What Is the Difference Between a Realtor® and a Real Estate Agent?

Jul 28, 2021

Whether you’re looking to buy or sell a house, having a real estate professional by your side is a smart move. However, when it comes time to pick one, certain questions almost always arise. What’s the difference between a Realtor® and a real estate agent? Is one actually better than the other? What about a real estate broker vs. agent? Are those different?

In short, yes, there are differences between those titles. If you’re wondering what they are, here’s what you need to know.

Titles for Real Estate Professionals

realtor vs agent

There are a variety of titles for real estate professionals. The real estate industry is regulated at the state government level, and those working in it typically have to be licensed by a particular government agency.

The type of license a person holds plays a big role in the professional titles they can use. However, voluntary membership in certain organizations is also a factor.

The most common titles for real estate professionals include:

  • Real Estate Agent
  • Realtor©
  • Real Estate Broker

In some cases, a real estate agent may also be referred to as a real estate salesperson. The terms are largely considered interchangeable.

There are other titles people may encounter. In most cases, these are specializations within one of the categories above. For example, buyer’s agent and seller’s agent (or listing agent) are widely used, reflecting the real estate professional’s position within a real estate transaction.

Similarly, some real estate professionals are referred to as rental agents. That denotes their focus on the rental market over the sales market.

However, most of the confusion regarding the titles focuses on real estate agents, Realtors©, and real estate brokers. Often, the easiest way to understand the differences is through direct comparisons.

Realtor© vs. Real Estate Broker vs. Agent – Quick Comparisons

what is a Realtor

What’s the Difference Between a Realtor© and a Real Estate Agent?

Both Realtors© and real estate agents are licensed to perform various real estate transactions. To become licensed in their state, both have to complete specific training, as well as pass a licensing exam. Once that’s complete, they can typically assist both buyers and sellers – including private owners, investors, and companies – with real estate transactions.

Additionally, continuing education is required for real estate agents and Realtors©. That ensures they remain current on changes in relevant rules and laws. The precise continuing education requirements can vary, both based on whether the person is an agent or Realtors©, as well as where they are located.

However, there is one key difference between the two titles beyond differing continuing education requirements. While real estate agents are licensed professionals, only Realtors© are members of the National Association of Realtor® (NAR). Along with following all legal requirements to maintain their licenses, Realtors© also follow the NAR Code of Ethics.

The NAR Code of Ethics is a set of strict guidelines that all Realtors© must abide by while they are members. The guidelines were originally created in 1913. Over time, they’ve been amended, allowing them to incorporate new articles and objectives based on changes in the profession.

The goal of the Code of Ethics is to ensure that all Realtors© hold themselves to the highest standards. Additionally, the tenets serve as a form of protection for buyers and sellers, as those involved in the real estate transactions know the rules that a Realtors© has to follow.

Now, this doesn’t mean that real estate agents don’t act in an ethical manner. They are still required to follow any rules associated with their real estate license, and that usually includes various ethical standards.

Instead, it’s simply that real estate agents aren’t members of the NAR. Additionally, they aren’t explicitly bound to the tenets in that Code of Ethics.

What’s the Difference Between a Real Estate Agent and a Broker?

Real estate agents and brokers do have several things in common. Both need to be licensed and participate in required continuing education to stay current on relevant laws.

The main differences between an agent and a broker involve supervision. A real estate agent completes training and passes an exam, making them eligible to handle real estate transactions. However, they have to operate under the supervision of a broker. Real estate agents aren’t able to work entirely independently and cannot open their own firms.

A broker has the same training and license as a real estate agent but also completes education beyond that to secure a secondary broker license. Once they pass the broker exam, they have the ability to open their own firms or work independently. Additionally, they can supervise real estate agents.

However, brokers are not required to work independently or open a firm. Some choose to operate under the management of another licensed broker. In those cases, they are usually referred to as an associate broker.

What’s the Difference Between a Real Estate Broker and Realtor©?

Titles for real estate professionals

The differences between a Realtors© vs. a real estate broker are similar to those between a real estate broker vs. an agent. A Realtor© that isn’t also a licensed broker can’t work independently or open their own firm, while a broker can.

However, a broker may or may not be a member of the NAR. If the broker is a member, they also qualify as a Realtor©. If they aren’t, then they can’t call themselves a Realtor© officially.

Realtor© vs. Real Estate Broker vs. Agent – Which Is Right for You?

While Realtors©, real estate brokers, and real estate agents can all potentially help you buy or sell a home, the stringent code of ethics Realtors© have to follow often gives buyers or sellers additional peace of mind. A Realtor© can be relied on to keep your best interests at heart. Additionally, they will adhere to all local legal requirements and provide as smooth and stress-free of an experience as possible.

Ultimately, while all Realtors© are real estate agents, not all real estate agents are Realtors©. If you want to work with a professional who holds themselves to the highest ethical standards, choosing a Realtor© is your best choice.

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