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It’s summertime, and my hope is that you’re in the middle of a busy selling season.

Recent housing data shows an upward trajectory in home sales across the U.S., and it’s expected to continue. That’s music to all our ears.

What I’m not so thrilled about is a stat in the 2012 NAR Member Profile. Nearly three-quarters of all REALTORS® licensed as sales agents hold no NAR-affiliated designations.

How is it that we’re on the brink of a robust recovery period and only 25 percent of us have taken measures to boost our knowledge, sharpen our skills and differentiate ourselves?

If you’re thinking it’s time for summer break, it’s not. Even during the busiest times, education and training must be on your radar. If you’re busy with buyers and sellers right now, that’s fantastic—but circle September on your calendar and get yourself registered for a relevant course. If there’s any way to fit it in now, get yourself trained in order to prosper in a climate where non-traditional transactions outpace traditional ones.

This year, short sales are expected to be higher than they’ve ever been. Agents who lack specialized training in closing short sales simply aren’t positioned to successfully navigate through these transactions. And there’s no reason to wing it when there are so many strong training options.

Agents who earn the Certified Distressed Property Expert (CDPE) or NAR’s Short Sales and Foreclosure Resource (SFR) designations are earning the lion’s share of pre-foreclosure business from consumers who want to avoid foreclosure and from lenders who are proactively reaching out to homeowners in default. And agents who hold these designations always have access to the most up-to-date short sale resources, guidelines and regulations.

Another booming segment of residential sales is investing. Investors currently make up about 25 percent of residential buyers, a new high since the downturn began.

Wouldn’t it be great to appeal to this active, influential group by bringing value to their buying experience? Investors traditionally haven’t sought out agents, but there are very valuable designation courses that can help you show them that your services are worth it. The Certified Investor Agent Specialist (CIAS) is a great option.

If investor and distressed property transactions are limited in your local area, there are numerous other worthy options for additional education. When you’re competing against 83 percent of the REALTOR® membership that focuses on residential, specialized knowledge is critical to differentiating yourself.

There’s the Certified Residential Specialist (CRS) or Accredited Buyer’s Representative (ABR®) designations, along with niche residential courses such as the Certified Luxury Home Marketing Specialist (CLHMS) or the Seniors Real Estate Specialist (SRES). I monitor numbers at RE/MAX University, and it’s encouraging to see how many RE/MAX agents sign up from month to month for either a refresher course or a new challenge.

At RE/MAX, we’ve crunched the numbers, and without a doubt, education matters when it comes to productivity. In fact, last year, RE/MAX agents who held a CRS designation averaged $22,000 more in commissions than the overall RE/MAX average commission; CDPEs earned $15,000 more; ABRs $10,000 more. RE/MAX agents who held the CLHMS earned an astonishing $100,000 more on average!

Training pays for itself. Just one more transaction a year or one referral from a colleague with the same designation would more than cover any upfront costs.

If you’re really serious about your business, prove it. Show your clients and your competition that you hold yourself to a higher standard. Show them you want to be the best you can possibly be.

Margaret Kelly (CRB) is chief executive officer of RE/MAX, LLC. For more information, visit