Like a sea of medals on a general’s chest, many real estate agents’ business cards are festooned with initials after their names.
Agents may boast about such designations or certifications as ABR, SRES, GRI or a host of others intended to be a testament to expertise they bring to a home-sale transaction. However, there are so many of them that they may be alphabet soup to the average consumer.
The acronyms usually represent coursework focused on a single aspect of real estate, such as transactions involving raw land, foreclosures or international properties, explained Colleen Ryan, manager of education services for the National Association of Realtors.
Or, she said, they may indicate broader specialized coursework in residential transactions (as opposed to commercial real estate, for example) or working specifically with homebuyers (as opposed to sellers).
Adding to the potential confusion, within NAR there’s a difference between a certification and a designation. "Designations have additional requirements that need to be met, in addition to the coursework," Ryan said. "The coursework is also more detailed and longer in terms of the number of hours that must be completed.
"Designations also have a dues/membership fee attached that must be renewed to keep their membership current," she explained.
The NAR offers courses leading to nearly two dozen such designations and certifications, though many of them deal with such interests as appraisal or brokerage management, rather areas that directly touch on consumer issues.
And though NAR-sponsored courses dominate the acronyms, other real estate organizations also bestow certification in such things as green building and home staging.
The courses vary widely in their requirements, from an afternoon to several days; many of them are offered online now, an option that’s particularly popular with younger agents, Ryan said.
Whether these accolades necessarily benefit consumers is something that even agents themselves argue about — sometimes hotly — given the broad disparity in the depth of the courses and whether coursework actually translates into experience.
(The Realtors suggest, at least, that the completed courses translate into earnings. The trade group cites a 2009 survey that says the median income of agents without designations was about half that of agents with at least one designation.)
Nonetheless, consumers who have little background in the world of real estate agents probably couldn’t parse a CIPS from an RSPS. A quick guide to some of the letters they might encounter in the Acronym Jungle: …CONTINUED