Overwhelmed by all the real estate designations and certificates available? We don’t need to tell you how many variables there are regarding real estate specializations.
The National Association of Realtors has created a wide range of certifications and designations to recognize those with expertise and experience in a wide range of real estate sectors.
But which are the ones that will help you close more deals?
How do you get a real estate designation?
Before we even get into the value of individual real estate designations, let’s talk about what real estate designations are and why they’re useful.
A real estate designation is a credential earned by a real estate agent or broker that signifies expertise in a certain industry. The most common and visible designations are awarded by the National Association of Realtors (NAR). Still, many others are offered by state and local associations, as well as private companies, like the Real Estate Business Institute.
Real estate designations generally come not only with an official title but also with additional resources and networking opportunities.
To get a designation, you don’t just need to pass a test — you also need to show proven experience within a certain focus. Each designation has vastly different requirements, so you should check in with the designating agency before you start moving toward your application.
Either way, if you can get a designation, you probably should — especially NAR designations.
Certifications vs. designations: What’s the difference?
Both certificates and designations require some study and experience. And both credentials can bolster your reputation and help you get more closings.
The main difference between the two is the rigor required to acquire them. A certification takes less coursework and less experience. A designation is far more intensive — showing greater experience, knowledge, and commitment to specific real estate sectors.
You’ll pay fees while attaining both certifications and designations. However, realtors must pay annual dues to maintain most designations.
Now, note that this doesn’t mean a designation is always “better” than a certification. There may be scenarios in which it fundamentally makes more sense to grab a certification — which is less time-consuming– than invest in a designation.
Seniors Real Estate Specialist (SRES)
Clients in the 50+ age group have a unique set of needs as both buyers and sellers. NAR also describes them as the fastest-growing market in real estate, which means there are plenty of opportunities for closings.
While attaining this designation, Realtors will learn how to guide senior-aged clients through the buying and selling process ethically. They’ll learn about the different housing options for seniors — and resources such as reverse mortgages, IRAs, pensions, and 401ks.
Realtors will also learn how to recognize and help clients avoid mortgage and loan scams that target senior citizens. Becoming an SRES will help you provide better and more responsible services to your older customers. Realtors who earn the SRES designation get access to a wealth of member benefits, including additional network opportunities.
To earn their SRES, Realtors must:
- Maintain their membership in NAR.
- Complete the SRES coursework.
- Become a member of the SRES Council.
- Pay annual dues to maintain the designation.
Accredited Land Consultant (ALC)
According to NAR, an ALC earns an average of $100,000 more than other real estate professionals without the designation. Of course, this could also mean that those making a lot of money in land consulting will likely get this accreditation.
The ALC designation is conferred to real estate professionals by the Realtors Land Institute. Those who hold the ALC are considered the most knowledgeable, trusted, experienced, and high-producing realtors in all segments of the land market.
The land market, of course, is very distinct from the housing market that most real estate professionals specialize in. When you complete land sales, you need to know more about consulting, development, auctions, and appraisals.
To acquire the Accredited Land Consultant designation, you must:
- Maintain a NAR membership.
- Complete the LANDU education program, which includes 104 course hours.
- Submit a professional resume that shows at least two years of experience in land sales or brokerage, or at least three years in appraisal, auctions, leasing, consulting, development, or other related land services.
- Write a short essay about what you are pursuing the ALC designation.
- Present two letters of recommendation from current Accredited Land Consultants. At least one must be from within the applicant’s local real estate market.
- Score 70% or better on the ALC Exam.
Do clients know what a real estate designation is?
There’s a reason why the ALC designation is one of the most effective in terms of ROI — because a lot of land buyers/developers know what an ALC designation is. As you get into CRS, SRS, and ABR designations, you start to reach a point at which your clients really won’t know what these designations mean. Whether they’re advantageous to you depends on how you spin it and how you leverage the resources offered to you as a designated agent.
Certified Residential Specialist (CRS)
CRS designations are highly prestigious credentials for residential real estate experts. On average, the sales agents, brokers, and managers with these designations earn three times as much in income, transactions, and gross sales.
Real estate professionals with this designation get discounts on most educational opportunities from the Residential Real Estate Council (RRC). They also get perks like a listing in the RRC’s print and online directories, professionally branded marketing materials, and access to the RRC’s referral network.
CRS designation is ideal for those who are interested in specializing in residential sales and have already gained a significant amount of experience within the field. There are two levels of CRS designation.
The first, the 60/30/30 Program requires completing the following to earn and maintain the CRS designation:
- Either 60 transactions or $30 million in sales over the past five years.
- Completion of 30 hours of Residential Real Estate Council education.
- Membership in the RRC and NAR.
