Top 10 Real Estate Certifications & Designations Agents Need to Gain Clients
This article is part of a larger series on How to Become a Real Estate Agent.
Real estate agents and brokers should obtain real estate certifications and designations to broaden their expertise, target a niche market, and grow their business. Real estate certifications like Certified Residential Specialist (CRS), Certified Property Manager (CPM), and Certified Commercial Investment Member (CCIM) help real estate professionals increase industry knowledge, improve reputation, and build up credibility. They also contribute to expanding an agent’s network and attracting more clients.
We’ve gathered 10 of the most impactful real estate certifications and designations as well as what they are, why you should get them to enhance your business, how to get them, and the cost of each.
(Pricing Range or Set Price)
Residential Real Estate Council (RRC) members specializing in residential property sales
Agents who want to focus on exclusively representing homebuyers
Certified Commercial Investment Member
Realtors with clients targeting commercial real estate investments
Certified Property Manager
Experienced property managers who manage any asset class and want to learn how to boost the value of their properties
Accredited Land Consultant
Brokers or agents that facilitate investments in raw or developable land
Team leaders and agents looking to start a team to sharpen their management skills
Realtors who work with Americans wishing to invest in property abroad and foreigners looking to invest in the United States property
Real estate agents keen on learning about energy efficiency and sustainability issues
Agents and brokers who specialize in helping active adults and senior clients buy and sell properties
Real estate professionals who want to be sensitive and prepared to work in multicultural real estate markets
1. Certified Residential Specialist (CRS)
What a CRS is: The Certified Residential Specialist (CRS) designation provides you with a foundation in education and experience as a member of the Residential Real Estate Council (RRC). This realtor certification gives agents strategies and access to list their properties in the council’s online and print dictionaries. Also, agents will receive preferred member pricing at RRC events and local networking through their state RRC organization, helping agents to boost their reputation, gain a competitive edge, and generate leads.
The designation also gives members discounts of up to 50% on most education offered by the RRC, a free subscription to Inman Select News, free mobile customer relationship management (CRM), and lead generation tools. These will help agents boost their brand awareness and grow their residential real estate business.
How to become a CRS: To become a CRS, join the RRC and decide whether you want to take the 60/30/30 Program or the Pro Program. Pro Program applicants must complete 16 hours of RRC education, 10 or more years as a licensed agent, and 150 transactions total, or an average of $1 million per year in sales with at least 40 transactions. To qualify, those taking the 60/30/30 program need to complete 30 hours of RRC education, 60 transactions, or $30 million in volume in the past five years.
- One-time application fee: $99
- Annual membership dues: $195
Where to get a CRS designation: Residential Real Estate Council or CRS designation
2. Accredited Buyer’s Representative (ABR)
What an ABR is: The Accredited Buyer’s Representative (ABR) designation empowers real estate agents who deal directly with buyer-clients. This certification reflects your dedication to buyers, establishes you as a real estate negotiation expert, and assures your buyers high-quality support during the search and selection process. This designation provides access to marketing tools, resources, and networking and referrals.
ABR offers valuable real estate education, including specialized information, programs, and updates, that keep you knowledgeable on homebuyers’ issues and trends.
How to become an ABR: You must first join the National Association of Realtors (NAR) and the Real Estate Buyer’s Agent Council (REBAC) to be qualified for your ABR. Then you must finish the two-day ABR course and score at least 80% on the test. Next, enroll in an ABR elective course and get a minimum of 80% on the final exam. Then, you must complete five transactions in which you are the buyer’s representative (no dual agency permitted).
- ABR Designation Course: Starting at $236 for members and $472 for non-members
- Elective Courses: Starting at $92 for members and $184 for non-members
- REBAC dues: The first year of REBAC membership is free. However, for the second year, you’ll be paying $110, but prorated based on the month you joined REBAC.
Where to get an ABR designation: ABR Designation Course
3. Certified Commercial Investment Member (CCIM)
What a CCIM is: Earning your Certified Commercial Investment Member (CCIM) designation is a definite advantage for realtors who want to focus on commercial real estate. The certification process guarantees that CCIMs are knowledgeable in both theory and practice of commercial transactions. Brokers, leasing specialists, investment counselors, asset managers, appraisers, property managers, developers, institutional investors, commercial lenders, and other related professions comprise this group of CCIMs.
CCIM provides access to a network of 13,000 members across the US and around the globe and exclusive discounts on CCIM education. It also offers benefits, such as real estate tools, tuition discounts, CCIM.net email with Google G Suite, deal share, pre-designed excel templates, CCIM business forms, and excel CCIM financial calculator.
