Shawn Massey, CCIM, SCLS

What do all those letters after my brokers name really mean to me as a commercial property owner or tenant?

Early in my college career and really beforehand I thought I would end up in some type of real estate profession.  I have always liked to build things and deal with tangible products that create both value and wealth.  

What I learned shortly after I graduated from both my bachelor and master’s program (with a degree in real estate) is that all that is needed for a real estate associate broker to get a license was simply a high school degree and 60 hours of classes (it was actually only 30 hours when I graduated) from a local real estate school which could be accomplished in as little as two weeks time.  The irony in this after one sits for a  very easy test people can then entrust probably their most valuable asset (their house) to someone who may have a little as two weeks of post secondary education.  The requirements for a commercial real estate broker are EXACTLY the same and an owner may allow the broker to handle assets way into the millions of dollars.  The required continuing education requirements are a joke to those who are dedicated to our great profession.

Those letters behind a commercial real estate (“CRE”) brokers name are CRE designations that he has earned by attending, studying and passing an exam in various areas of commercial real estate which I will discuss in more detail herein.  I will add my two point disclaimer now that I have worked and still work with numerous brokers who are very qualified and serve their clients well without ever having earned one of the several CRE designations that I will discuss.  In addition, I have worked with a few designated brokers who in my opinion should not be practicing real estate.  

Within the commercial real estate industry, a CRE designation or two after a brokers name indicates specific industry sophistication, a commitment to business excellence and self-improvement, and, more often than not, longevity in their chosen profession. Attending CRE designation courses require travel, money (the CCIM designation may cost upwards $20k when you add up all expenses) and time away from their core business and family.  Acquiring CRE designations are worth both the time and effort because the letters after a brokers name not only show clout but also confidence of expertise in the chosen field. CRE designations such as SIOR, CPM, CLS/SCLS, MAI, ALC and the coveted CCIM mean that licensees are not only interested in professional development but that they are top producers in their field.

Choosing a commercial real estate professional to represent you throughout the tenant representation, landlord leasing, investment sale or commercial property acquisition process can often be very time-consuming and a daunting task, especially for a local property owner or tenant who may not know where to begin. With so many brokers and companies to choose from, it’s crucial that you pay attention to factors such as designations that help commercial real estate professionals stand out amongst the competition.

The CRE industry is saturated with an abundance of various real estate designations, certifications and accreditations. This is largely due to the fact that the real estate industry spans many different professions and occupations such as brokerage including sales & leasing, appraisal, management construction, financing and numerous types of commercial real estate types including retail, land, office, multi-family residential and industrial etc.  In each of these particular market segments there are many Institutes, Associations, Councils, Societies and the National Association of Realtors resulting in various different designations and certifications. All have very specific rules governing their education requirements and awarding of their designations.

The CRE designations that I feel are most valuable for a client to understand when choosing a real estate professional are as follows:

Offered by the National Association of Realtors:


ALC – Accredited Land Consultant
This real estate designation is geared to REALTORS® that specialize in land brokerage transactions such as farms and ranches; undeveloped tracts of land; transitional and development land; subdivision and wholesaling of lots; and site selection and assemblage of land parcels.


CCIM – Certified Commercial Investment Member
This real estate designation is geared to REALTORS® in commercial real estate brokerage, leasing, asset management valuation and investment analysis.

SIOR – Society of Industrial and Office REALTORS®.
This real estate designation is geared towards Realtors® in industrial and office real estate brokerage.

MAI – Member Appraisal Institute
Awarded to appraisers who are experienced in the valuation and evaluation of commercial, industrial, residential and other types of properties, and who advise clients on real estate investment decisions.

Certified International Property Specialist / CIPS®

The Certified International Property Specialist Network (CIPS Network) comprises of 2,500 real estate professionals from 50 countries and is the specialty membership group for global business practitioners of the National Association of REALTORS®. The CIPS® designation prepares REALTORS® to service the growing international market in their local community by focusing on culture, exchange rates, investment trends, and legal issues.

 Certified Property Manager / CPM®

Certified property managers acquire valuable real estate management skills through educational offerings leading to the CPM® designation. Managing nearly $2 trillion in real property assets, CPM® Members have the competitive edge in every area of real estate management, from residential to commercial to industrial. And property owners and investors value the designation more than any other in the industry, according to independent research findings.

Those designations provided by the International Council of Shopping Centers (“ICSC”) in the retail field include;

 ICSC Professional Certifications serve to recognize professionalism, raise standards and strengthen industry practices. Becoming ICSC Certified gives special recognition to those who demonstrate the highest level of competency in their specialty, marking designees as one of the very best at what they do. The designees are a part of an elite group of nearly 6,000 global professionals in 50 countries who enjoy a prestigious level of credibility with unparalleled industry-wide recognition through ICSC certification.

