You can become a licensed real estate agent in a matter of months. While that short ramp-up may be attractive to you, you can be sure it is also enticing to many other people in your city. These people become your competition. To stand out, try attracting clients with your advanced expertise. You can demonstrate to the market that you’ve honed your craft by earning real estate designations.
With a real estate designation, you are not only able to advance your career, but advance it in a specific niche that interests you.
We reviewed 29 designations before arriving at the seven best. To select the best, we analyzed the benefits of the designation, the potential impact the designation can have on your career, the time and financial investment needed to achieve the designation, and the reputation of the issuing body.
The 7 Best Real Estate Designations of 2021
- Senior Real Estate Specialist® (SRES®): Best for Attracting Senior Buyers and Sellers
- Seller Representative Specialist (SRS): Best for Representing Sellers
- Accredited Buyer’s Representative (ABR®): Best for Representing Buyers
- Certified Real Estate Brokerage Manager (CRB): Best for Brokerage Management
- Certified Residential Specialist (CRS): Best for Qualified Consumer Leads
- Military Relocation Professional (MRP): Best for Agents Working Near a Military Installation
- Short Sales & Foreclosure Resource® (SFR® ): Best for Short Sales and Foreclosures
Best for Attracting Senior Buyers and Sellers: Senior Real Estate Specialist® (SRES®)
The Senior Real Estate Specialist® is one of our top designations because it gives the agent advanced expertise in, and exposure to, the largest-growing market in real estate.
No cost for application
The course is only two days
No annual SRES® fee for the first year
Requires a minimum 80% or more to pass in the exam
Exam fee is $295 for an online version, while a classroom version varies in cost by provider
The Senior Real Estate Specialist® (SRES®) designation is for realtors who want to work with individuals or couples who are 50-plus in age and is the best designation in our review for working with senior buyers and sellers. Agents who earn it understand the needs of mature Americans who want to sell, buy, relocate, refinance, or invest. The National Association of Realtors (NAR) offers the course and designation.
After completing the $295 course, you’ll get access to the member database and to the members-only section of the website. Additionally, the NAR will provide you with marketing materials such as flyers, digital ads, and brochures designed to attract consumers in this age group, as well as quarterly newsletters and scripts and concepts for contacting prospects. To maintain active membership in the SRES® council, the designee pays a fee of $99 every year starting in the second year, as the first year is free.
During the two-day course, the agent will become knowledgeable in topics important to seniors, such as selling the family home and moving to an active-adult community. The agent will also learn how to counsel rather than sell to seniors and how to harness the power of generational demographics.
The SRES® made it to our short list as one of the best real estate designations because it helps the agent target and serve the largest-growing market of real estate buyers and sellers. It would be hard to ignore that much potential if your goal is to earn a comfortable living. The course teaches information that the average realtor is highly unlikely to know, like the Housing for Older Persons Act, the pros and cons of reverse mortgages, and how to use pensions, 401(K) accounts, and IRAs in real estate transactions.
Best for Representing Sellers: Seller Representative Specialist (SRS)
The real estate designation with the best reputation for representing sellers is the Seller Representative Specialist (SRS). Agents want to apply for the SRS because it teaches you how to increase your listings and grow your business.
There are 12 hours of coursework but no exam
The course can be completed through both classroom and online mediums
No application fee
No annual SRS dues for the first year
Regular price for the course is $295
The application must be submitted along with documentation of three transactions, handled solely by the candidate
Annual dues of $99
Must already be in good standing with the National Association of Realtors (NAR)
The designation is awarded by the Real Estate Business Institute (REBI), a subsidiary of the NAR. It signifies that the agent has demonstrated a deeper knowledge of, and skill set for, how to effectively sell a home. The SRS is our pick as best for representing sellers.
During the course, practitioners learn proven methods to grow their business by acquiring more listings. They accomplish this by learning how to sell the value they bring to a home seller and how to comply with state license laws when representing sellers. Some of the benefits the SRS designation brings are access to several members-only classes, resources, and services; listing in the “Find an SRS” Online Directory; and a subscription to the digital Real Estate Business Magazine.
After the agent has documented three completed transactions in which they acted solely as a seller representative, completed the 12-hour SRS course ($295), and completed one of the SRS elective courses, they are eligible for the designation. To maintain active membership in the REBI council, the designees must pay a fee of $99 every year starting in the second year. The first year is free.
All requirements must be completed within two years or the practitioner must retake the courses. In addition to the continued seller representation training and marketing support, SRS designees can benefit from the SRS network of agents for referral opportunities to further grow their business.
Best for Representing Buyers: Accredited Buyer’s Representative (ABR®)
The Accredited Buyer’s Representative (ABR®) is considered the benchmark of excellence in buyer representation in the industry, and having the credential helps an agent get noticed in a crowded field.
Two-day course plus elective can be completed online
No annual ABR® fee for the first year
Members-only marketing tools
Must prove five buyer transactions, handled solely by the candidate
Annual REBAC dues of $110
The ABR® designation is for agents who prefer to work directly with clients at every step of the process in their quest for buying a home. An Accredited Buyer’s Representative seeks to protect the interests of the buyer and assist with the negotiation process. The designation demonstrates your commitment to providing superior service for real estate buyers and is the top choice in our review for representing buyers.
The Real Estate Buyer’s Agent Council (REBAC), a subsidiary of the NAR, awards the ABR® designation. Being an ABR® comes with its own perks for career enhancement. Practitioners are provided with valuable marketing materials to attract and serve more home buyers. The council provides timely material to keep you abreast of trends in the real estate industry as well as legal and legislative issues.
To earn the designation, agents need to complete the two-day core course and one of the elective courses, and pass the exam with an 80% or better score.
Your membership in both the REBAC and the NAR must be in good standing, too. To maintain active membership in the Real Estate Buyer’s Council (REBAC), the designees must pay a fee of $110 every year beginning in the second year, since the first year is free. The billing cycle is according to the calendar year, so that initial payment in the second year would be prorated based on the month you join. The annual dues to remain in good standing with the NAR are $150.
Home buyers have a lot of realtors from which to choose. An agent who wants to expand their client list and their income by standing out in a crowd of realtors will do well with the ABR® designation. It shows commitment to home buyers’ needs in what will likely be the biggest financial transaction of their life.
Best for Brokerage Management: Certified Real Estate Brokerage Manager (CRB)
The Certified Real Estate Brokerage Manager (CRB) is the best certification for experienced brokers who already manage a brokerage or want to because it has proven to advance the careers and income of those who have earned it.
Annual dues waived first year
Complete coursework online and/or in a classroom
One-time $150 designation fee
Annual dues $210
Requires proof of at least one year of management experience
The ideal candidate to apply for a CRB designation is the experienced owner, broker, manager, or supervisor. Learning from and living up to CRB standards raises your professionalism and strengthens your performance and that of the office you manage. The CRB designation has existed since 1968 and has held the highest level of prestige in real estate brokerage management ever since.
The designation is awarded by the REBI, and only 3% of REALTORS® have earned the designation. The median gross income of a CRB is 146% higher than agents who don’t have the designation.
By completing any three CRB courses online, virtually, or in a classroom, plus two experience electives, the designee can stay ahead of their peers. As a CRB, you’ll also gain access to members-only resources, tools, and benefits that will strengthen your ability to lead your office and remain competitive in a changing economy.
The CRB course work requires 15 hours of your time. The application fee is $150, and the first year’s dues are waived. For each subsequent year, dues are $210.
CRB designation is not something you can apply for at the beginning of your career. It’s designed for the ambitious brokerage manager who wants to stay ahead of other brokerages in their region to substantially grow their income and the incomes of everyone in their office.
Best for Qualified Consumer Leads: Certified Residential Specialist (CRS)
The Certified Residential Specialist (CRS) won the best designation for an agent looking for qualified leads because designees are eligible to receive leads from Referral Exchange, a company that prequalifies real estate consumers for you to make sure they are ready to buy or sell.
Access to prequalified leads through Referral Exchange
Free subscriptions to several trade magazines
Local networking in your state and access to a nationwide referral network
Discounts on education offered through the RRC and on insurance coverage through USI Affinity
Between 16 and 30 hours of course time
Must have extensive experience; either 60 transaction or $30 million in volume in the last five years
The Pro Program requires over 10 years' experience as a licensed real estate agent and 150 transactions total
$99 application fee, $195 annual dues, plus two hours of continuing education annually
The CRS designation is seen as one of the highest credentials awarded to residential sales agents, brokers, and managers, and is offered by the Residential Real Estate Council (RRC). Powered by Referral Exchange, the RRC’s Qualified Consumer Leads program is like having an office-based support team that can call and nurture your leads until they are ready to buy or sell.
By maintaining your membership in the RRC every year with an annual dues payment of $195, plus completing two hours of continuing education every year, you also earn up to 50% discounts on most classes offered by the RRC, access to the Council’s referral network, a listing in the Council’s online and print directories, discounts on events, a free subscription to Inman Select News and the Council’s magazine, The Residential Specialist. You’ll also be armed with marketing tools like professionally branded and customizable sign riders, fact sheets, business cards, and the bi-monthly Your Home Newsletter.
There are two paths to becoming a CRS. The 60/30/30 Program requires 60 transactions or $30 million in volume in the past five years, plus 30 hours of RRC education. The Pro Program is 16 hours of RRC education, 10-plus years as a licensed real estate agent, 150 transactions total, or an average of $1 million per year with at least 40 transactions.
There is no exam, but certain individual courses may have a final exam to earn credit for that course. The application fee is $99 and the annual dues are $195. You must be a member in good standing with both the RRC and the NAR.
