Whether you are an entrepreneur or plan on working for an established company, the real estate industry offers a wide variety of career opportunities, including those in brokerages and leasing services for homes, office buildings, industrial properties and farmland, as well as property management, appraisal and counseling. Here, we take a look at a selection of the career paths in real estate, including some of the relevant professional designations and certifications for each profession.

Residential Real Estate

Residential real estate sales agents help people throughout the process of buying and selling homes. In addition to showing homes to prospective buyers, agents help clients with property valuation, financing, mortgages and government programs. Agents and brokers must be licensed in the state in which they work (there is no national license). Each state has its own licensing system and requirements that include some type of pre-licensing course and a state-specific licensing examination.

Designations and Certifications:

  • Accredited Buyer's Representative (ABR): Awarded by REBAC (the Real Estate Buyer's Agent Council of the National Association of Realtors), the ABR designation is designed for real estate agents who focus on working directly with buyer-clients. Candidates must complete a two-day course and successfully pass an exam to achieve ARB candidate status. During the following three-year period, candidates fulfill additional requirements for education and experience before becoming an ABR Designee.  
  • Accredited Seller Representative (ASR): Awarded by the Accredited Seller Agency Council, the ASR designation is designed for real estate agents who focus on working directly with seller-clients. Candidates must complete a 12-hour course, pass an exam, show proof of five closed sides of transactions where the candidate represented sellers, provide three letters of recommendation from three of those sellers, and be members of the National Association of Realtors

Commercial Real Estate

Commercial agents and brokers specialize in income-producing properties, such as retail stores, shopping centers, office buildings, industrial parks and apartment complexes. Commercial real estate professionals help clients evaluate a property's income potential and offer guidance regarding local zoning and tax laws. Some states require a specialized license for commercial transactions, while others cover residential and commercial transactions under the same license.

 Designations and Certifications:

  • Certified Commercial Investment Member (CCIM): The CCIM designation is awarded by the CCIM Institute, an affiliate of the National Association of Realtors. CCIM candidates must complete a curriculum that includes ethics, interest-based negotiation, financial analysis, market analysis, user decision analysis and investment analysis for commercial investment real estate. In addition, candidates are required to submit a portfolio that demonstrates their commercial real estate experience and successfully complete an examination.
  • Certified Commercial Real Estate Advisor (CCREA): The CCREA designation is awarded by the National Association of Commercial Real Estate Professionals. CCREA candidates must complete a curriculum that includes multifamily asset-class analysis, cash flow and equity projection and analysis, loan analysis and procurement, commercial foreclosure and short sale strategies, financial analysis and negotiation. The CCREA designation is awarded to candidates who successfully complete a comprehensive three-day live course and examination.  

    Property Management

    Property managers maintain properties that produce financial returns for the property owners and are responsible for the maintenance and management of the property, including budgeting and leasing. Residential property management involves apartment buildings, condominiums and vacation rentals. Commercial property management entails properties such as office buildings and shopping centers. Property managers often work for real estate firms. Most states require a real estate license for property managers who collect rent, list properties or negotiate leases.

     Designations and Certifications:

    • Certified Property Manager (CPM): The CPM designation is awarded by the Institute of Real Estate Management (IREM). A CPM candidate must hold an active real estate license (where required), be a member of IREM, complete seven required courses (or equivalent education/experience), pass the CPM certification exam, complete IREM ethics education, submit three letters of recommendation, have three years of qualifying real estate management experience and be affiliated with National Association of Realtors.
    • Accredited Residential Manager (ARM): The ARM certification is awarded by IREM. ARM candidates must complete a weeklong course or complete four individual courses (or hold a CPM, CAM, CRM or RAM designation or have qualifying education/experience), pass the ARM certification exam, complete IREM ethics education and have one year of qualifying residential real estate management experience. 

    Real Estate Appraisal

    Real estate appraisers determine the value of properties to help people and businesses find the assessed value for tax purposes, investment value, present value for potential investors, book value for accounting purposes, rental value and insurable value. Appraisers must know acceptable appraisal principles, have practical experience and some knowledge of mathematics, accounting and economics. Often, appraisers work for banks or for appraiser firms. Appraisers must be licensed by the state in which they work. You must first become an Appraiser Trainee by completing state-specified coursework. With additional coursework and experience, you can go on to become a Licensed Residential Appraiser, a Certified Residential Appraiser and a Certified General Appraiser.

     Designations and  Certifications:

    • Residential Accredited Appraiser (RAA) and General Accredited Appraiser (GAA): The RAA and GAA designations are awarded by the National Association of Realtors. Candidates must be active members of the National Association of Realtors, obtain state certification, have a minimum of 1,000 hours experience (in addition to state requirements) and take tested coursework (45 hours for the RAA, or 60 hours for the GAA).
    • MAI: The MAI designation is awarded by the Appraisal Institute to appraisers who are experienced in the evaluation and valuation of commercial, industrial and residential property, and who counsel clients on real estate investments. MAIs must hold an undergraduate degree from a four-year accredited institution, complete 400 hours of classroom instruction and pass a series of examinations, successfully take the General Comprehensive Examination (a two-day, four-part exam) and show evidence of 4,500 hours of specialized experience over at least a three-year period. 

    Real Estate Counseling

    Real estate counselors give advice about property and help investors make decisions about how to select properties that are likely to appreciate in price in the future. Rather than selling real estate, counselors focus on each client's unique needs to offer solutions that address those needs. Counselors (also called real estate advisors) must know many facets of the real estate business. Often, real estate counselors have a background in real estate valuation, development, investing or property management.

     Designations and Certifications:

    • Counselor Real Estate (CRE): The CRE designation is awarded by the Counselors of Real Estate and is available only to individuals who have been invited by their peers into membership. Through the CRE Invitation Process, candidates must show evidence of at least 10 years of real estate experience (three of which must be in counseling), demonstrate that they are recognized by clients and peers for their professional knowledge, integrity and judgment, have attained Realtor designations such as CCIM, CPM, GRI and SIOR and hold advanced degrees in business and related fields. 

    The Bottom Line

    The real estate industry is robust, with numerous career opportunities. This article names only a few of the many career paths currently available. Other real estate career opportunities include:

    • Construction
    • Farm and land brokerage
    • Investment
    • Land development
    • Research
    • Urban planning 

    Real estate designations and certifications can help you increase your skills, proficiency, knowledge and, ultimately, your marketability as a real estate professional. In addition to those listed here, there are dozens of other designations and certifications to show your experience and expertise the various real estate sectors.