Deciphering Realtor designations

The best strategy for selecting a Realtor is to do your due diligence



Online only.


Click here to see more personal finance questions answered.

Q: I am hunting for a Realtor and noticed a vast number of designations out there. Most of them begin with the word accredited or certified. Which designations should I be looking for while searching for a Realtor?

— Jason, Toronto

Laurin Jeffrey is a Toronto-based realtor who specializes in lofts and unique properties:

To be honest, none.

These designations are simply letters we can attach to our name after completing a course or program. But don’t be fooled: More designations doesn’t necessarily mean better.

Talk to people; get recommendations from friends and family; look for signs in your neighbourhood; interview actual, practicing Realtors.

You will get a lot further this way than by looking for letters on business cards.

Read more: Find the perfect real estate agent »

RE Expert - Laurin JeffreyLaurin Jeffrey is a realtor with Century 21 Regal Realty Brokerage. He’s a history geek and photographer and specializes in lofts and unique properties. He can be found online at



Romana King, senior editor and real estate specialist at MoneySense:

With all the designations and terminology used by various agents and brokers in the real estate marketplace, I’m not surprised you’re asking this question Jason. And, to Laurin’s credit, most designations really shouldn’t matter to you, as a buyer or seller of residential real estate.

Still, there are a few terms that are key to the industry—and knowing what those designations mean can certainly help you negotiate the best real estate representative for your needs.

My agent versus the legal agent

Most people use the term “agent” to describe the individual real estate professional that’s assisting you in your property transaction. But that’s not technically the correct use of that term. Legally speaking, the term “agent” describes the brokerage—the company that the Realtor works through. This company is actually the legal entity representing you as either the buyer or seller. It’s a relationship that’s formalized by signing a contract—either a Buyer’s Representation Agreement (BRA) or a Listing Agreement—and is known as the “agency relationship.” That means your “agent” is actually the brokerage, who is represented by the individual Realtor.

The individual Realtor is known as a real estate salesperson or broker. This is the person who represents you during the home buying or selling process. They are tasked with explaining each situation and have a fiduciary responsibility to advise you, based on your best interests.

Both salespeople and brokers are also known as real estate professionals—individuals who pay dues to their provincial council and who are subject to regulation under the Real Estate and Business Brokers Act, 2002. As professionals, salespeople and brokers must be employed by a real estate brokerage and must be registered with their provincial Real Estate Council, in order to legally trade in real estate in their home province. The difference between a salesperson and a broker is that people who opt to get the broker designation take additional courses that teach them aspects of brokerage and team management.

As for the various designations on those business cards: It’s just a matter of personal preference. While, there’s nothing wrong with a professional choosing to highlight their areas of expertise or their chosen educational background, the real key to finding the right Realtor to work with is to look for registered professionals and then do your due diligence.

For a rundown of real estate designations, see the U.S.-based National Association of Realtors cheat-sheet.

Romana King is the senior editor and real estate specialist at MRomanaKingoneySense. She is also a licensed real estate sales agent. Follow her on Twitter (@RKHomeowner) or on Facebook. If you have real estate concerns or questions, please email Romana directly at



Ask a Real Estate Expert: Ask our experts your property or real estate question »

Read more from Romana King at Home Owner on Facebook »

One comment on “Deciphering Realtor designations

  1. I received your link in an update via email and thought I would clarify a few items. Perhaps it is different in Canada Romana, so this comment is in regards to the U.S. real estate industry only. First, those holding a real estate license are not “employed” by a brokerage. They are independent contractors. Our tax laws are quite clear on this terminology and standing. Second, real estate law in the U.S. is governed by state law, so it is unique to each state. Some states title the brokers who hang their licenses under another broker “Associate Brokers,” “Broker Associates,” “Managing Brokers,” or “Broker Agent,” according to their role in the company. The “Principle Broker” or “Designated Broker” is usually the broker on record for the company. Some states title their independent contractors who are licensed under the real estate law “salespersons” and others title them “sales agents” or “agents,” depending on the state. Finally, REALTORS® who invest in their careers by taking additional educational courses to become competent in areas of specialty are definitely better able to help home buyers and sellers. They have decided that the minimum requirement to maintaining active status for their license is inadequate for their business needs AND the consumer’s needs. These REALTORS® choose not to “practice” with someone else’s most expensive asset and instead have committed time, effort, and their own money to making sure they know they are conducting business to the highest professional standards with the highest degree of competency, knowledge and integrity. The National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) Code of Ethics (COE) mandates that we not practice outside of our areas of expertise. In the U.S., research shows that designations do matter for both the consumer, in terms of service, competency and knowledge, and the licensee, in terms of income. For the person who posted this original question, I would have asked what their real estate needs were currently. Are you looking to buy or sell? If buying, look for an ABR, an Accredited Buyer Representative. If selling, look for a CRS, a Certified Residential Specialist, or a SRS, a Seller Representative Specialist. If they are seniors, in addition to an ABR, they should look for an SRES, a Seniors Real Estate Specialist. If green living is important to them, look for an NAR GREEN designated REALTOR®. If they are veterans look for a MRP, a Military Relocation Professional. If they are buying properties internationally, look for a CIPS, a Certified International Property Specialist. I could go on. Perhaps Canada doesn’t consider designations important but for those who are looking to buy or sell real estate in the U.S., I would absolutely have them research where an agent has decided to concentrate their education to know if they might be the right fit for their needs. Then I would encourage them to interview at least three to make sure they understand both how someone works in this business (part time, full time, etc.) as well as to determine fit of personalities for all parties. At the end of the day, you are correct that the brokerage owns the listings, both buyer and seller.

    A detailed list of NAR’s designations can be found at:


Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *