintain the designation
Time commitment: Most real estate agents with a CIPS designation report that it took between six and eight weeks to finish the classes and complete all the applications
Where to get a CIPS designation: Center for Realtor Development
Real estate is still a hyper-local business, but more and more agents are seeing their clientele expand out across the globe. Understanding the intricacies of an international real estate transaction can be tough, which is why the CIPS designation exists. Agents with this designation can be easily identified as having the international knowledge and expertise necessary to make one of these complicated transactions happen smoothly.
What Is the CIPS Designation & Who Is Awarded It?
A CIPS designation is a special recognition of specific expertise in the complicated world of foreign purchases or investment of domestic 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 when searching for domestic assistance with their real estate needs.
What Does It Take to Get a CIPS Designation?
The requirements for a CIPS designation are actually fairly involved. Agents pursuing a CIPS designation need to have at least three transactions involving foreign parties, a minimum threshold of international business experience or foreign language mastery, as well as other basic qualifications you can find on the full application here.
Additionally, you must also be a Realtor in good standing with the National Association of Realtors. If you meet the volume requirements, the next step to the CIPS designation is completing two required classes plus three elective courses that focus on various geographic-specific content.
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, so giving yourself the best chance to get on the phone is a great start.
Because this designation 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 thought of the designations available to real estate agents today, so we reached out to Bruce Ailion, attorney and licensed Realtor with RE/MAX Town and Country with over 35 years of experience 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 received 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 receive referrals because I have professional designations.”
Honorable Mention Designations
There are a handful of other real estate designations that, while they aren’t as well-known to most licensed real estate agents, might be just the ticket for you in your local market. Here are some of the less-known designations that are worth mentioning.
SRES (Seniors Real Estate Specialist)
If you work in a market with a lot of senior citizens, this is a designation you should consider. Here’s what the National Association of Realtors says about this particular designation:
“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.”
ALC (Accredited Land Consultant)
Much of the land in the U.S. is still undeveloped or used for agricultural purposes. If you live in a rural market, you undoubtedly have 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.”
CRB (Certified Real Estate Brokerage Manager)
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 that designees must complete, covering topics from 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 a continued 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
Getting a real estate designation is a powerful next step after you get your real estate license. What 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.