Whether you’re considering earning additional certifications to bolster your credentials and impress clients or taking classes just to enrich your real estate knowledge, the well-rounded Renaissance agent is a successful one. Here are some ideas for you to take your skills to the next level.

Whether you’re a rookie agent, a rising team leader or an established veteran broker, we can all benefit from sharpening our skills. Follow our “Back to Basics” series to learn fundamental strategies, tactics, philosophies and more from real estate pros across the industry.

Retaining competitive advantage in an ever-evolving real estate industry is incumbent upon your commitment to develop professionally in the spirit of constant self-improvement.

Whether you’re considering earning additional certifications to bolster your credentials and impress clients or taking classes just to enrich your real estate knowledge, the well-rounded renaissance agent is a successful one.

A client’s level of trust is highly dependent on your level of demonstrated expertise, which in turn is informed by your familiarity with a particular discipline.

Certifications can be a great way to pitch your strengths and special abilities while boosting your own confidence. Notably, these designations also form the basis of large networks of like-minded professionals, which can serve as a valuable source for high-quality leads.

How to exactly build that competitive edge can prove a more elusive endeavor altogether, but here are some ideas for you to take your skills to the next level.

1. Getting industry standard designations and certifications

As the most logical first step, these following designations are meant to standardize qualifications and clearly convey what value you can add.

However, for almost all non-real estate professionals these certifications are no more than random letters. As a result, it is absolutely critical to clearly communicate your certifications to your client and the benefits you bring to them specifically.

Note that most of these specific titles are those conferred by the National Association of Realtors (NAR) and might differ depending on region and association or board affiliation. If so, check to see which equivalent credits are offered in your area.

Often used interchangeably, the term “designation” technically typically denotes earning a more extensive command of a particular topic, often requiring yearly dues and refreshers, while a “certification” usually refers to a one-time earning of said qualifier.

A useful way to categorize these standards is according to specificity:

More all-purpose

  • Graduate Realtor Institute (GRI)
  • Accredited Buyer Representative (ABR)
  • Seller Representative Specialist (SRS)
  • Certified Residential Specialist (CRS)
  • Pricing Strategy Advisor (PSA)
  • e-PRO or Real Estate CyberSpace Specialist (RECS)
  • Real Estate Negotiation Expert (RENE)

More specialized

  • Seniors Real Estate Specialist (SRES)
  • Certified Distressed Property Expert (CDPE) or Short Sales & Foreclosure Resource (SFR)
  • Resort & Second-Home Property Specialist (RSPS)
  • Certified International Property Specialist (CIPS) or Transnational Referral Certification (TRC)
  • Military Relocation Professional (MRP)
  • Accredited Land Consultant (ALC)
  • Certified Real Estate Divorce Specialist (CREDS)

On the end of more all-purpose designations, the GRI (Graduate Realtor Institute) designation serves as the basic gold standard — putting in credit hours demonstrates your initiative and firm grasp of all real estate fundamentals.

Other widely recognized titles such as SRS (Seller Representative Specialist) or CRS (Certified Residential Specialist) would make sense to earn if you are looking to work closely with seller or buyer clients, respectively.

Becoming an e-PRO or RECS (Real Estate CyberSpace Specialist) helps up your stock since so much marketing is done on the internet in our age, while earning your RENE (Real Estate Negotiation Expert) certification makes clients want you on their side of the table come time for negotiations.

The more specialized titles are great for differentiating your business and homing in on a specific niche. For example, become an SRES (Seniors Real Estate Specialist) if you’ve enjoyed working most with older senior clients, or get certified as an MRP (Military Relocation Professional) if you’d like to better help the men and women who have served in our armed forces.

Becoming an CDPE (Certified Distressed Property Expert), if you are drawn to the fast pace of short sales or want to expand your client base to include investors looking to flip distressed properties, would be a prudent career decision.

If you’re attracted to vacation homes or beachfront properties, becoming a RSPS (Resort & Second-Home Property Specialist) opens your network to those opportunities. The same goes for agents looking to serve a more diverse international clientele and who become a CIPS (Certified International Property Specialist).

It’s best to earn a certification in a niche you’re passionate about to better foster relationships organically with your newfound clients.

Touting your certifications might function well as a marketing tool, and while it might seem tempting to rattle off a laundry list of certifications, it is essential to always communicate in your client’s language rather than agent-speak.