How to become a CCIM: To qualify for your CCIM, you’ll need to complete the education components like the two-day Course Concepts Review (CCR) and six-hour Comprehensive Exam, and pass the final exam at least 70% (coursework includes three different classes). You should also have worked in the commercial real estate industry for at least two years. Then, provide a portfolio of qualifying experience (except for Fast Track students).
- Annual dues for CCIM Institute membership:
- $650 for US professionals
- $600 US membership with government discount
- $420 for Canadian membership
- $195 International membership
- Cost of required courses: Starting at $150
- Portfolio of Qualifying Experience: $175 submission fee
- Comprehensive Exam and Course Concepts Review (CCR)
- $810 for the Course Concepts Review (CCR)
- $380 for the Comprehensive Exam
Where to get CCIM: CCIM Designation
4. Certified Property Manager (CPM)
What a CPM is: The Certified Property Manager (CPM) designation is available through the Institute of Real Estate Management (IREM). The CPM certification enables real estate professionals like brokers, building owners, and investors to manage properties more ethically and effectively. Being a CPM also assures investors that you know your way around managing rental properties and know how to maximize the value of their properties.
Moreover, CPM enables you to go further in your career since over half of CPMs hold senior-level management positions. CPM will also help you to expand your network by generating business referrals, meet future employees or employers, and consult with other experts.
How to become a CPM: To qualify, applicants must have three years of qualifying real estate management experience, complete eight CPM certification courses, and pass the CPM Capstone. Aside from these, all CPM candidates must have 36 months of qualifying real estate management experience, including appropriate portfolio requirements. Attend at least two events with your local IREM chapter and become an institute affiliate member of NAR.
The average cost to earn the CPM is between $7,500 and $8,500.
- Course and exam tuition for the eight CPM courses and the CPM Capstone: $5,800
- Annual fee: $850 includes CPM candidate, chapter, and NAR Institute Affiliate dues (chapter dues vary based on location)
- Enrollment, graduation, and other fees: $635
Where to get a CPM certification: CPM or IREM
5. Accredited Land Consultant (ALC)
What an ALC is: Another certification available to NAR members is the Accredited Land Consultant (ALC). ALCs are land professionals who are the most accomplished, experienced, and competent land experts. This credential shows clients that you are an expert in land-related real estate transactions. ALC also provides agents access to a network of ALC designees who work to build and share knowledge, cultivate trusted relationships, and enhance business opportunities.
How to become an ALC: To become an ALC, candidates must have a current real estate license and at least two years of experience in land sales or brokerage. Alternatively, candidates can show that they have at least three years of relevant real estate experience.
Real estate professionals must also complete 104-course hours through the Realtors Land Institute’s LAND University (LANDU) program. This contains 48 elective course hours and 56 hours of required courses. After completing the relevant curriculum, applicants must pass a final exam with a 70% or above.
- Exam fee: $100 covers two attempts
- 16-hour courses: $445 for each member, except for the Land Investment Analysis course, which costs $545
- Designation initial cost: $350, to be submitted with the ALC designation application
- Annual ALC dues: $445
- Reinstatement fee for lapsed designation: $350 is charged if a membership with the Institute lapses for more than three years and the member would like to rejoin
Where to get an ALC designation: Realtors Land Institute or ALC Designation
6. Certified Real Estate Team Specialist (C-RETS)
What is a C-RETS: The Certified Real Estate Team Specialist (C-RETS) certification is best for team leaders and real estate professionals looking to form a team. The NAR recognizes the C-RETS certification as the first and sole team certificate. The C-RETS is ideal for those agents wishing to improve their team development, individual leadership skills, and financial performance. You may also fast-track your Certified Real Estate Brokerage (CRB) designation with the C-RETS certification.
The C-RETS courses provide the tools, methods, and knowledge needed by today’s real estate professionals who are thinking about or are already working in a team setting. It hones agents’ leadership skills, like educating them on the importance of constant and effective communication within the team, and encouraging and nurturing your team’s growth for better teamwork, service, and building and sustaining profitable businesses and maximizing success.
How to become a C-RETS: To become a C-RETS, you must complete at least two available C-RETS courses. You’re free to choose courses depending on your learning needs. You also need to maintain an active membership with NAR. As for the exam, C-RETS does not require agents with any exam qualification to be certified.
- One-time application fee: $159
Where to get a C-RETS certification: C-RETS
7. Certified International Property Specialist (CIPS)
What is a CIPS: The Certified International Property Specialist (CIPS) certification is for realtors from the United States and abroad, association staff, and volunteer leaders who wish to develop or grow their international real estate business. It will provide sales agents with the knowledge, tools, and network they need to cater to these global audiences to negotiate and conclude the final sales contract.
For instance, CIPS provides marketing tools, such as listing in the “Find a CIPS” online directory, customizable print postcards, web banner ads, press releases, and member-only online communities. These allow sales realtors to grow from the inside out, so that they can grab the attention of their customers and eventually convert them into potential buyers.
