By Riki Markowitz

Finding a niche in real estate is a common strategy many REALTORS take to find that sweet spot. Selling luxury homes is an area that can seem beyond your reach if you don’t know where to start. Acquiring one or more professional real estate designations is pretty normal for REALTORS who want to increase opportunities and earnings. Certifications are not the same as licensing classes, a broker program, real estate electives or continuing education credits. For example, a Certified Residential Specialist (CRS) is the highest designation awarded to residential real estate agents. To qualify, applicants must have 60 residential real estate transactions or $30 million in volume over the past three years. Agents with their CRS designation can earn up to four times more than agents who don’t, according to the National Association of REALTORS (NAR). Agents that have a Seniors Real Estate Specialist (SRES) designation receive specialized training to serve the needs of senior buyers and sellers over the age of 54. Each year, hundreds of REALTORS in Austin enroll in courses to earn these and other certifications. Kim Dydalewicz, the president of Champions School of Real Estate, says that agents should start working on getting certifications as early as possible because they’re a great investment. Since Austin seems to have a robust luxury real estate market, we asked Dydalewicz what she thought about the Accredited Luxury Home Specialist (ALHS) certification. She said Austin has a great market for agents who like working on high-end properties.

The Luxury Home Specialist accreditation was developed by Jim Remley in 2005, one year after co-founding the Luxury Home Council. When his age still ended in “teen” Remley was listed in the top 1 percent of REALTORS in the country. In his early 20s, he launched a start-up real estate business, which he grew into the largest independent real estate company in Oregon. Later, NAR recruited Remley to be an instructor.

Why Austin REALTORS should care about the ALHS designation

According to KVUE’s Boomtown 2040 series, the biggest population jump in the Austin area happened between 1990 and 2000. Ryan Robinson, the city’s demographer, says the population is set to hit 1,000,000 in 2020. As the number of people here swells, so too does our luxury housing market. Technically, REALTORS are not required to be an ALHS to work with luxury buyers and sellers. And the general public doesn’t really know what the designations even mean, says Michelle Allen, CRS, SRES, MCNE, CLHMS, and a broker associate with Realty Austin, but it’s still important because “the credentials give you more clout.” Also, without this designation, REALTORS can’t advertise their expertise in the luxury market and they can’t use the ALHS logo. That means even if you’ve closed more than half a dozen $1 million plus transactions, without an ALHS designation, you can’t identify yourself as a luxury home sales specialist. 

How you’re missing out

Anyone who’s been paying attention knows that the luxury market in Central Texas has been growing year over year. Here are some statistics from a recently published snapshot of luxury home sales by Realty Austin comparing home sales between July 2018 to July 2019:

  • There were 910 $1M-plus properties on the market this summer, up 6 percent from a year ago. 
  • The sale of $1M-plus properties increased 23 percent.
  • The median price for $1M-plus homes increased 5 percent. 
  • Luxury homes spent 21 fewer days on the market.

There are a limited number of ways clients find agents. They get a referral, contact a REALTOR they worked with on a previous transaction or they respond to real estate listings, including ads and social media posts. When it comes to online marketing, if an agent doesn’t mention her certification or feature designation logos, the chances of a client finding that agent is extremely slim. And foregoing certifications altogether means no listings on professional websites, like the Luxury Home Council’s member database. These days, clients find agents by conducting online searches using SEO keywords, like ALHS or luxury home sales real estate agents. So foregoing the opportunity to pick up a certification puts agents at a disadvantage.

What is an accredited luxury home specialist?

To earn an ALHS designation, you need to take a class and pass an exam. Courses are available onsite and online. Applicants must also close on two luxury transactions and submit an Achievement Verification Statement (AVS) to the Luxury Home Council. According to Dydalewicz, “the purchase price of  qualifying transactions must be at least two times the price of a home in the local market,” which comes to roughly $800K for a single-family home. These transactions must occur any time prior to taking the course or no more than 24 months after completing the class. In order to display the ALHS designation logo, accredited agents are required to pay dues and maintain an annual membership with the Luxury Home Council. The membership fee for the first year is included with the cost of the ALHS course.

What you’ll learn

Kim Dydalewicz says the ALHS course covers topics that are critical to the day-to-day dealings of agents who service clients in the luxury residential real estate market, such as working with high and ultra-net-worth individuals; and understanding wealth, status and affluence. Agents learn how to find clients, how to market themselves and make it easier to be found by potential clients, how to create client-facing presentations, luxury home staging how-tos, negotiating techniques and how to manage transactions. 

Why Austin is a great city for being an ALHS

Last May, Forbes senior contributor Laura Begley Bloom, wrote a flattering article about Austin, titled, “Is Austin, Texas, The Best City in America?” She reported that Austin has been ranked the No. 1 place to live in America three years running, thanks to affordability, job prospects and quality of life. The city also ranked No. 4 for being the “best large city to start a business.”And then Texas received an honorable mention in the article for ranking No. 1 on a list of states most welcoming to female entrepreneurs. The same month, a study by career-news website, Ladders Inc, found that very high paying jobs are more common here than in other cities. These are all indicators that the luxury real estate market is healthy, and agents with expertise in this area will continue to be needed to help clients with some of the biggest transactions they’ll ever make.