Alphabet Soup and Certifications, Revisited

Real Estate Broker/Owner with Cornerstone Business Group Inc 0225086119

This is the first blogpost that shows up in my history. It was 3.5.2011. Whew! So much has happened since then, but ironically, my position on this topic has stayed the same. I've added two certifications to my list and dropped 100% of the rest. 

Isn't it impressive when you see another agent's profile with a long string of initials behind his or her name?  It might be GRI, or ABR, or SFR, CDPE, CHS, CFS, TRC or a host of other alphabet soup characters.  Being one with multiple Master's degrees, I am a big fan of education.  Not only should every agent take continuing education as needed, but they should also take education courses that make them better suited to work with clients in different and unique circumstances.

With all that said, I do have a different view of the alphabet soup that many agents carry around.  I was in a certification course last year.  Another broker and I were chatting during break when an agent stopped by to visit with us.  She had a string of initials after her name that would make the most well educated PhD jealous.

During our conversation the current certification course came up.  We would all be receiving another set of initials by the end of the day.  I had taken this particular certification because I was dealing with a client who had questions that I could only partially answer,  I needed a deeper understanding of the topic than I could grasp from a quick web search of the Internet.  The broker and I had already discussed our indifference to the new initials, but our colleague was very excited to add a few more to her name.

She asked us what initials we had behind our names, and we shared our current strings.  Immediately after, in what appeared to be a moment of initial laden euphoria, she blurted out her string in a sing-song way.  At the end, she took a deep breath while waiting for both of us to offer our kudos for her accomplishments.  Neither of us did.  Then she said, "So, what do you think about that?"  I'm learning that I don't need to say everything that comes to my mind.  It's a good lesson, but sometimes I forget.  My first response was, "Well, it's quite impressive that you've accomplished all of that learning.  I hope it has helped you become a more efficient Realtor."  Then, without taking a breath, I said, "But for me, a long string of initials behind my name only tells my clients and customers that I have the capacity to sit on my backside for days or hours on end.  They don't have a clue what all of those initials mean."

At that, she stormed back to her seat, and the other broker and I looked at each other wide-eyed and slightly amused.  That brings me to my point.  I had to stop and ask myself, "Why do I want initials behind my name?"  So, before I spent another dollar on education I had to answer that question.  Since the economy tanked in 2008, dozens of new certifications have come to the industry.  Some are wonderful information-heavy certifications that will help you become a more efficient professional.  Other certifications seem more designed to help their creators pay their mortgage payments.  I would imagine many will disappear when the economy rebounds.  Which ones should you focus on?  Here's a list of my questions and thoughts.

  • Does it matter?  Will this certification make me a better professional?
  • Is there enough quality information in this course to warrant the course fee?  Is this information I could just as easily get from a book or another Realtor with experience?  Is it the information that I crave, or is it the initials?  A moment of reflection might be in order.
  • Will this certification make me more valuable to my clients and customers?  Is it specific enough for me to establish myself in a niche market that produces better than average results (i.e., short sales, etc.)?
  • Do my customers have any idea what they all mean?  Does that matter?  Will I have to explain each one so they will have a better understanding of what my education experience means?
  • Will they really make me a better Realtor?  For example, in our tech savvy environment, it might be good to learn how to use technology to your advantage.  A certification in that arena would definitely help you become a more diverse Realtor, but will it make you better?  If you use it well, absolutely!

These are only a couple things I ask myself.  I try to be a realist, and I realize that my goal as a Realtor should be to help people buy or sell homes.  Can I do that with no initials?  Sure.  Will the initials make me better at that?  Maybe.  I've often wondered if the alphabet soup on some Realtors profiles isn't to impress other Realtors.  If that is the case, they are simply spending money for something that a lot of people they're trying to impress don't have time to care about.  When I work with another Realtor I care about results.  I don't want to know what classes you've sat through.  I want to know if you can get that short sale through the process without my clients jumping off a bridge with me tied to them as a weight.  Efficiency reigns supreme in my world.  I will never judge a Realtor's worth by their initials.  It all comes down to results with me.

I hold four Master's degrees and a PhD.  That doesn't impress me at all.  What does impress me are those moments when all of that education comes flooding back to mind and whatever I'm working on breezes through to completion successfully.  I love to see a plan come together.  Education that does not produce results is expensive in many ways.  When you're tempted to get the latest certification, ask around. Websites like Active Rain,  Ask your colleagues if they are using their knowledge?  Find out if the information is up to date?  Could you use it the day of certification?  Will you be able to help clients who are struggling to sell a house, buy a house or keep a house?  Will it make you a better professional?

Comments (19)

Ron and Alexandra Seigel
Napa Consultants - Carpinteria, CA
Luxury Real Estate Branding, Marketing & Strategy


I heartily agree with you, so much information is useless, and as things progress even more so   A

Jan 16, 2022 01:43 PM
Barbara Tattersall
Keller Williams Realty Metropolitan (Keene,NH) - Keene, NH

Hi Mike,  I knew a local agent who listed her designations and added VIP. I don't think her clients or customers ever got it. Just a bit more bling.

Jan 17, 2022 03:52 AM
Michael Jacobs
Pasadena, CA
Los Angeles Pasadena 818.516.4393

Hello Mike - sometimes a trip back into ones own AR archives can be much more than a visit of some old memories, it might be a journey of enlightenment.  

