The 8 Best Real Estate Designations of 2020

Get the right credentials to grow your business

We publish unbiased reviews; our opinions are our own and are not influenced by payments from advertisers. Learn about our independent review process and partners in our advertiser disclosure.

Real estate designations are credentials available to real estate professionals who have demonstrated deep knowledge or extensive skills in certain areas of the real estate industry. Realtors get designations to demonstrate that they’ve acquired considerable knowledge about certain niche areas such as representing buyers and sellers, commercial real estate, running a brokerage, and running real estate teams. Designations not only give you additional insight into a real estate specialty, but are also well respected in the industry and can help you grow your business, impress clients, and make more money. 

We looked at nearly two dozen popular real estate designations and chose the best designations for real estate professionals to consider based on the specialized knowledge that they'll attain, the potential increase in earnings, and the number of clients you'll be able to help with this specialized knowledge. We also assessed each designation for subjects covered, rigorousness of coursework, cost, who the courses are for, and more. 

The 8 Best Real Estate Designations of 2020

  • Certified Residential Specialist: Best Overall
  • Seller Representative Specialist: Runner-Up, Best Overall
  • Accredited Buyer’s Representative: Best for Beginners
  • Certified Real Estate Brokerage Manager: Best for Brokers
  • Certified Property Manager: Best for Property Managers
  • Certified Real Estate Team Specialist: Best for Teams
  • Certified Commercial Investment Member: Best for Commercial Real Estate Agents
  • Certified International Property Specialist: Best for Agents With International Clients

Best Overall: Certified Residential Specialist

Residential Real Estate Council

 Residential Real Estate Council

Who Offers Training: Residential Real Estate Council

A Certified Residential Specialist (CRS) is the highest credential that a residential sales agent, broker, or manager can achieve. It’s offered by the Residential Real Estate Council and only 4% of Realtors earn this designation. This designation covers a wide variety of residential real estate topics and provides networking opportunities to its designees. The price to become a CRS is an application fee of $99 and annual dues of $195.

In order to become a Certified Residential Specialist, you must:

  • Be a member in good standing with the Residential Real Estate Council (RRC)
  • Be a member in good standing with the National Association of Realtors (NAR)
  • Complete two hours of continued education every year
  • Fill out an application and pay the fee
  • Choose one of two educational courses: 60/30/30 Program or The Pro Program
  • 60/30/30 Program: Must have completed 30 hours of RRC education and closed 60 transactions or $30 million in volume in the past five years
  • The Pro Program: Be a licensed real estate agent for 10+ years and either have closed 150 real estate transactions or an average of $1 million per year with 40+ transactions
  • The CRS designation itself doesn’t require an exam but there may be in-class exams

Once you have your CRS designation, you will enjoy access to a referral network, 50% off most RRC classes, a free subscription to Inman Select News, professionally branded materials, local networking opportunities, and more. 

Because a CRS is considered the highest and most respected designation among Realtors, we chose it for our best overall real estate designation. On average, agents with the CRS designation earn almost three times more in income, gross sales, and transactions than non-designated Realtors. It’s best for well-established agents who want to increase their business, earn a respected designation, and take advantage of networking opportunities with like-minded professionals.

Runner-Up, Best Overall: Seller Representative Specialist

Real Estate Business Institute

 Real Estate Business Institute

Who Offers Training: Real Estate Business Institute

The Seller Representative Specialist (SRS) designation is a premier designation for agents who work primarily with sellers. It’s designed for agents who want to gain knowledge, elevate professional standards, increase listings, and promote seller advocacy. It’s made up of a global network of Realtors who want to exceed sellers' expectations. SRS is offered by the Real Estate Business Institute (REBI) and can be taken online or in a classroom. Annual fees are waived for the first year and are $99 for each subsequent year. 

