That chain of acronyms that follows the names of some real estate professionals stands for something. Depending on whom you ask, this list of industry designations can represent either a costly batch of meaningless alphabet soup or a treasure trove of knowledge.

Some real estate professionals question whether the designations are worth the money, while others say the designations have paid off. Some Web sites promoting the designations state that Realtors who earn the them tend to make more money each year than other real estate professionals without the designations.

According to a 2005 survey of National Association of Realtors members, about 38 percent of the 8,450 survey respondents had at least one professional designation. About 18 percent of respondents held a Graduate Realtor Institute (GRI) designation; 11 percent held an Accredited Buyer Representative (ABR) designation; and 9 percent held a Certified Residential Specialist (CRS) designation. About 4 percent of all Realtors hold the CRS designation.

The association has nine affiliated institutes, societies and councils that offer a range of designations and certifications — there are about 20 of them listed at an association Web site, and there are other designations available to industry professionals through other sources. RealtyU, a real estate education and training company, maintains an online list of about 60 industry-related professional designations.

The National Association of Home Builders, another large real estate-related trade group, offers more than a dozen professional designations and operates a University of Housing Professional Designations Program. Among that group’s designations: Member, Institute of Residential Marketing (MIRM); Master Certified New Home Sales Professional (Master CSP); Certified New Home Marketing Professional (CMP); Certified New Home Sales Professional (CSP); Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist (CAPS); and Certified Graduate Builder (CGB).

This week, the builders’ association announced that February is “National Designation Month.”

To receive the designations, real estate professionals typically must complete educational courses and pay a fee. There are also typically annual renewal fees to maintain the designations.

Tina Bilazarian, broker-owner of Tina Bilazarian, Inc., an independent real estate firm, maintains three designations: CRS, Certified Real Estate Brokerage Manager (CRB), and Seniors Real Estate Specialist (SRES). She advertises these designations at her Web site, in her e-mails, on her business cards and during her listing presentations.

Bilazarian said she received each designation after two to three days of educational sessions, and spent $150 to $500 for each one. She pays annual dues to maintain the designations. While she said she can’t track whether the designations have helped her in securing new business, “(I) believe that some of the consumers are somewhat aware,” adding that the designations can add value for her clients and she recommended the designations to colleagues.

Even so, she said she would support changes to the courses related to the designations. “Many times the sessions are dragged out too long, just to comply with the time requirements. It would also be advantageous to have more updates on the Web.”

John A. Keith, a Realtor in Boston, meanwhile, said he believes that “the designations are a joke.” Keith said he paid about $400 for classes related to the ABR designation, though he didn’t complete the paperwork process and is unable to use the designation. “I thought it would look good on my business card,” Keith said. “Plus, when I signed up for the class, I had just decided to go out on my own. I thought it would give me additional respect from new clients.” As for the classes, “The instructor was very nice. I learned absolutely nothing during the class, however.”

Colleen McMahon, director of member services for the CRS program, said Wednesday there are about 38,232 active Realtors who have the CRS designation. CRS is a tax-exempt, nonprofit Realtor-affiliated entity housed in the association’s Chicago headquarters. To receive the CRS designation, applicants must be members of the Realtor association, fulfill real estate production and education requirements, and pay a $100 membership fee and annual dues of $120.

The GRI designation — the most popular among residential real estate professionals — is administered through state Realtor associations. The curriculum for this designation requires about 90 hours of coursework. In California, the cost per session is $149 and the entire series of courses cost $1,560, according to a Web site description.

Robert Cullen, a Realtor with RE/MAX First in Rochester, N.Y., who has a CRS designation, told Inman News that designations may not single-handedly generate new business, though they can attract attention. “Designations don’t put gas in the car. But, the gas station attendant is impressed,” he said.

Nathan Belo, associate broker for Skyline Properties Inc. in Seattle, Wash., said he is not a Realtor so he can’t use the Realtor-affiliated designations. He does hold an associate broker license through the state, which requires more education and testing than other licenses, he said.

“Very few buyers know the designations, so they’re meaningless,” he said. “They think we’re all called Realtors,” he said. The Realtor association is a trade group that real estate professionals can join by paying a membership fee and adhering to the group’s code of ethics.

Ira Serkes, of RE/MAX Executive in Berkeley, Calif., told Inman News he maintains several designations, certifications and affiliations, including CRS, ABR, GRI, ePRO, CyberStar, CyberProfessional and SMI. The last one, he explained, is his “own private designation … it stands for ‘Some More Initials.'”

He said CRS is the most valuable designation for him, as it has been his top source of high-quality referrals. Designations “are great … and mean little to the public and lots to my peers in the industry,” he explained. His least used designations? A bachelor’s and a master’s degree in chemical engineering, he said.

“The acquisitions of designations in the real estate world are, in my opinion, much like everything else in life. You get out of it in equal measure that which you put in,” said Geri Sonkin, a Realtor for RE/MAX Hearthstone in Long Island, N.Y. She maintains CRS, e-PRO, and Real Estate CyberSpace Specialist (RECS) designations.

“For the folks earning these designations to have the alphabet soup following their names because they perceive it to give them added value to an unwitting consumer, it will mean little or nothing. For those of us who crave education and have a need to increase our knowledge of changing markets and service to our clients, getting these designations is a worthwhile endeavor.”


What’s your opinion? Send your Letter to the Editor to; (510) 658-9252, ext. 137.

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