A successful career in real estate is rooted in trust — developing a reputation as a knowledgeable, experienced, adept, and attentive advisor and advocate. But how can you project those qualities to your potential clients? How can they know for sure you know what you’re doing?

Well, one way to get there is through pursuing something known as a real estate designation — a prestigious credential that identifies you as an expert in your field. Here, we’ll explore real estate designations a bit further, differentiate them from real estate certifications, and review eight of the best ones you can attain.

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Real Estate Designations and Certifications

Real estate designations are often conflated with real estate certifications, and for good reason — both provide avenues for real estate professionals to demonstrate their experience and expertise in specific aspects of the field.

They allow agents, brokers, property managers, and other people with a place in the real estate industry to show potential clients they have both a specialized understanding of different real estate niches and a commitment to professional development.

Certifications and designations are fundamentally similar in that they require some degree of training and scrutiny to attain. Both can also be used to bolster a real estate professional’s resume and reputation. And for the most part, certifications and designations are both primarily awarded by the National Association of Realtors (NAR).

The primary differences between the two are in the rigor of each one’s respective coursework, the professional experience required to earn each one, and the issue of annual dues. While certifications are impressive and require work, receiving one isn’t nearly as labor-intensive and time-consuming as pursuing a designation.

Most designations also require evidence of extensive experience in an area of expertise. And, if you receive a real estate certification, you’re typically not expected to pay annual dues to maintain it — whereas most designations make you pay to keep them on a consistent basis.

So, if you want to project your expertise and commitment to ongoing professional development but have less time to allocate to screening, studying, and examination, you’re probably best off getting a real estate certification. If you’re willing to put in the extra effort for more prestige and professional benefits, you’ll likely want to get a full-on designation.

Now, let’s take a look at eight of the best real estate designations real estate professionals can pursue.

Best real estate designations

1. Certified Real Estate Brokerage Manager (CRB)

Best real estate designations CRB

Best for Seasoned Brokers

The Certified Real Estate Brokerage Manager (CRB) is one of the most prominent, esteemed designations available. As its name implies, the designation is tailored to help real estate professionals with brokerage management — allowing you to increase productivity, develop key business management skills, and ultimately become a more effective broker.

Though you don’t need a brokerage license to obtain this designation, it still suits experienced brokers more than other real estate professionals — and its required credentials reflect that. If you’re a seasoned broker, looking to refine your field-specific skills and bolster your resume, consider earning a CRB designation.

How to Earn It

  • Complete three CRB courses.
  • Fulfill two experience electives — which can include:
    • Having five or more years of management experience
    • Having a bachelor’s degree in any major
    • Having other National Association of Realtors (NAR) credentials.
    • Completing an additional two CRB courses, beyond the requisite three.
    • Possess at least one year of professional experience.

2. Senior Real Estate Specialist (SRES)

Best real estate designations SRES

Best for Real Estate Professionals Who Deal With Clients Over 50

The Senior Real Estate Specialist (SRES) designation is a resource for real estate professionals interested in guiding clients over the age of 50 through the home buying and selling processes.

This designation helps its subscribers understand the differences between housing options for seniors and how reverse mortgages work. It also provides insight into how to use pensions, 401Ks and IRAs in real estate transactions — along with offering insight into how to protect clients from mortgage finance and loan schemes that target people over 50.

How to Earn It

  • Maintain an active NAR membership.
  • Complete the SRES course.
  • Maintain an active membership in the SRES Council.
  • Pay annual dues.

3. Certified Commercial Investment Member (CCIM)

Best real estate designations CCIM

Best for Professionals with Extensive Commercial Real Estate Experience

The Certified Commercial Investment Member (CCIM) designation recognizes leading experts in commercial investment real estate. It’s arguably the most prestigious of all commercial real estate designations. It indicates that the designee has completed coursework in financial and market analysis — backed by thorough experience in the commercial real estate space.

The designation isn’t specific to one type of commercial real estate professional. Anyone from brokers to appraisers to real estate attorneys to bankers can pursue it.

That said, anyone who receives the designation needs to have extremely extensive commercial real estate experience — so CCIM members tend to work at the executive level.

How to Earn It

  • Complete the CCIM Educational Curriculum, including:
    • An ethics course
    • Negotiation training
    • Elective courses from the Ward Center for Real Estate Studies
  • Submit a portfolio of qualifying experience to demonstrate experience in commercial real estate — covering activities, transactions, projects, or work products. Transactional portfolios that meet the minimum volume requirements could include:
    • Three or more qualifying activities totaling $30 million or more
    • Exactly ten qualifying activities totaling $10 million or more
    • Twenty qualifying activities with no dollar volume requirement
  • Pass a day-long comprehensive exam, preceded by a two-day course concepts review

4. Accredited Land Consultant (ALC)

Best real estate designations

Best for Seasoned Land Sales Professionals, Willing to Commit to an Extremely Rigorous Process

The Accredited Land Consultant (ALC) is the only land-specific designation recognized by the National Association of Realtors and is among the most prestigious available in the field of land sales. These kinds of consultants have extensive experience in selling agricultural land, timberland, ranches, recreational properties, or vacant land for development.

The designation comes with its share of perks. For one, it adds a new degree of legitimacy to your marketing and industry reputation. It also has demonstrable financial benefits — ALCs earn an average of over $100,000 more annually than non-designees in the space.

Becoming an ALC is a particularly rigorous process — with most designees spending multiple years pursuing the designation.