If you earn the CRS designation, you will have access to a lead-nurturing system that can take your career, and earning power, to the next level.
Best for Agents Working Near a Military Installation: Military Relocation Professional (MRP)
We chose the Military Relocation Professional (MRP) as the best designation for agents working near military installations because it can help you stand out as a trusted and knowledgeable resource for the millions of active duty personnel and veterans who have unique needs when they are buying or selling a home.
Access to members-only marketing tools
The MRP Certification Core course doubles as an approved elective for the ARB® designation
One-day course, online or classroom
Must be a member in good standing with the NAR
$195 application fee
MRP is only worthwhile if you live and work near a military installation
The MRP is a designation that specializes in the timetables, needs, and stressors specific to military families when they need to relocate. It’s the perfect designation to have if you live in an area that surrounds a military installation because 70% of the military lives in civilian housing.
This MRP certification emphasizes educating professionals in real estate about working with current and former military service members to find housing solutions that take full advantage of military benefits and relocation programs.
The MRP is offered by the National Association of Realtors. The NAR offers a one-day certification course, either online or in-person, plus two one-hour webinars. The certification course is available to real estate professionals who are NAR members. The application costs $195. As a bonus, the MRP Certification Core course is an approved elective for the Accredited Buyer’s Representative (ARB®) designation.
The MRP designation is the best designation if you live near a military installation with personnel moving in and moving out on a nearly daily basis.
Best for Short Sales and Foreclosures: Short Sales & Foreclosure Resource® (SFR® )
The SFR® designation is the best for developing a specialty in short sales and foreclosures because it teaches you how to attract clients in financial distress. You’ll learn to be more of a consultative resource than just a salesperson helping them with a transaction.
No annual dues
Courses available online or in classroom
Customizable marketing materials
Application fee is $175
Must be in good standing with the NAR’s dues paid
Class costs $130
As an SFR®, you learn how to direct distressed sellers to the proper finance, tax, and legal professionals, qualify them for short sales, develop a short-sale package, negotiate with lenders on their behalf, tap into buyer demand, limit risk for everyone involved, protect the buyers, and safeguard your commission.
The SFR® is awarded through the NAR and, in addition to training and expertise, provides customizable marketing materials focused on the distressed real estate market, free webinars for continued education, a monthly e-newsletter from the NAR on this topic, and use of the SFR® logo and name on your business cards and website.
To earn the SFR® designation you must complete the core course online or in a classroom. The class is six hours long and is regularly priced at $130. You may be able to find it on sale for $91. You have 12 months to complete the six-hour course.
Distressed sellers are very common in almost all metro areas, so this accreditation makes sense if you want access to a large home seller market. It will open you up to a large niche that is desperate for someone to take them by the hand.
What Is a Realtor Designation?
A realtor designation is a credential that real estate agents can list on their business cards, websites, newsletters, and other marketing collateral to demonstrate to their market that they have specialized education, knowledge, and expertise to help clients navigate some niche home buying and selling scenarios.
Realtor designations matter because there may be several agents in your area, which means you have a lot of competition. A real estate designation can help you stand out from the crowd of average agents.
For most designations, it takes just a day or two of focused training to complete the coursework. In some cases, you need to have documented real-world experience too.
How Can You Earn Real Estate Certifications and Designations?
Real estate professionals earn designations in order to advance their careers and stand out among their competition. Most designations require you to be a member in good standing of the issuing organization and sometimes another affiliated council as well. For example, to maintain your CRS designation you must be a member in good standing of both the NAR and the RRC.
The professional earns their designation upon completion of the required coursework and, if required, an exam and documented work experience. Our selection of the best designations to strive for will give you several niche paths you can choose from based on your interest and what makes the most sense for your locale.
What Is the Best Real Estate Designation?
There are many designations to choose from, but the best one depends upon several factors like your local market and your real estate interest. For example, do you prefer to work with sellers over buyers? Do you live in an area popular among people over 50 years old? For some, a time-saving strategy to grow your personal brand quickly is to apply for designations from organizations to which you are already a member.
How Much Does a Real Estate Designation Cost?
Most designations have an application fee ranging from $100 to $200. There may be a fee for the coursework. The SRES® costs $295 for the classes, but other designations don’t charge for the required courses. The third potential cost for the designation is the annual fee owed to the awarding organization, and often another affiliated body. Annual dues typically range from $200 to $400.
How We Chose the Best Real Estate Designations
To choose the seven best real estate designations, we reviewed 29 programs. The seven awardees were chosen based on their potential to have a large impact on the agent’s income and how it could help them meet market needs and set them on a path of responsibility within a real estate brokerage.
We covered the pros and cons, requirements to apply, cost, and timeline. We preferred courses that were shorter and less expensive but offered a lot of marketing tools and services that you could use to grow your local brand and become a well-known and trusted source in your chosen niche.