Nina Hollander is a Charlotte, North Carolina-based real estate broker. She’s also a Realtor, CRS, GRI, SRES, CDPE, SFR, CMRS, SPS, and has an MBA. Like most new realtors, you’re probably scratching your head trying to figure out what all that alphabet soup after her name really means.
In this article we demystify the bewildering array of letters that seem to follow every realtor’s name these days. You’ll learn about each designation, how getting realtor designations can help you close more deals, and what designations will be the most useful for new and newer realtors. Let’s get started.
GRI is one of the most common and highly recommended designations available today. To earn a GRI designation, you will need to take courses on legal and regulatory issues in the industry, as well as technology and a more in-depth exploration of the sales process.
Best of all, the GRI designation is designed for realtors with fewer than five years of experience in real estate. Think of it as a general graduate degree after completing your licensing education.
Best for: Designed for realtors with less than 5 years experience, but useful for all realtors
Number of Required Hours and Cost: Varies by State. California requires 14 classes totalling 66 hours. $149 per class for a total of $1625 – More info here. For Information on other states, click here.
The ABR or Accredited Buyer’s Representative designation is for agents that have closed at least five residential real estate transactions where they represented the buyer. The course offers more in-depth training on representing buyers in real estate transactions.
Best For: Buyer’s agents
Prerequisites: Documentation of 5 closed transactions representing the buyer
Number of Required Hours and Cost: 15 hours + one 8 hour elective course is
The required courses for the SRS designation train realtors in every facet of working with sellers. You’ll learn how to increase your listings and grow your business, gain in-depth knowledge of the National Association of Realtors (NAR) code of ethics and standard of practice, as well as learn the details of state licensing laws that apply to representing sellers.
Best For: Seller’s agents
Prerequisites: Documentation of 5 closed transactions representing the seller
Number of Required Hours and Cost: 12 hours, $295 (online) – More info here.
The required courses for the SFR designation will prepare realtors to work in the complex and often risky world of short sales and foreclosures. You’ll learn how to qualify sellers for short sales, develop a short sale package, negotiate with lenders, as well as mitigate risk for both you and your buyer.
Best For: Realtors who want to work short sales and foreclosures
Number of Required Hours and Cost: 9 hours, $130 (online). Pricing for live classroom training varies by state. To find pricing for classroom training in your state, click here.
CDPE is a non-NAR affiliated certification course that trains realtors and real estate professionals in short sales and foreclosures. Some realtors reported that the course is more in-depth, and offers more insight into working with distressed properties than the SFR courses.
Best For: Realtors who want to work short sales and foreclosures
Number of required hours and cost: 2 day course (online) + 325 page book and membership in CPDE community forum $599. Click here for more information.
After completing the required courses for the SRES designation, you’ll understand everything there is to know about helping senior citizens buy and sell real estate. You’ll learn how to counsel rather than sell to seniors, distinguish the prime differences in housing options, and gain insight into tax laws, probate, and estate planning.
Best For: Realtors who work in areas with a large number of senior citizens
Number of Required Hours and Cost: 12 hours, $221.25 (online). Pricing for live classroom training varies by state. To find pricing for classroom training in your state, click here.
The required courses for the E-pro designation will train realtors in all aspects of real estate technology. The courses cover online property management, online copyright issues, social media best practices, email marketing, and content development.
Best For: Realtors who are new to real estate technology
Number of required hours and cost: 12 hours, $219 (online). Prices vary for live classroom training. Click here for more information.
LREB is perhaps the most important designation a realtor can acquire. Becoming a licensed real estate broker has many benefits. First and foremost, it allows you to work independently. Licensed real estate brokers do not have to be associated with a brokerage in order to work in real estate. In fact, as a licensed real estate broker, you can open your own brokerage and hire agents to work under you.
Even if you don’t want to open your own brokerage, becoming a licensed real estate broker means you will generally be able to command higher splits when you work for another brokerage.
Best for: Realtors who want to open their own brokerage or work independently
Prerequisites: Varies by state. In New York for example, you need to be at least 20 years old, worked at least two years as a licensed real estate salesperson, and accrued 3500 experience points. Experience points can be gained by completing a residential sale, rental, or commercial transaction and range from 150 for a rental to 400 points for a sale. More info here.
Number of required hours and cost: Varies by state. 45 hour class in New York costs $349 at Kaplan. If you’re looking for the best online and in-classroom courses to get your broker license, we recommend Kaplan. They’ve been in business for 70 years and offer on demand video courses as well as classroom training.
The core courses for the CCIM designation offer in-depth training on financial analysis, market analysis, negotiation, investment analysis, and the ethics of commercial transactions. Since commercial real estate presents challenges that are worlds away from residential, CCIM certification can be a huge help. While it’s not an easy certification to get, it can go a long way toward building trust in the industry.