2. Continuing development through licensure

Additional professional training is indispensable for improving your on-the-job performance and key to adapting to a constantly changing market where client tastes and proclivities are always evolving.

You also might uncover a passion for a specific segment of the market that you didn’t previously know about.

A notary public is a ministerial (hinged on impartiality as a witness) position of integrity tasked with overseeing proper execution of important documents, including verifying identity and willingness of signers.

The signing of life-changing documents is invariably linked to any real estate transaction, so becoming a notary public gives you heightened ability to detect, prevent and deter fraud. While a notary public legally cannot preside over a transaction in which they have personal interests, acting as a notary public for third-party signings can actually become a part of your real estate business.

A property management certification is useful for agents who associate with managers often or are involved with property investors. Knowing how things are run gives you insight into owner and manager interests and is valuable knowledge if you are an agent looking to or already investing in properties yourself.

Another option is earning your HUD Housing Counselor Certification, which grants you the authority to speak on matters pertaining to managing homeownership finances, fair housing laws and tenancy from both sides. Shoring up your knowledge can help put your client at ease while helping you avoid committing violations and getting fined.

Becoming a fully fledged mortgage underwriter is a lengthy and arduous task, but getting some underwriter training is extremely useful for understanding the more technical aspect of real estate transactions. The training also let’s you provide more in-depth financial explanations to your client.

For the more creative-minded, getting a state-issued interior designer certification might be a shrewd career move. Not only do you significantly boost your knowledge of construction materials and home design finishes, but training your aesthetic eye can be an indispensable tool for finding the perfect listing for your client or giving advice to a seller to make a property more marketable.

3. Expanding knowledge through independent study

Self-enrichment pays dividends because if you know what you’re talking about, and not just muddling through buzzwords, you cement your value to your client.

In many instances your client will organically adopt you as their go-to oracle on all things real estate — a kind of trust can’t be bought or fabricated.

One option is to take a class at a nearby university as a non-matriculated attendee. You can focus on a particular topic such as management, development or finance. If you need more flexibility, online classes from sites such as Udemy, Skillshare or Brilliant make learning possible on your own time. Many of these courses offer certificates upon completion.

This more self-directed style of learning can be extremely effective because you can more readily choose to improve a specific skill. For example, perhaps you want to differentiate your marketing platform and elect to take courses on search engine optimization (SEO) to maximize hits or web design to launch a professional website.

Outside of real estate brokerage is a huge and varied industry, with investors, developers, trusts, bonds and real property based financial products. If you’re feeling like you’re in a rut, perhaps the remedy is reinvention through continuing education.

4. Building intangibles

Meaningful growth occurs most freely in the no man’s land of discomfort. Being a great agent straddles so many different disciples and aptitudes beyond technical knowledge. Cultivating and nurturing relationships is the bedrock of any real estate career.

If you’re looking to improve your “presence” and improve your cold calls and open houses, attend a local Toastmasters International meeting. The ability to react dynamically or improvise in difficult situations is invaluable — the social graces can indeed be honed and sharpened.

Helping a client find their next home or property is a deeply personal undertaking, but the significance of emotional intelligence is often overlooked. Somewhat paradoxically, real estate decisions are immensely consequential in terms of finance but can be inordinately driven by emotion.

Moments like meaningful small talk during a property tour or open house build rapport and form what might be a long and fruitful partnership.

Clients can come from all walks of life and states of mind — you’ve likely already at some point had to play the role of unofficial therapist and confidante. While your relationship is foremost a professional one, it is deeply personal as well, and being able to delve into the mind or psyche of your client can be helpful for both parties.

Becoming certified in Mental Health First Aid can help alleviate stress and facilitate better communication. Being helpful in difficult times, for example by becoming a Certified Real Estate Divorce Specialist (CREDS)can also help a client immeasurably in their hour of need — making you that much better of an agent.

All things considered, it’s ultimately your prerogative to weigh the potential benefits of continuing education against the time and effort it takes to get certifications. However, NAR reports that Realtors with designations earn twice as much as those without one.

While indeed a significant figure, that correlation exists because agents with the initiative to develop professionally commit to relentlessly improve. Ultimately, the defining factor for success lies in determining the return on investing in yourself.

Albert Anderson is a licensed real estate salesperson with REAL New York. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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