You need to meet the following requirements to become an SRS:

  • Be a member in good standing with the National Association of Realtors
  • Be a member in good standing with REBI
  • Complete a 12-hour SRS course
  • Complete one of the SRS-approved elective courses
  • Submit your application
  • Provide documentation of at least three transactions where you represented the seller(s)
  • Pay for the course fees (vary depending on course chosen)
  • There is no exam for the SRS real estate designation

Once you become an SRS, you will have more tools to increase your listings, a better understanding of representing sellers, and access to an array of member-only classes and resources. You will also receive a subscription to Real Estate Business Magazine, networking opportunities, and more. This designation is for those Realtors who are just starting out but have closed a few listings, as well as more experienced agents. We chose it as our runner-up to best overall real estate designation because it’s well regarded in the industry and helps with seller expertise.

Best for Beginners: Accredited Buyer’s Representative

The Real Estate Buyer’s Agent Council

The Real Estate Buyer’s Agent Council

Who Offers Training: The Real Estate Buyer’s Agent Council

The Accredited Buyer’s Representative (ABR) designation is designed specifically for buyer’s agents, who specialize in working with buyers as their primary clients. It’s designed to help agents assist buyers during every step of the home buying process. It also provides ongoing industry updates focusing on educating agents on issues that affect home buyers. The Real Estate Buyer’s Agent Council (REBAC) offers the designation, and the cost is waived for the first year and is $100 each subsequent year. 

To obtain an ABR designation you need to:

  • Be in good standing with REBAC 
  • Be in good standing with NAR
  • Documentation of five completed transactions as a sole buyer's representative 
  • Take a two-day designation course 
  • Complete an ABR elective class
  • For the online course only: Pass an exam with an 80% or higher
  • Submit the application
  • Pay for the cost of courses, which vary depending on which course you choose

The ABR is right for newer agents who want to improve their buyer representation skills. 

We chose it as the best real estate designation for beginner agents because typically, when agents are first starting out, they work with a lot more buyers than sellers. These leads are generally easier to access and less expensive to obtain.

Best for Brokers: Certified Real Estate Brokerage Manager

Real Estate Business Institute

 Real Estate Business Institute

Who Offers Training: Real Estate Business Institute

The Certified Real Estate Brokerage Manager (CRB) is one of the most respected business management designations available. It teaches brokers to streamline operations, apply business trends and strategies, and integrate technology into their business. It’s offered by the Real Estate Business Institute (REBI) and costs $150 for the designation fee. The annual dues are waived for the first year and are then $210 each subsequent year. 

To complete your CRB, you will need to complete the following:

  • Be in good standing with NAR
  • Complete any three CRB classes online or in the classroom
  • Online classes are taught with live instructors in two 2.5-hour sessions
  • Complete two experience electives 
  • Submit application
  • Pay the designation fee and course fees 
  • Complete a management resume
  • Submit proof of one year of management experience 
  • No exam is required 

The Certified Real Estate Brokerage Manager is ideal for experienced real estate brokers who have already completed advanced professional and educational requirements. We chose it as our top real estate designation for brokers because it specifically offers training on running a brokerage and business management skills, which are both necessary for brokers.

Best for Property Managers: Certified Property Manager

Institute of Real Estate Management

Institute of Real Estate Management

Who Offers Training: Institute of Real Estate Management 

The Certified Property Manager (CPM) is a designation for property management experts. The designation is offered by the Institute of Real Estate Management (IREM) and is for top property managers. Seventy percent of CPM designees hold the highest positions in their offices. Property managers with this designation are typically officers, directors, partners, and owners. This designation isn’t cheap and is for experienced managers who can afford the designation or whose company will pay for it. The designation fee is $160 and the other costs vary. 

To qualify for a CPM designation, you must meet the following requirements:

  • Be a member in good standing with NAR
  • Hold a real estate license or show proof that your current role doesn’t require one
  • Attend two IREM chapter meetings/events within 12 months of your application
  • Complete an interview and be approved by your local IREM chapter
  • Fulfill a one-year candidacy period
  • Take seven CPM-approved courses and an ethics course
  • Pass the certification exam
  • Provide three professional reference letters
  • Provide proof of three years of qualifying real estate management experience

Unlike some of the other designations, the CPM designation can be costly and has multiple paths to choose from. The ethics class is $185, the designation fee is $160, the final CPM application fee is $210, the national annual dues are $495, and the chapter annual dues vary. Classes are typically $800 to $3,924, and management skill plans are additional.

The Certified Property Manager is ideal for experienced property managers who want to study property trends, brush up on management skills, and demonstrate integrity and industry expertise to real estate investors, their employers, and property owners. We chose CPM as our best real estate designation for property managers because it’s specifically for the industry and provides relevant educational materials and up-to-date industry information.

Best for Teams: Certified Real Estate Team Specialist

Real Estate Business Institute

 Real Estate Business Institute

Who Offers Training: Real Estate Business Institute

A Certified Real Estate Team Specialist (C-RETS) is a designation for real estate team members and leaders. It’s also designed for Realtors who are considering joining a team and want to see if it’s the right move for them, as well as those who want to start their own team. It teaches strategies used for team building, management tools, and financial knowledge. It’s offered by the Real Estate Business Institute (REBI) and costs $159 for the application fee—there aren’t any annual dues. 

A C-RETS designee will need to complete the following:

  • Be in good standing with NAR
  • Complete three C-RETS courses, which are offered in two 2.5-hour sessions and can be live or self-paced; course prices vary depending on which course you choose
  • Pay the application fee
  • No exam is required
  • The C-RETS designation counts toward the CRB designation

A Certified Real Estate Team Specialist is our best real estate designation for teams because it was intended specifically for real estate teams, team development, and financial performance, as well as individual leadership skills. This real estate designation is ideal for experienced team leaders so they can share it with their team members.

Best for Commercial Real Estate Agents: Certified Commercial Investment Member

Certified Commercial Investment Member Institute

Certified Commercial Investment Member Institute

Who Offers Training: Certified Commercial Investment Member Institute 

The Certified Commercial Investment Member (CCIM) designation is for commercial real estate agents and brokers. It is considered the global standard for professional achievement in the commercial real estate industry. It is offered by the CCIM Institute and requires 200 classroom hours of educational requirements as well as professional industry experience. It provides domestic and international networking opportunities for designees, as well as recognition of your expertise in commercial real estate, a property marketing platform, educational discounts, and designation promotion in major financial outlets. 

There are strict education and experience qualifications required in order to get your CCIM, which include:

  • Must be in good standing with the CCIM
  • Must be in good standing with NAR
  • 300 hours of core classes and electives
  • Two years of commercial real estate work experience 
  • Submit a portfolio of qualifying experience
  • Meet the volume requirements set by CCIM Institute 
  • Take a two-day concepts review course
  • Complete and pass a six-hour exam with a 70% or higher

Annual dues are $650 for U.S.-based professionals plus the costs of the courses, $175 submission fee, $810 for the concepts review course, and $380 for the exam.

The Certified Commercial Investment Member designation is right for experienced leasing managers, brokers, agents, asset managers, appraisers, corporate investors, and investors. It requires a more lengthy commitment than some of the other designations. It is intended for industry professionals who are at the top of the field in commercial real estate, which is why it’s our choice for best real estate designation for commercial agents.

Best for Agents with International Clients: Certified International Property Specialist

National Association of Realtors

 National Association of Realtors

Who Offers Training: National Association of Realtors

A Certified International Property Specialist (CIPS) is a top designation in international real estate. It focuses on a variety of aspects of international real estate transactions including negotiations, contracts, culture, and more. It’s for Realtors in the U.S. and abroad, as well as volunteer leaders and association staff who want to grow their international business. Once you become a designee, you have access to a network of over 3,500 professionals who are ideal for referrals. This designation is offered by the National Association of Realtors. 

In order to receive the CIPS designation, you need to:

  • Be in good standing with NAR
  • Complete five full-day courses, including two core courses and three electives
  • Pass each exam at the end of every course with 80% or higher (only for online classes)
  • Complete the application and pay the fees

Once you achieve the CIPS designation, you receive powerful marketing tools, including postcards and a customizable press release, webinars, access to an international referral network, and the CIPS app. This app includes translation, currency, and time zone tools. 