Jan 17, 2022 04:52 AM
Michael Jacobs
Pasadena, CA
Los Angeles Pasadena 818.516.4393

Carol Williams - I think Mike's post makes a good candidate for your SCS Second Chance Saturday series.  In keeping with the awards season that Hollywood often experiences this time of year, I add "for your consideration. . ."   That's a bit of inside humor from a definite outsider.  🙃

Jan 17, 2022 04:56 AM
Carol Williams
Although I'm retired, I love sharing my knowledge and learning from other real estate industry professionals. - Wenatchee, WA
Retired Agent / Broker / Property Manager

First of all, let me say I heartily agree with you! I had to chuckle a bit at this because when I was a young agent with not too many designations yet I asked my broker if I could put MRS PhD behind my name and she said sure. I don't think she even knew what it was. I was actually joking because my husband had a PhD.   You're right. They mean nothing if it doesn't make you more effective in serving clients or make you a better person in general.

Jan 17, 2022 05:07 AM
Myrl Jeffcoat
Sacramento, CA
Greater Sacramento Realtor - Retired

I hadn't given much thought to this in the past.  But, after considering it, I agree with you!  

Jan 17, 2022 01:32 PM
Myrl Jeffcoat
Sacramento, CA
Greater Sacramento Realtor - Retired

CONGRATULATIONS Mike, on having this blog FEATURED in the Old Farts Club group!  

Jan 17, 2022 01:32 PM
Kat Palmiotti
406-270-3667,, Broker/REALTOR® - Kalispell, MT
Helping your Montana dreams take root

I'm glad this showed up in Carol's weekly wrapup post. I missed it the first time.

I agree with you. I earned a designation a few years ago that I don't use at all and am going to let expire (it requires an annual fee). I am in the process of earning one now that is actually teaching me new things so that one should be worth it.

Clients don't even notice the letters.

Jan 22, 2022 05:02 AM
Roy Kelley
Realty Group Referrals - Gaithersburg, MD

Thank you very much, Mike, for sharing your experience and your advice.

Jan 22, 2022 06:16 AM
Wayne Martin
Wayne M Martin - Chicago, IL
Real Estate Broker - Retired

Good morning Mike. If the information makes you more efficient and able your performance trumps the initials. Enjoy your day 

Jan 22, 2022 06:33 AM
Grant Schneider
Performance Development Strategies - Armonk, NY
Your Coach Helping You Create Successful Outcomes

Hi Mike - there are those who love education and want to continue to learn which is good.  Also good are the "intentional" who want to get what they need to help them.  The only thing that makes no sense is having initials so one can boast.

Jan 22, 2022 07:59 AM
Ed Silva
Mapleridge Realty, CT 203-206-0754 - Waterbury, CT
Central CT Real Estate Broker Serving all equally

When I first got licensed, I went after the classes so that I could better appreciate the business and offer a better service to my clients.  I have stopped using most of them and even though I am winding down my business I may still chase the CRS designation as I believe it will be the culmination for me.

Jan 22, 2022 08:20 AM
Anna Banana Kruchten CRS, Phoenix Broker
HomeSmart Real Estate BR030809000 - Phoenix, AZ

Hi Mike I am happy Carol Williams featured this in her weekly post.  I am of the same mind as you.   I've got a string of initial over the last 35 years but only have used 2 and now just one.  Who the heck cares about the alphabet soup?  I don't and it also looks so lame to me.  I take classes because I'm interested in learning something or I know the speaker is really good at the subject.  It's fun too.

Jan 22, 2022 10:12 AM
Lynn B. Friedman CRS Atlanta, GA 404-939-2727
Atlanta Homes ODAT Realty - Love our Great City - Love our Clients! Buckhead - Midtown - Westside - Atlanta, GA
Concierge Service for Our Atlanta Sellers & Buyers

Thanks for the re-blog. I liked it then and I like reading it again now!
Hope all's well. Hi to Buffie - Lynn

Jan 22, 2022 10:14 AM
Tammy Lankford,
Lane Realty Eatonton, GA Lake Sinclair, Milledgeville, 706-485-9668 - Eatonton, GA
Broker GA Lake Sinclair/Eatonton/Milledgeville

I couldn't agree more.  Many times I think the class/classes help me be better, but paying fee to add the letter soup.... not so much.

Jan 22, 2022 01:35 PM
Jan Green
Value Added Service, 602-620-2699 - Scottsdale, AZ
HomeSmart Elite Group, REALTOR®, EcoBroker, GREEN

Congratulations on your earned degrees!  That's impressive and no doubt benefits you in many ways as you mention.  I agree with you as to the alphabet soup.  I used to have a long string, but gave them up without renewal to focus on the 2 that mattered.  The public may seem impressed, but they are clueless.  I'd rather discuss what i can do for them than explaining all those initials!

Jan 22, 2022 05:38 PM
Hannah Williams
HomeStarr Realty - Philadelphia, PA
Expertise NE Philadelphia & Bucks 215-820-3376

Mike Cooper, Broker VA,WV, MDD  as a few others have said, but not in so many words you can take the education, but if you do not pay the fee every year you are not entitled

So Glad Carol Williams  featured this as I missed this  

Jan 23, 2022 06:23 AM
Debb Janes EcoBroker and Bernie Stea JD
ViewHomes of Clark County - Nature As Neighbors - Camas, WA
REALTORS® in Clark County, WA

Like you I really enjoy taking educational courses that help me better service our niche. Otherwise, they are a waste of time. For example, I just did my 2 year license renewal and part of the course package included detailed lessons about investing and commercial property. We don't service either. It was not helpful to me in the least and I felt it was a big waste of time.  I'm most proud of my EcoBroker status and it has served me well. However, it doesn't mean much to clients who often ask what it means. Lol. 

Jan 23, 2022 09:50 AM
Jeff Dowler, CRS
eXp Realty of California, Inc. - Carlsbad, CA
The Southern California Relocation Dude

Hi Mike:

Continuing education IS important, although more important is doing something with it. My time, and money, are valuable and I don't particularly want to just take classes because they are offered if I don't feel the value is there.


Jan 23, 2022 01:00 PM