Whether you are an entrepreneur or plan to work for an established company, the real estate industry offers a variety of career opportunities, including those dealing with residential sales and leasing, commercial properties, industrial properties, and farmland, as well as property management appraisal, and counseling.

Here are 5 real estate career paths in the industry and their respective professional designations and certifications.

Key Takeaways

  • Real estate professionals can work in different capacities, such as leasing consultants, commercial property agents, appraisers, and property managers.
  • Real estate can be a highly competitive field, and certifications and designations may help you stand out.
  • Different functions within the real estate industry offer professionals various designations and certifications.
  • For residential real estate, professionals can earn the Accredited Buyer's Representative (ABR) designation, awarded by the Real Estate Buyer's Agent Council (REBAC) of the National Association of REALTORS.
  • Real estate appraisers can earn the Residential Accredited Appraiser (RAA) and General Accredited Appraiser (GAA) designations, awarded by the National Association of REALTORS.

Residential Real Estate

Residential real estate 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 they practice as there is no national license. Each state has a licensing system and requirements that include some pre-licensing and state-specific licensing examinations.

Designations and Certifications

Accredited Buyer's Representative (ABR): Awarded by the Real Estate Buyer's Agent Council of the National Association of REALTORS (REBAC), 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 the ARB candidate status. Within the following three years, candidates fulfill experience and continuing education requirements 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. Also, candidates must submit a portfolio that demonstrates their commercial real estate experience and 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, 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 complete a comprehensive three-day live course and examination. 

If you are interested in the real estate industry, learn what types of licenses your state requires for you to work in the field. Most jobs from agent to property manager require a state-issued license to operate legally.

Property Management

Property managers maintain properties that produce financial returns for the property owners and are responsible for maintaining and managing 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, and complete the IREM ethics education. In addition, they must submit three letters of recommendation, have three years of qualifying real estate management experience and be affiliated with the National Association of REALTORS.

Accredited Residential Manager (ARM): The ARM certification is awarded by IREM. ARM candidates must complete a week-long course or complete four individual courses (or hold a CPM, CAM, CRM, or RAM designation or have qualifying education or 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 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 of 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, 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 three years.

Real Estate Counseling

Real estate counselors advise on property issues and help investors decide how to select properties that are likely to appreciate. 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). In addition, they must demonstrate that they are recognized by clients and peers for their professional knowledge, integrity, and judgment.

They must also have attained REALTOR designations such as CCIM, CPM, GRI, and SIOR and hold advanced degrees in business and related fields.

Real Estate Certifications FAQs

What Are Real Estate Certifications?

Real estate certifications prove your proficiency, knowledge, and skillset as a real estate professional. Certifications allow you to work in various real estate markets and illustrate your expertise in your particular field to potential clients.

How Much Does it Cost to Get a Real Estate Designation?

The cost of a real estate license varies depending on the state you live in, and other designations and certifications may run hundreds of dollars. Still, the price will depend on the type of certification. It may be possible to go to community colleges to get your real estate career underway, and that could cost anywhere from $600 to $5000 or more, depending on the school.

Can You Get Real Estate Training and Certification Online?

You can earn your real estate certifications online, along with necessary real estate training. However, it is worth noting that some in-person training may be necessary to complete some certifications, depending on the program.

How Much Do Certified Real Estate Professionals Make?

Professionals in the real estate industry earn a variety of salaries based on their job. For example, a real estate counselor's average base pay is $68,997. The average salary for a real estate appraiser is approximately $57,606, but overall salaries depend on the levels of certification.

Depending on where they work, certified residential real estate agents can make upwards of $91,640 a year, according to Indeed.com. However, since agents work on commissions of sales, salaries can fluctuate wildly depending on numerous factors.

What Certifications Do Real Estate Lawyers Need?

Real estate lawyers must (obviously) have their law degree and passed the bar exam. Real estate lawyers may need special training in the area of real estate law, and most law schools offer master of laws (LLM) in real estate degrees, plus certificates in real estate.

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 in the various real estate sectors.