A CIPS designation has a $75 application fee, $220 annual dues, plus the costs of each course, which vary depending on whether you take the courses online or in person. Online courses are $149 each. 

A CIPS designation is best for Realtors who have international clientele already and want to grow their business or those who would benefit from an international referral network. We chose it as our best real estate designation for Realtors with international clients because of the marketing and educational tools, as well as a large international referral network and a helpful app with tools like currency exchange and calendars with international holidays.

What Are Real Estate Designations?

Real estate designations are additional opportunities for Realtors to specialize in a niche and be recognized throughout the industry, among their peers, and with their clients. Designations are specialized training, education, marketing, technology, and networking tools to educate you in a particular field. They help Realtors, brokers, and property managers stay up to date in their industries, sharpen their knowledge, and learn more about a specialty such as commercial real estate. 

After completing the class, you can continue being a Realtor but be recognized as an industry leader and generate more leads and obtain more referrals from your new network. Also, you could jump into a different position in your field, such as a leasing agent, property manager, or be part of a real estate team. 

What Do Real Estate Designations Include?

Real estate designations vary widely in subject, educational and professional requirements, and cost. Generally, they can be taken online or in a classroom setting, and some have end-of-class exams while others require separate exams with a certain percentage needed to pass. They typically include the designation abbreviation on branded material, a lifetime status if you keep up with continuing education and any dues, as well as networking opportunities, marketing material, and educational and industry tools. 

What Is the Cost of a Real Estate Designation?

Just as the scope of the best real estate designations varies greatly, so do their costs. Typical costs include an application fee, designation fee, annual dues, required courses, exam fees, and continuing education fees. These fees can start anywhere from around $200 and reach into the thousands. Typically, the more prestigious and time-consuming the designation, the more it will cost, not only to take the courses but also to pay the dues and maintain the designation. 

How Much Do Certified Real Estate Professionals Earn?

Certified real estate professionals typically outearn those without professional designations. This is because they’re usually industry leaders who are doing well in their chosen field and have invested time and money into getting a designation that is well regarded by both peers and clients. For example, the average annual income earned by CRS designees is $160,500, which is over four times as much as the average Realtor’s earnings. 

Generally, a Realtor with one or more designations earns over $27,600 more per year than a Realtor without one. Keep in mind that you can still specialize in a specific real estate field and be a top earner without a designation. It may just take more time and work. Most real estate-related jobs do require licensing but don’t typically require a designation, so if you want to be a commercial agent or a property manager, you can still do that without a real estate designation. 

Is Getting a Real Estate Designation Worth It?

You don’t need to get a real estate designation to be a top-producing Realtor. You can still choose a niche and specialize in it without a designation. However, having a designation is right for Realtors who want the camaraderie, professional esteem, and perks that come with designation memberships. It’s a way to show peers and clients that you’re recognized in your field and put in the time, effort, and money to become designated. Certain opportunities can open up with designations, such as being promoted to a team leader once you have a C-RETS, for instance.

How We Chose the Best Real Estate Designations 

We looked at the 17 most popular U.S. real estate designations and ultimately chose the top eight based on factors including price, benefits, what subjects are covered, and qualifications needed to get the designation. The designations listed above are those that we believe will allow real estate professionals to add the most value for their clients and help increase their own earning capacity.

Article Sources

The Balance requires writers to use primary sources to support their work. These include white papers, government data, original reporting, and interviews with industry experts. We also reference original research from other reputable publishers where appropriate. You can learn more about the standards we follow in producing accurate, unbiased content in our editorial policy .
  1. National Association of Realtors. "Designations and Certifications." Accessed July 7, 2020.

  2. National Association of Realtors. "CPM®." Accessed July 7, 2020.

  3. VanEd. "CRS Designation." Accessed July 7, 2020.

  4. National Association of Realtors. "Realtor® Income With Designations Continues to Rise." Accessed July 8, 2020.