I am extremely proud to hold the alphabet soup next to my name, but I know that it can be confusing if you don’t know what this mess of letters mean. Let me explain.
In real estate, we have 24 hours (30 for brokers) of Continuing Education (CE) classes to take every 2 years, in order to renew out license. I’m proud to say that I double that each and every time… at LEAST. Why? Because, as a Broker, I know better than most, that every deal is unique and comes with it’s very own set of challenges. I know that learning from others is one way that I can always be sure that I am cautious, proactive and open minded. I know that every class will offer a unique perspective on negotiations, helping me negotiate better for my clients. Every class will offer stories and situations that I can learn from. Cautionary tales so that I can better navigate hurdles and land mines. Every instructor gives you a unique experience, and every class room with it’s variety of members will offer different stories, different questions and different perspectives from each person.
But enough about the classes we HAVE to take.
What is a Designation… or a Certification.
A certification is when you take a class, usually ranging from a full day, to 3 days, offering a very high level education on a very specific topic. Usually, between the class and the certification application and qualifying measures (testing, real world experience, verifications etc), a certification will cost an agent a few hundred dollars and is good forever.
A Designation is typically a series of high level classes that each range from 1-3 days in length and also cost between $50-$300 each… but a designation typically requires 3-15 of these courses to be completed within 1-5 years, depending on the designation. And if that wasn’t enough of a hurdle…. These classes aren’t regularly offered, or they may require an agent to do traveling. Some agents will travel within or outside of their state, sometimes for a day, sometimes a week, just to achieve credit for these high quality classes. In some cases an agent may also be required to have closed a minimum amount of transactions, or represented a minimum number of clients, such as the Accredited Buyers Representation, which may require a certain amount of time licensed and number of closed BUYER side deals. Some designations also require evidence of involvement in local committees or professional events.
Whether it’s a Designation or a Certification, you can bet that the agent has spent a pretty penny to learn a very specific topic or trade and is dedicated to representing their clients at a higher level. For the most part, the public has no idea what the letters mean, and we, as agents are terrible at explaining them… so earning these accreditations is typically purely out of the agents desire to better their business.
So why should you look for agents that have the alphabet soup after their name?
Designation and Certifications stand for a higher level of representation, period. The agent takes their business serious, as a full time career choice, not just a hobby. They regularly seek out knowledge, specific to representing clients better, managing risk better, negotiating better and writing contracts better. These classes can add up to hundreds of hours over a career, but essentially could be considered equal to a “Masters In Real Estate”. Think of CE as K-12… Certifications and Designations is as if the agent has gone through college, but specific to real estate, and voluntary, with nothing more than the satisfaction of knowing that THEY KNOW THEIR BUSINESS!
So, what are some of the Designations and Certifications that you might see, and why might they help you as a client?
GRI – Graduate Realtor Institute
This Designation is supported by the National Association of REALTORS, but designed and created by each state, specific to that states real estate practice. This designations consists of about 50 hours or so of education that covers a variety of specialties and areas of expertise. In some cases, an agent might even achieve other designations in the process of receiving this one.
An agent has 5 years to complete this Designation and while that may seem easy to do, the courses are so intense, long, hard to find and sometimes expensive, it can be fairly difficult to get all the classes in, within a working agents schedule. Some classes are 2-4 days at a time and cost as much as $300… while that can be extremely beneficial to an agents growth and business strategy… it can also be very challenging to fit in around the demands of showing homes, setting appointments or the mass amount of paperwork required in our business. These courses do take 100% of our focus, and you must pass the tests in order to get credit for the class.
Most agents with a GRI also take the courses repeatedly, even though it’s not required, simply because the knowledge is found to be so beneficial that the value in this investment is simply a no brainer.
ABR – Accredited Buyer Representation
An ABR Designation is a Buyer centered designation. To qualify for an ABR you must attend a 2 day buyer specific course, plus an elective course, specific to buyer representation. These agents must also pass the course exam, submit evidence that they have represented a minimum required number of Buyers, specifically, and maintain their membership to REBAC, a buyer representation network of agents across the country.
The courses are not typical CE courses, they are intense, high level courses, intended to take an average agent, to exceptional, where helping buyers navigate the home buying process. Topics like negotiations, contracts, inspections, potential hazards, disclosures, best practices etc are discussed at length, in detail and with exceptionally trained experts from around the country.
When referring clients out to other states, one might seek out a fellow ABR to ensure that their client receives exception assistance to purchase their new home, out of area.
SRS – Sellers Representation Specialist
Just like that with the ABR, the SRS has similar qualifications and requirements, but might take the agent deeper into the hurdles and finer points of representing sellers, specifically. Representing buyers and sellers require a different set of skills…. Marketing and negotiations are handled much different, as well as disclosures. A seller is putting a lot of faith in the hands of their agent and choosing an agent with an SRS designation might keep them out of hot water, and ensure a higher sales price, as they are highly trained in the skills of marketing, pricing, and negotiations.
Just like the ABR, the SRS also requires membership to REBi, which is a national Sellers representation network. This would be an excellent way to ensure that friends and family selling their homes in other states are represented well, by referring them to an agent holding the SRS designation.
==>> Both designations offer membership benefits that not only keep the agent informed, but engaged with furthering their education in specific skills to represent their clients at a higher level. Annual dues range between $100-$200 a year, but offer many benefits to the serious agent, thus offering serious benefit to the clients of these professionals.
The SRS, as well as the ABR are also extremely beneficial, no matter which side you’re representing, as it helps you to understand the perspective of the other side, when negotiating or managing the transaction.
ePro – Just as it sounds
The ePro designation is a fantastic value add to agents in todays virtual world. They teach an agent skills in online marketing, social media marketing, online networking, online etiquette as well as all about virtual tours, virtual staging and other virtual aspects that help us in our daily business.
Agents with the ePro designation have a higher level of understanding in the online world, how to market a listing, how to navigate the high tech programs out there, and how to be more efficient in their daily tasks.
PSA – Pricing Strategy Advisor
This certification is probably one of the most valuable certification courses I’ve personally taken. Although it’s a simple 2 day course, with a simple certification at the end, I will say that the knowledge and insight given in this course will open your eyes to MANY things and should be considered ANYTHING BUT simple.
An agents job is to either market your home, at a strategic price to net you the most… or to negotiate the best value for you as the buyer, right? This course dives DEEP into outside the box thinking that allows both sides to market, negotiate, strategies and support their findings at a higher level. Personally, I can’t say enough about this certification! As a Broker, I have personally created training to help my agents when supporting that “push the market value” pricing, when it comes to appraisals… and much of the information was inspired by taking this course. I can also assure you that when negotiating or supporting value, for buyers as well as sellers… this information is eye opening.
RENE – Real Estate Negotiation Expert
The Real Estate Negotiation Expert, is a GREAT companion to the PSA. What we tend to forget is that with every transaction, there are Dozens of people involved… that’s right, I said dozens… and they are all going to be different with each sale. On top of that, there are a few dozen terms in the contract that could be considered when negotiating the RIGHT deal.
I’m sure you’ve seen agents posting about getting a great deal for a buyer, without being the highest price… I’m sure you’ve seen a home sell for well over what you expected it to, without explanation… This is because, when it comes to negotiation on a home, it’s not just about the price. A true negotiation expert understands the terms, the playing field and the psychology behind their tactics… and they know how to utilize it all, in their clients favor. While this is another 2 day course and certification at the end, after this intense 2 days, these agents walk away never looking at the art of the deal the same way again.
AHWD – At Home With Diversity
I have the honor of personally knowing the instructor that created this amazing nationally recognized course. Initially, I thought it was simply another fair housing course, with a certification at the end. I was WRONG. This course is full of information on not only how to represent a diverse clientele with consideration to their unique needs… it also gives you insight into the great diversity of customs, beliefs and other intricate or minute details that we may not consider when blinders are on… or you simply don’t know. It’s important to know how to represent clients with kindness, and consideration to THEIR needs.
Putting our clients first is a high priority at our brokerage. This certification will benefit any agent who works ethically and fairly, opening your eyes to many intricacies that could help or hinder a client, and being aware of how to work at a higher level. Simply put, you don’t know what you don’t know… but when you know… you know how to be exceptional.
MRES – Mastery of Real Estate
Offered only through our great AZ State Association of Realtors, this certification is more of a badge of honor, and one that few know about or qualify for.
In order to achieve the status of an MRES agent in Arizona, you must attend more CE classes than required (at this time, it’s double the CE credits), participate in association committees, attend conventions and events, and continue forwarding your education with designations or certifications.
It’s NOT for the faint of heart… But, it IS for the truly dedicated and passionate professional. The status of your MRES is earned only by regularly moving forward in your business, without pause. In my opinion, it’s more challenging, satisfying and professionally rewarding than any designation or certification that I hold. It says to my peers, my clients and my agents, that I take this business serious, I continue to grow and I’m committed to being part of the elite best in the state.
So, what about US, here at Serene Living AZ?
There are HUNDREDS of Certifications and Designations out there. Some are small, easy and quick to get, and some are lengthy and intense… but one thing is for sure. Agents who take their business seriously, who commit to excellence, who invest in pricy and inconvenient courses, for no other benefit than to learn skills that make them a better agent…. These agents are truly exceptional.
It’s not hard to search for a “Top Agent”. It’s not hard to find a licensee… they are everywhere. You can find agents that will bend over backwards for you, or you can find agents that simply get the deal done and move on. You can find agents that charge an arm and a leg, and those who would essentially work for free at the chance of earning your business.
There is no rule… Agents are self employed, under the leadership of a brokerage. But I want you to consider this. Who you hire, is crucial to your success, and the level of that success. You don’t know what you don’t know. So… you may not know that you missed out on thousands of dollars, or just made the worst investment of your life. If that’s ok to you, hire any agent you want. But if you want assurance that you have the best… Hire an agent who is committed to representing their clients at a higher level…. and consider the Brokerage Leadership as the first indicator of that commitment to quality. While all agents do not have their designations, this brokerage works as a single unit. The knowledge of one is the knowledge of all. You get nothing but the best here, alphabet soup or no!