Real Estate

Realtor vs. Real Estate Agent: Key Differences All Home Buyers and Sellers Should Know

Many people use these words interchangeably. However, they aren’t the same. Here’s what sets a Realtor and a real estate agent apart.
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realtor vs real estate agent


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If you intend to sell or buy a home, you will likely need the help of an experienced real estate professional to help you with the details of the complicated transaction. The two most common titles you will hear are “real estate agent” and “Realtor.” (You may also come across the term “real estate broker.”) Although the terms are often used interchangeably, they aren’t quite the same thing.

Read on to learn more about each of these professional real estate roles and the differences between a Realtor versus a real estate agent.

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What is a real estate agent?

One of the most common types of real estate professionals you will encounter when buying, selling, or renting a home are real estate agents. A real estate agent is usually someone who passes a test to become a licensed real estate agent and works for a broker. An agent can also go by the title of “real estate salesperson.”

Generally, everyone who enters the profession as a licensee starts as a real estate agent, and they can continue to hold this title or move on to other positions if they choose.

A real estate agent can serve any of a number of roles (or multiple roles, depending on the jurisdiction) in a transaction. These roles include:

Listing Agent: A listing agent is the real estate agent representing a property seller. A listing or seller’s agent is responsible for the various aspects of selling a home. They will have access to crucial information such as a comparative marketing analysis report, which allows them to see what houses are selling for in your area. This helps you determine the best asking price for your home.

A listing agent will also help get your home in a sellable condition to attract buyers. They may encourage you to make updates to your home or encourage you to stage your house to make it more presentable. They might also help you with the negotiating process as offers are made, as well as with required paperwork as the deal progresses. A listing agent acts in the best interests of the seller.

Buyer’s Agent: When a real estate agent is working on behalf of a property buyer, they are referred to as a buyer’s agent. This may be the same person who helped you sell your home, or it may be a specialist who only works with buyers. In either case, the professional in this role will help you find a house and negotiate a better deal. They may also have insider knowledge on available government programs that can help you purchase a home. And because they have so much insight, they can help you steer clear of sketchy properties and sellers.

While some agents will function as a listing or buyer’s agent in one transaction and a seller’s agent in another transaction, other agents specialize exclusively in one area or the other.

Rental Agent: A rental agent lists a property as being available for lease. A rental agent will act in the best interest of the property owner, listing the home on various platforms, conducting showings and negotiations, and handling paperwork.

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realtor vs real estate agent

What is a Realtor?

“Realtor” is a designation that a real estate agent, broker, or other type of real estate professional can take on by joining the National Association of Realtors (NAR). This is one of the largest trade organizations in the United States, with more than 1.5 million members. NAR members must uphold the organization’s code of ethics and maintain a certain level of integrity when representing clients. If Realtors fail to live up to NAR standards, they can be removed from the organization.

Are all real estate agents Realtors?

These terms are often used interchangeably, but a real estate agent may or may not be a Realtor. Likewise, a Realtor might not be a working real estate agent, or they might be a real estate broker or other industry professional. However, to apply for Realtor status, one must hold a valid real estate license.

The critical factor to remember is that Realtors are designated as real estate professionals with additional credibility because NAR holds them to a high level of standards. Realtor status, however, doesn’t necessarily dictate the level of success the agent or broker may have in representing you in a transaction. Nor does it mean that a Realtor has a certain level of experience in the industry, since a real estate agent can become a Realtor at any point in their career.

What is a real estate broker?

Another real estate professional you may hear about when buying or selling a home are real estate brokers. So, what is a real estate broker? After being a real estate agent for one to four years (depending on the state), an agent can sit for their real estate broker license and become a real estate agent supervisor, of sorts.

Many real estate brokers manage real estate agents and often run a real estate office, helping agents with transaction details if necessary and receiving a portion of the commissions earned by the agents who report to them. Meanwhile, other brokers remain “in the field,” directly assisting clients with selling or buying homes.

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realtor vs. real estate agent

Final Thoughts

When buying or selling a home, you can work with any real estate professional you choose, whether they’re a real estate agent, Realtor, or real estate broker. When selecting a professional to work with, a title shouldn’t be the only criteria you consider. Getting referrals, researching track records, and interviewing top candidates will be much more worthwhile. Keep in mind that while you can solicit the help of a real estate professional, your preferred real estate agent may not want to work with you. Likewise, you don’t have to work with them if you discover that you aren’t compatible. Canceling a contract with an agent can be expensive, so it’s a good idea to choose wisely from the outset.