Best for: Realtors who want to sell multi-family properties, industrial, and retail properties.
Prerequisites: You must have worked in the commercial real estate industry for two years and submit a portfolio of qualifying experience. Can also transfer credit from other certifications and professional experience. More info here.
Number of required hours and cost: Varies with certifications and professional experience. $100 portfolio submission fee, $1050 for courses, $595 annual dues to CCIM. More information here.
CRS is the highest credential awarded to residential real estate agents and brokers. The coursework offered for CRS designation focuses on increasing sales, marketing, investment properties, and much more. CRS members also benefit from networking opportunities from joining local CRS chapters, and receive customized marketing materials to send to clients.
Best for: Experienced and ambitious realtors
Prerequisites: Minimum of 25 closed transactions (no time frame) or $8 million in sales volume with a minimum of 10 transactions in two years.
Number of required hours and cost: Between 16 and 48 CRS course credits (depending on number of transactions and sales volume. In addition to course credits, you also need elective credits. Certain experience can count toward elective credits. Cost varies. For more information, click here.
What’s the Best Realtor Designation for Newer Agents?
“GRI might be a good start for a new agent. It teaches a lot about the nuts and bolts of running a real estate business.”
The GRI is designed for realtors with fewer than 5 years of experience, and covers general real estate topics of help to all realtors.
According to NAR statistics, the median income of GRI designees was $61,000 in 2012. The median income of non-GRI designees was only $33,500. While this seems like an amazing selling point for getting the designation, you should keep in mind that most realtors don’t try for designations until after they’ve been in the industry for a few years and are already making more money (so the increased income is likely not the result of only the GRI designation).
Will Realtor Designations Help Me Close More Deals or Earn More Money?
The short answer here is…maybe. There are a few different ways that getting a designation or certification can potentially help you close more deals and make more money.
While there is something to be said about impressing clients with a string of abbreviations after your name, most realtors we spoke with said their clients have never asked what they stood for.
That said, most people get some slight reassurance from knowing a professional they hired has some advanced training or certification. I know I would.
Even if your clients never ask about your credentials, you can always tell them. Explaining what GRI certification is and how it may benefit them might help you on a difficult pitch with a homeowner.
Improve Your Skill Set
This is a much stronger case for getting realtor designations. Since these courses are designed to train agents in material and skills that are not covered in-depth in licensing courses, you will almost certainly enhance your skill set, which will in turn help you close more deals.
Network and Get More Clients
Another benefit of real estate designations and certifications is networking. Once you have a designation, you can then network with other realtors who share your designation.
Command a Higher Commission Split
Another benefit of going through the time and expense of getting realtor designations and certifications is that they might give you leverage when negotiating commission splits when you switch brokerages. If your sales volume for the year is respectable, having certifications might be enough to put you over the edge with a new hiring broker.
Private vs NAR Affiliated Designations and Certifications
There are two different types of certifications that you can acquire during your career. The first are called private designations and certifications. These are independent private companies that offer a designation or certification for real estate agents. The second type are certifications affiliated with the National Association of Realtors (NAR). All designations on our list are NAR-affiliated except CDPE.
Private Designations and Certifications
While there is nothing wrong with private companies offering certifications for realtors, vetting courses and designations can be very difficult, especially for newer realtors. Because of this uncertainty, we recommend that newer realtors focus on NAR-affiliated certifications, with the exception of the CDPE designation for realtors focusing on short sales and foreclosures. Thousands of realtors have taken the CDPE certification, and everyone we spoke with rated it higher than SFR, the analogous NAR-approved designation.
In fact, San Diego realtor Thomas J Nelson told us the courses he took for CDPE certification was all that allowed him to survive for several years in the industry:
“CDPE training opened the door to me taking further advanced pre-foreclosure and foreclosure training classes, which led to me not only serving people in trouble with their mortgages, but connected me to investors that were in a position to buy distressed properties. CDPE equipped me with the skills to open up these 2 new pipelines, which literally got me through the 2006-2011 markets, when one out of three sales agents were leaving the industry. I’m a better agent today for having gone through those challenging years and for taking all the training; it’s experience you can’t buy, you have to earn.”
NAR Affiliated Designations and Certifications
NAR affiliated designations and certification have been vetted by the National Association of Realtors. While this does not guarantee quality or a good ROI for taking the courses, you can at least be sure that the designations and certifications acquired through NAR-affiliated courses are recognized industry-wide.
Over to You
What realtor designations or certifications do you have? Have they brought you more deals or higher commission splits? Let us know in the comments!