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Are professional real estate designations worth it?

Do real estate designations make practitioners successful or are they a waste of money? Is that even the right way to look at designations?


Over the past 25 years, the number of designations in the real estate space has increased from a single handful to an armful. According to, there are 17 NAR Family Designations and 6 NAR Family Certifications. Yes, the industry has become more specialized over the years, but do we really need 23 different courses to cover the marketplace needs?

Actually, maybe we do. Think about it, where would you draw the line? If you were appointed the boss of all real estate decisions, which of these courses do you think we should eliminate?

The answer to the question depends who you ask. If you ask an appraisers if the SRS (Seller Representative Specialist) designation should be expired, they might say yes. If you ask a residential agents if it’s okay to terminate the RAA (Residential Accredited Appraiser) designation, they might agree. But, switch these two questions and you’d likely get a resounding no.

A wise person once told me, if you ask turkeys what they think about Thanksgiving, don’t be surprised by the answer.

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It’s not about winners or losers

The intention of this article is not to pick the winners and losers in the range war of designations… that will either be determined naturally or by NAR design. The real intent of this article is to explore the value of designations to YOU.

So are designations worth it? This is the questions agents ask when they debate the value of designations. But, this is the wrong question. All of the NAR designations have great value and they are all worth it, at least to some people. They are all solid educational experiences and some have great side benefits like active referral networks.

Instead of asking if a designation is worth it, ask will it make me smarter, better, more productive, and/or less dangerous in my area of the marketplace? If the answer is yes, take the training. If the answer is no, don’t.

Sometimes we expect too much from education. Education will not, by itself, make you successful. But, sometimes it seems we look at a designation course and analyze its value based on the number of leads it will generate. It is the application of knowledge that makes you successful, not the mere fact that you took a course.

Designation courses are what you make of them. It starts with selecting the right course for you and your business. For instance, if you work in a historic section of a city, your benefit in taking the Green designation is probably more limited than if you work in a suburban area with a lot of new construction. Sure, you might learn some helpful stuff, but the bang for the buck might be better to take the SRES (Senior Real Estate Specialist), or other designation.

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What about all of those letters?

There is nothing wrong with letters after your name. They actually give you some self-satisfaction, pride, confidence, and a host of other warm and fuzzy feelings that are important. More typically, the question is “will my clients and customers understand these designations and perceive me as a better professional?”

Again, wrong question.

The better question is, “am I willing to put this education into action to be more professional?” Letters after your name are irrelevant if you do not put into action the ideas, systems, and tools you learn in a designation course. If you do that, then your clients will recognize you as a professional.

If you have selected the right designation course AND apply the new knowledge to your business, there is great value to a designation course. If, on the other hand, you expect your business to improve simply because you re-print your business cards with a couple new letters after your name, designations are worthless.

How do I pick the right designations?

If you are just starting in the business, or have decided to get serious about your career, you might want to start with the GRI (Graduate, Realtor Institute). The GRI differs from state to state, but typically it is a good general course for agents in their first five years in the business.

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Unfortunately, the GRI program has been in flux for the past few years. NAR and state education experts have been working to reformat and update the course and in some states the GRI program has been temporarily suspended until the revisions are completed. Hopefully the “new” GRI program will be ready for nationwide delivery soon.

Other than the general programming of the GRI, other designations are typically more niche specific. It is probably better to pick your niche and then look for a designation course that corresponds, but sometimes a designation course can give you enough exposure to a market segment to help you decide that you want to work that niche, or not. For instance, maybe you think the commercial market might be interesting, but you are not sure. You could invest in a CCIM class (Certified Commercial Investment Member) to help you decide if it is for you, or not.

If real estate is your profession, it is up to YOU to invest in your education. Yes, your firm offers education and your state licensing agency requires you to do education, but these are not the same as the Realtor family designation courses. You can be successful without designations, or you can have several designations and still be unsuccessful. If you combine hard work and dedication with the knowledge from designations, statistics indicate you are going to be more successful.

Ready, set, learn! You’re worth it.

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Written By

Dave is a 20+ year veteran in Realtor® association management and leadership and is currently the CEO of the Pennsylvania Association of Realtors®. He is a writer, speaker, strategic planner, and life-long learner with a passion for creative thinking. Dave has published his first novel For Reasons Unknown and will be publishing his second by the end of the year.


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