How to become a CIPS: To qualify for your CIPS, you’ll need to complete “Global Real Estate: Local Markets” and “Global Real Estate: Transaction Tools” core courses and take and complete three elective courses. Next, upon completing the courses, you must fill out and submit the US CIPS application. You should accumulate 100 points on the application form to indicate that you have the experience necessary to hold this certification. Lastly, you must be an active member of NAR.
- One-time application fee: $75
- Annual membership dues and new trainees’ dues: $220 are prorated quarterly, depending on when you applied
Where to get a CIPS designation: CIPS Designation
8. NAR’s Green Designation
What is a NAR’s Green Designation: The NAR’s Green Designation is intended for real estate agents who want to learn more about energy efficiency and sustainability issues. This designation educates agents about green homes that are sustainably sourced, environmentally friendly, or made with recycled building materials. It will also show agents how to market these homes differently than traditional homes and become an expert source of information about green homes for interested clients.
GREEN provides agents access to members-only marketing tools, knowledge about marketing homes with green features, and tips on how to communicate with clients interested in different facets of living green. It also provides access to online Green directory listings, unique industry webinars, pre-written green content for your social media platforms, and promotional tools.
How to get a NAR’s Green Designation:
To qualify, you must fulfill the following requirements:
- Complete two courses: Green Day 1 and 2, available online or in the classroom
- Pass the final exam with at least an 80% or above
- Submit an application form after completing the required courses and passing the final exams
- Become a member of NAR and an active member of NAR’s Green REsource Council.
- First year application and membership: Free
- Annual fee for subsequent years: $98.50
Where to get NAR’s Green Designation: Green REsource Council
9. Seniors Real Estate Specialist (SRES)
What is an SRES: The Senior Real Estate Specialist (SRES) designation is one of the NAR affiliate designations that can help you stand out as agents who achieve their SRES certification are better equipped to approach older clients with alternatives and knowledge when making life-changing decisions. You can take care of this niche group of clients, whether they are downsizing, living on a fixed income, or wish to live closer to family.
SRES designation provides realtors access to the online SRES member database and the members-only section of the SRES website, consumer marketing materials, quarterly newsletter, marketing letters, and scripts and concepts for contacting clients aged 50+.
How to become an SRES: To earn the SRES designation, you must complete the two-day course, pass the final exam with a score of 80% or higher, and be a NAR member in good standing with both NAR and the SRES Council.
- Online course: $295
- Annual dues: $99 after the first year
Where to get the SRES designation: SRES
10. At Home With Diversity (AHWD)
What is an AHWD: NAR offers the At Home With Diversity (AHWD) certification, which teaches real estate agents to be sensitive to diversity and to set rules for operating in multicultural markets. It teaches you how to gain the confidence of potential sellers and buyers from varied cultural, ethnic, and other backgrounds. Also, you’ll learn how to create a business strategy that mitigates risk while effectively serving all clients equally.
AHWD certification also provides knowledge of the subtleties of US fair housing laws, business etiquette for specific cultures, an edge in expanding your business to include international clientele, credit toward the ABR and CIPS designations, and as a task in the C2EX program. Some states also give this course continuing education (CE) and Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) credit.
How to get an AHWD: To receive this AHWD real estate designation, you must complete the AHWD course online or in a classroom. If you’re taking the course online, you’ll need to score good marks on the final exam and maintain active NAR membership.
- One-time application fee: $75
- Required courses: $99 for online courses; the in-classroom courses fee varies depending on the provider.
Where to get AHWD certification: AHWD or Center for REALTOR® Development (CRD)
Why Real Estate Certifications & Designations are Important
Real estate certifications and designations are important because they educate and equip real estate professionals with the tools to help clients in unique housing situations and increase marketability. Agents and brokers can distinguish themselves from their competition as experts with knowledge in these areas to prospective buyers and sellers.
Rather than waiting for customers to come to you, pursuing realtor certifications will position you as a highly renowned specialist in a specific real estate market. Choosing the proper real estate designation will also allow you to carve yourself a profitable niche and brand, while providing extensive training in legal and regulatory issues, technology, professional standards, and sales processes.
Agents must also have their own distinct email signature, allowing them to boost brand awareness and market themselves through creative and unique designs. HubSpot, for example, offers a comprehensive set of marketing and customer relationship management tools to agents and brokers. Its email marketing features are completely free and easy to use, without having to sign up or register.
Real estate designations and certifications enable agents, brokers, and other real estate professionals to specialize in areas of real estate that will allow them to serve their market better. Consider your expertise and select specializations that will expand your resume and grow your business to make the most of your real estate certifications.