Management • CSM
ICSC Certified Shopping Center Manager

Marketing • CMD
ICSC Certified Marketing Director

Development • CDP
ICSC Certified Development, Design & Construction Professional

Leasing • CLS/SCLS
ICSC Certified Leasing Specialist/Senior Certified Leasing Specialist

These ICSC designees share a common interest: the promotion of professional excellence in the retail real estate industry. The designations are awarded to candidates who pass a comprehensive examination. The certification is not a diploma representing successful completion of course work alone. It stands for competence, indeed mastery, of one’s specialization as a result of both knowledge in both the classroom and on the job and experience, which can only be obtained on the job. The content of these examinations leans heavily in the direction of on-the-job experience.

In respect to my counterparts in office, industrial, multi-family, management and other commercial real estate disciplines, I have made my focus of this blog towards the retail real estate industry.  There are many other worthwhile designations in those particular areas that are not covered herein.

Some designations to look out for in the future:

As the industry turns green and we look to build more sustainable buildings and communities there are two designations that may be considered worthwhile to obtain in  the near future.

NAR’s Green Designation: The NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® debuted the Green Designation in November 2008. C.A.R.’s first Green Designation class was held in January 2009. This designation addresses: defining “green”; green communities; green homes and buildings; green buyers and sellers; and how agents can green their real estate practices.

United State Green Building Council (“USGBC”) this non-profit group credentials buildings (LEED® Green Building Certification System) and professionals (LEED® Professional Accreditation). Both of these designations are national in scope and the LEED® building certification is considered the gold standard in commercial real estate circles.

I am also working with a group a dedicated real estate professional’s across the country on a specific site selection designation.

Why are CRE designations important to you as a tenant or property owner? 

  • Designations are one way practitioners develop specialized skills that help the industry thrive.
  •  Designations also help practitioners demonstrate to their clients their commitment to professional development.
  • Those letters that frequently appear after a commercial real estate professionals name mean that he or she has invested the time, energy and financial resources to offer his clients an advanced level of knowledge and skills.
  • Education inspires excellence
  • Commercial real estate brokerage requires very specific training within the real estate profession. While real estate laws vary from state to state, competent real estate professionals will earn additional designations specific to the commercial real estate industry.
  • Real estate, whether commercial or residential, is a diverse industry that constantly evolves. Specialization and knowledge of current issues are essential to professional success
  • Global connections to a network of real estate professionals around the globe in which to work to transact business with on a highly professional level with the industry’s deal makers.  This network may provide a higher level of exposure for a property being sold or a great off market opportunity that may to you that only comes with a relationship.

My CRE designations are valuable to me because of the information, expertise and network I can share with my clients, co-workers (who ask me lots of questions everyday) and my students. They also add credibility and respect to my profession, much like a CPA would if I was an accountant. While it is not necessary to have these designations for a broker to be a true professional, they almost guarantee that he or she is one. All of the real estate designations that I have represent a very rigorous course of study, exams, and usually a demonstration of many years of experience and transaction volume.

 It’s often said that “two heads are better than one.” In the retail real estate world, two designations may be better than one as well.

I currently hold a CCIM designation which is held by less than 8% of the commercial real estate professionals worldwide and one of the most coveted and respected designations.  I work in the retail real estate field and hold our industry specific SCLS designation.  Not only do I want to be up to date on the most current industry knowledge and have the necessary tools to serve my clients, it is out of respect for my clients that I try to be the very best broker I can be, my clients trust me with both their real estate business and real estate investment decisions every day. To better serve my clients, I am currently exploring additional educational opportunities and designations through USGBC, CCIM, NAR, ICSC and ULI.

Education is extremely important to me as I hope to elevate the level of professionalism within my industry from my participation with the CCIM program as a chapter mentor, through my participation on the MAAR education foundation and in the classroom at the University of Memphis where I teach in the graduate real estate program.

Are you working with a CRE industry professional? One way to possibly know for sure is his or her attainment of professional designations, attesting to both their commitment to professional education, as well as the very highest levels of performance in the commercial real estate industry.

Real estate is sometimes a ruthless and competitive business. Today’s successful commercial real estate professionals cannot settle for only the experience learned solely on the job. They need to always stay one step ahead in terms of education by earning a professional CRE designation.  Studies have shown that commercial real estate professionals with one or more CRE designations considerably increase their income-earning potential.

In conclusion, designations will not make a CRE real estate professional successful. It is only what the individual who takes the time and energy to get them does with the information that will make the difference to you the client! 

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Shawn Massey, CCIM, SCLS is a partner with The Shopping Center Group a 3rd party retail real estate advisory firm in their Memphis office, an adjunct professor in the graduate real estate program at The University of Memphis and a co-founder and Chairman of the Board for the Memphis Business Academy charter schools (K-12grade) in the Frayser area of Memphis.  

For all your retail real estate needs (tenant representation, landlord representation and property, investment & land sales) I hope that you will choose The Shopping Center Group and me to represent you and your business.  We understand that representation is a privilege and that you have a choice!

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One comment

  1. Dan Schaefer /

    Thanks Shawn: I’m a Commercial General Contractor in Raleigh, NC. I appreciate your professionalism and dedication to serving the community with your best efforts. Let me know if you need a partner for projects in the Raleigh area.
    All the best to you,

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