How to Earn It

  • Successfully complete a total of 104 Land University contact hours.
  • Submit a portfolio that substantiates specific levels of volume achieved in land sales or in providing real estate services related to land.
  • Submit a professional resume that demonstrates a minimum of two years of experience in land sales or brokerage or a minimum of three years of comparable real estate experience in auction, appraisal, leasing, development, farm management, consulting, brokerage management, or related services in land.
  • Submit a short essay on why you would like to become an Accredited Land Consultant.
  • Submit at least two letters of recommendation from current Accredited Land Consultants, one of which must be from an ALC within the applicant’s local market.
  • Successfully complete a comprehensive online final ALC Exam that covers the core components of the LANDU curriculum.

5. Certified International Property Specialist

Best real estate designations CIPS

Best for Real Estate Professionals Looking to Globalize Their Business

The Certified International Property Specialist (CIPS) designation is tailored to help real estate professionals assist American property buyers looking to purchase abroad and foreign nationals interested in purchasing property in the United States.

It provides designees with the insight, research, know-how, and resources to globalize their efforts. The CIPS designation also allows its members to connect with a network of over 3,500 fellow designees within 45 countries. Having this distinction lets prospects know you’re among the best and most trusted resources for navigating the global real estate market.

How to Earn It

  • Complete two core courses in local markets and transaction tools.
  • Complete three elective courses.
  • Be a member in good standing of the NAR.
  • Pass an online exam with a score of 80% or better.
  • Submit a CIPS application form.
  • Pay course fees, an application fee, and annual dues.

6. Certified Property Manager

Best real estate designations CPM

Best for Experienced Property Managers Looking to Maximize the Value of Their Properties

Certified Property Managers (CPMs) are experts in real estate management. According to the NAR, 70% of professionals who hold this designation hold the highest management positions in their offices.

The designation comes with its share of perks and resources, including recognition that you’re an expert in your field, a subscription to the Journal of Property Management, leadership opportunities at the national and chapter levels of the Institute of Real Estate Management (IREM), and access to the IREM Foundation Scholarship Program — among several other benefits and professional opportunities.

How to Earn It

  • Complete seven required courses.
  • Have at least 36 months of qualifying real estate management experience as defined by IREM.
  • Acquire three professional reference letters.
  • Fulfill a one-year candidacy period by being a CPM Candidate Member, ARM Member, or ACoM member in good standing for the 12 months before CPM approval.
  • Be a member in good standing of NAR.
  • Hold a real estate license or verify that you’re not required to hold one for your current position.
  • Attend two IREM chapter meetings or events during the 12 months immediately before CPM approval.
  • Be interviewed and approved by your IREM chapter.
  • Complete the Ethics for the Real Estate Manager course.
  • Pledge to uphold the IREM Code of Professional Ethics.
  • ​​Pass the CPM certification exam.
  • Pass a management plan on either an actual property or a skills assessment.

7. Certified Residential Specialist

Best real estate designations CRSBest for Residential Sales Agents, Managers, and Brokers

The Certified Residential Specialist is the most prestigious credential residential sales agents, managers, and brokers can attain. It can help bolster any residential real estate professional’s resume while providing them with access to a robust and active network of residential specialists.

With this designation, you receive Discounts of up to 50% on most education offered by the Residential Real Estate Council (RRC), access to the Council’s referral network, a listing in the Council’s online and print directories, professionally branded materials — like customizable sign riders, fact sheets, business cards — and other recognition and resources to help you enhance your reputation and professional efforts.

How to Earn It

You can take one of two paths to earn the CRS designation — the 60/30/30 Program or the Pro Program.

60/30/30 Program
  • Have 60 transactions or $30 million in volume in the past five years.
  • Complete 30 Hours of RRC education.
  • Be a member in good standing of the Residential Real Estate Council.
  • Be a member in good standing of the National Association of Realtors.
  • ​​Complete two hours of continued education every calendar year.
  • Pay annual dues.
Pro Program
  • Have 10 or more years as a licensed real estate agent.
  • Have 150 transactions total or an average of $1 million per year with at least 40 transactions.
  • Complete 16 Credits of RRC education.
  • Be a member in good standing of the Residential Real Estate Council.
  • Be a member in good standing of the National Association of Realtors.
  • ​​Complete two hours of continued education every calendar year.
  • Pay annual dues.

8. Seller Representative Specialist

Best real estate designations SRS

Best for Real Estate Professionals Who Represent Sellers’ Interests

The Seller Representative Specialist designation is a high-profile credential for real estate professionals who represent sellers and their financial interests in real estate transactions. It provides an opportunity for seller representatives to refine and project their skill sets.

The designation gives designees a solid foundation to help them better represent the interests of sellers through thorough training, a wide range of resources, networking opportunities, and ongoing support.

Through the program, Seller Representative Specialists learn to apply a code of ethics, comply with state and federal laws while representing sellers, communicating value to sellers, and several other key responsibilities seller representatives need to have a grip on.

How to Earn It

  • Complete the SRS course, either online or in a classroom.
  • Complete one of the SRS elective courses.
  • Be a member in good standing with the National Association of Realtors.
  • Be a member in good standing with SRS.
  • Have documentation of three completed transactions in which you acted solely as a seller representative.
  • Submit the designation application.
  • Pay annual dues.

Earning a real estate designation can be extremely labor-intensive and exhausting — some of the ones listed here can even take years to land. Still, having one behind you can bolster your reputation, enhance your professional network, fast-track your professional development, and ultimately make your business more lucrative.

If you’re willing to put in the time and effort for those benefits, exploring one of the designations listed here might be in your best interest.

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