- Payment of annual dues.
- Two hours of continuing education credits each year.
The Pro level of the CRS designation requires more time and experience in the field. The current requirements for Pro are:
- 10 years or more as a licensed real estate agent.
- Either 150 transactions total or an average of $1 million in sales each year with a minimum of 40 transactions.
- 16 credits of RRC education.
- Membership in both RRC and NAR.
- Annual dues.
- Two hours of continued education credits per year.
Seller Representative Specialist (SRS)
While many real estate agents represent both buyers and sellers, others choose to specialize in working with one party or the other. For those who wish to represent sellers, the Seller Representative Specialist designation is a credential that shows your experience and expertise.
This designation is reserved for those who demonstrate the knowledge and skills to advocate for sellers effectively. Those who earn the designation have access to networking opportunities, ongoing training, and other resources.
To earn the SRS, a real estate professional must:
- Complete the SRS course, available in both classroom and online formats.
- Finish one SRS elective course.
- Show documentation for at least three completed transactions acting solely as the seller’s representative.
- Be a member of both NAR and SRS.
- Pay annual dues.
Accredited Buyer’s Representative (ABR)
Similar to the SRS, the ABR designation is, like it sounds, a designation for real estate buyer agents. Those who hold an ABR focus on working with buyer clients throughout the home-buying process.
ABR specialists help buyers get access to homes that meet their specifications and guide them through the process from first showing to final signing. If you absolutely love helping people find their perfect home, you may want to become an ABR.
To earn the ABR designation, a realtor must complete the following:
- Attend a two-day core designation course, either in person or online.
- Complete one ABR elective course.
- Document five completed transactions where they acted solely as the buyer’s representative.
- Maintain active membership in good standing with NAR and REBAC.
- Pass the relevant exams with a score of 80% or better.
- In some states, additional continuing education credits are required.
Other real estate designations
You can find a real estate designation for a lot of other things: Certified International Property Specialist, Certified Commercial Investment Member, or even Certified Property Manager. Whether you’re interested primarily in real estate management, international real estate, or commercial real estate, there’s a designation (and certifications) for you.
So, if you’re interested in a niche that isn’t listed above, don’t despair. There are NAR designations as niche as Second Home Property Specialist or Real Estate Negotiation Expert. If you can get these professional designations to work for you, you should try it.
How do you use NAR real estate designations?
First, a designation doesn’t matter unless you promote it.
There are two ways you can introduce your real estate designation: as part of your business name or as a title. For example, if your name is Jane Smith and you have earned the ABR designation, you could do business as “Jane Smith, ABR” or “Jane Smith, Accredited Buyer’s Representative.”
If you choose to use your designation as a title, you’ll want to include it on all of your marketing materials, both online and offline. This includes your business card, website, email signature, and any print ads or other promotional materials you create.
In addition to promoting your designation, you should also make sure you are actively using the resources the designation provides. You may gain access to exclusive training materials or networking opportunities.
Your designation itself proves the skills and experience that you already had. You should look at your real estate designation as a specialized seal of approval — it shows that you know your stuff. Unless you’re showing it off, it isn’t going to help.
Should you get a certification or a designation?
Earlier in your career, certifications are probably more valuable — in terms of cost-benefit. They’re faster and easier to get and will help you launch your career faster. Later in your career, it’s worth it to get any designation that you can. Your designations will distinguish you from other real estate professionals who have similar backgrounds and career wins.
Conclusion: Should you invest in real estate designations?
No one designation is a path for every real estate professional. And, for these designations to have a positive effect on closings, real estate professionals need to effectively leverage it within their marketing — and properly use the resources offered.
Largely, these designations are for those who are already within the real estate field and who want to get an edge on the competition. But these designations can also directly help you, with additional resources and networking opportunities.
As you start your real estate career, consider whether you want to be working toward these designations — or toward certifications. By charting out your goals, you can reach them faster.
Still, don’t feel as though you’re missing out significantly if you don’t have any specific designation. These are merely ways to find more opportunities and land leads — they aren’t make-or-break for any real estate career.
Realtor designations are credentials that real estate agents can use to show specialized knowledge, education, and experience. They can be listed on a realtor’s business cards, websites, and other marketing materials.
Designations are worth it if you leverage them well. Market yourself as an endorsed professional in your niche to get the most out of them. If you aren’t going to use a designation within your marketing, they can still be helpful — you will refresh your knowledge as you practice for exams. But they will be less useful if you aren’t using them in your marketing.
This is the most widely recognized buyer’s agent designation. With low costs and time commitments, it provides a good return on your investment. At the same time, you shouldn’t look to it to completely establish your career. It’s a “good to have” designation, not one that will change your career outlook.
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