How CIPS Designees Can Cultivate Commercial Opportunities

Global real estate opportunities can pop up in any market, involving virtually any type of property, both residential and commercial. As a CIPS designee, it’s more likely that you focus on the residential side of the business. That doesn’t preclude you, however, from encountering and leveraging commercial opportunities—as long as you know how to network and build relationships with the right experts.

“Any time we encounter a buyer or seller who needs services beyond our core strengths, the REALTOR® Code of Ethics instructs us to refer them to another professional with sufficient knowledge and experience,” says Norma Nisbet, ALC, CCIM, CIPS with Vista Properties and Investments in St. Louis, Missouri. “The client benefits from those specialized services.”

“Plus, time is money to real estate professionals,” adds Nisbet. “We work more efficiently and earn more by adhering to our core competency while referring unfamiliar property transactions to those who specialize in that area.”

An agent who refers a prospective client needing assistance to the right specialist will also go a long way towards developing relationships that also produce referral business. For example, when Bill Milliken, CCIM, CIPS of Milliken Realty Company in Ann Arbor, Michigan helped British carmaker Lotus secure 8,000 sq. ft. of executive office space in Detroit, some of the new employees also needed housing. Milliken referred them to a residential expert; in turn, he has also received numerous commercial referrals from REALTORS® specializing in residential real estate.

Building a Referral Network

Regardless of whether you focus primarily on residential or commercial real estate, here are four excellent ways to expand and strengthen your referral connections with commercial practitioners:

1. Start with the CIPS Network

Because CIPS designees share an understanding of many of the unique factors that come into play when working with buyers and sellers from other countries, your designation provides plenty of “common ground” for many different types of global real estate transactions.

If you’re a residential agent, make a point of introducing yourself to any commercial CIPS designees in your immediate market—or vice versa. Learn more about where they’re encountering global business and explore any opportunities for sharing referrals.

One of the best ways to cultivate local connections with other global agents is to join a Global Business Council. Over 100 such groups have been formed within local REALTOR® boards and they all welcome members of other local associations. For a complete listing, visit:

2. Meet local commercial practitioners

Beyond other CIPS designees, get familiar with leading commercial brokers in your local market. There are 29 commercial boards of REALTORS® across the U.S. and more than 120 commercial committees, etc. formed within local associations, all hosting a variety of meetings and related events.

Residential agents are welcome to attend these commercial forums. Consider introducing yourself with something like, “I’m not here to take business from anyone, but I do want to know who specializes in what, so I can do a better job of referring any buyers with a commercial interest.”

Every savvy commercial broker is interested in expanding his or her referral base, especially if the source is a residential agent who passes along the client, then steps out of the way. In contrast, residential agents who attempt to execute a commercial transaction on their own, then ask for help when problems arise, run the risk of tarnishing their reputation with the local commercial community.

“I started as a residential agent before I switched to commercial brokerage, so I know first-hand how different they are,” explains Alex Ruggieri, CCIM, CIPS, CRE, GRI with SVN-Ramshaw Real Estate in Champaign, Illinois. “Even with my prior experience, I never get involved in residential transactions and I advise residential agents to stay away from commercial deals. Since commercial transactions tend to be larger, the referral income alone can be quite attractive.”

3. Connect with other commercial specialists

Look for commercial practitioners with designations. For example, the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) has several institutes, societies, and councils specializing in industrial and office properties, land, and property management, among others. Each of these groups hosts a national meeting each year and many have state, regional and local events, all offering more ways to network with various types of commercial specialists.

Additionally, each organization has a “find a professional” online database, providing excellent tools for pinpointing specific types of commercial expertise, including many specialists outside the U.S. (See the table, on page 6, for additional details.)

4. Attend international events

While local networking is important (and easier, logistically), every global agent—regardless of commercial or residential affiliation—can greatly benefit from attending at least one international gathering.

At the REALTORS® Conference & Expo, the best place to network with commercial brokers is in the Commercial Marketplace on the expo floor. NAR also hosts a USA Pavilion at MIPIM - The World’s Leading Property Market held each March in Cannes, France. This commercial and luxury residential property event typically attracts over 23,000 attendees from nearly 90 countries, including 2,400 investors seeking opportunities. An online networking directory facilitates attendees’ ability to arrange appointments in advance. Learn more at

Adopting a Global Mindset

Most CIPS designees became interested in earning the designation because they recognize the growing importance of cross-border influences in real estate markets. When reaching out to the world, however, you never know who you’ll meet, possibly including investors interested in acquiring property far outside your expertise. Your ability to assist clients with strong referral introductions depends heavily upon your professional networking efforts—both the personal connections you’ve already established and your ability to quickly identify other top-notch resources. By applying the same “no borders” mindset to your networking efforts, your opportunities with buyers and sellers around the world can expand exponentially, knocking down every conceivable barrier.

NAR’s Discovering Commercial Real Estate course offers a broad overview of the basics of commercial real estate and how it differs from residential real estate. While it will not equip an agent with the needed tools to practice commercial real estate, it will explain the business and introduce many of the resources needed to pursue a commercial transaction or a career in commercial real estate. This is an ideal introductory course for those who are newly licensed and/or residential agents who want to learn more about commercial real estate. Visit to learn more.

Notice: The information on this page may not be current. The archive is a collection of content previously published on one or more NAR web properties. Archive pages are not updated and may no longer be accurate. Users must independently verify the accuracy and currency of the information found here. The National Association of REALTORS® disclaims all liability for any loss or injury resulting from the use of the information or data found on this page.


About Global Perspectives

Global Perspectives in Real Estate is a resource for global professionals, aimed at helping them globalize their local markets. Produced bi-monthly, this newsletter serves as a how-to guide and is full of useful and actionable tips. A free subscription is given to all Certified International Property Specialists (CIPS) designees.

Learn more about earning the CIPS designation