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Realtor Vs. Real Estate Agent Vs. Broker: Differences & Similarities

Written by JD Esajian
| Reviewed by Randy Zimnoch

What is the difference between a Realtor vs. real estate agent?

If you are relatively new to real estate, chances are you have asked yourself about the differences between today’s most popular real estate professions. You may have noticed various industry titles being thrown around, such as real estate agent, Realtor, broker, or salesperson. This can get confusing, especially as some of these titles are often used interchangeably, even though there are distinct differences. Understanding the distinctions between “Realtor vs. real estate agent,” as well as real estate broker, can clarify what type of real estate professional may best suit your needs.

Realtor Vs. Real Estate Agent: Key Differences

The biggest difference between a real estate agent and a Realtor comes down to the certifications for each. You may have heard the terms used interchangeably, and perhaps you have wondered what the difference is between the two. Simply put, while they complete similar jobs, they are held to different standards as established by the National Association of Realtors. To better understand “Realtor vs. agent,” let’s take a closer look at the role of a real estate agent, followed by the role of a Realtor and the qualifications necessary for each.

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Real estate agent vs Realtor

What Is A Real Estate Agent?

A real estate agent is a professional who assists in buying and selling properties and has obtained a real estate license to do so. Real estate agents can work with residential as well as commercial properties depending on their specialty. Agents can also practice with a certain focus, like a listing or buyer’s agent and a rental agent. The difference between a listing and buyer agent comes down to their primary clientele: listing agents work with sellers to list a home, while buyers agents help aspiring homeowners search for properties. On the other hand, Rental agents work with potential tenants to find rental units within a given area.

To become a real estate agent, professionals must pass a state examination after taking the required coursework. Although licensing requirements vary by state, the average real estate agent will have completed 30 to 90 hours of coursework and must become knowledgeable about local, state, and national real estate laws and practices. Depending on the state, agents are often required to continue their education and renew their licenses every one to two years.

How To Become A Real Estate Agent

  1. Research the age and education requirements in your state.

  2. Enroll in approved real estate education courses either in person or online.

  3. Submit an application (and necessary paperwork) to take the final licensing exam.

  4. Take the real estate license exam and meet the minimum score in your state.

  5. Work with a licensed real estate broker and gain experience.

  6. Apply for your license to begin practicing as an agent.

  7. Continue your education and renew certifications as needed.

How Do Real Estate Agents Earn Money?

Real estate agents earn money through commission each time they help clients successfully buy or sell a home. Commission is typically between four and six percent of the sale price of a given property and is split between each broker and agent involved in the transaction. Let’s say a property sells at $350,000 with a six percent commission. The listing agent and broker would each get roughly 1.5 percent of the total commission, totaling around $5,250. The buyer’s agent and the broker would also receive the same amount. Real estate agents often work with multiple clients simultaneously to help ensure a stable stream of income through commissions.

[ Want to join the most investor-friendly realtor organization alongside Than Merrill and JD Esajian? Click here to learn more. ]

What Is A Realtor?

A Realtor is a real estate agent who is an active member of the National Association of Realtors (NAR). Founded in 1908, the NAR is the largest trade association in the United States. Active real estate agents who would like to join the organization must have a valid real estate license and an immaculate professional conduct record. Real estate agents have an incentive to join due to its good reputation, attracting more clients. All Realtors are required to adhere to an extensive Code of Ethics, so consumers may feel at ease knowing that they are working with agents who are thoroughly vetted and have sworn to uphold certain professional standards.

According to the NAR, about half of all real estate agents in the United States are certified Realtors. Many real estate agents choose this path because the organization actively works to protect its members’ interests. As a trade association, the NAR has strong bargaining power in both state and federal governments. This influence can be used to obtain better legal protections and benefits for Realtors across the country. Essentially, while it is not required to become a Realtor, some real estate agents will find this path to be in their best interest.
Two other ways Realtors are different from real estate agents is that they abide by a Code of Ethics and 17 additional Articles.

Code Of Ethics

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) created the Code of Ethics as an enforceable set of ethical guidelines that realtors must uphold and are strictly enforced by real estate boards. It states realtors’ duties to clients and customers, the public, and other realtors, which are more limiting than state guidelines.

The Code of Ethics comprises 17 articles covering different areas of professional standards of practice that must be upheld. Articles one through nine make up a Realtor’s duty to their clients and customers. Articles 10 through 14 state a Realtor’s duty to the public. And Articles 15 through 17 define a Realtor’s duty to other Realtors.

How To Become A Realtor

  1. Identify and join the local chapter of the NAR in your county or state.

  2. Pay your dues to be a part of the association.

  3. Take and pass an online course on the Code of Ethics.

  4. Adhere to the NAR’s standards of practice throughout your career.

  5. Retake the online course every four years to maintain the certification.

What Is A Real Estate Broker?

Key professional differences do, however, come into play when looking at a real estate broker vs. Realtor. A broker is a professional who has taken additional education and has passed a special broker’s licensing exam. Although broker exams differ from state to state, the coursework covers in-depth legal issues, operating brokerages, investments, construction, and property management. Real estate agents are often required to practice for several years before they can take the broker’s exam. Brokers are responsible for managing real estate firms and their agents, ensuring legal compliance, and reviewing contracts. There are three main types of real estate brokers:

  • Designated Broker: Almost every real estate office has a designated broker who ensures the agents are following real estate law. The designated or principal broker is responsible for making sure operations comply. They are paid a commission on top of a base salary.

  • Associate Broker: Associate brokers work under designated brokers to help with real estate law. They do not, however, oversee real estate agents or Realtors directly.

  • Managing Broker: Managing brokers are in charge of the day-to-day operations at real estate firms, such as managing and hiring agents. In some offices, managing brokers also manage the administrative work.

While the difference between a real estate agent and a Realtor comes down to professional certifications, the difference between broker and Realtor is much more significant. The roles and responsibilities handled by each professional are different. Although Realtors can become brokers (and vice versa), the two terms are not interchangeable.

How Do Brokers Earn Money?

Real estate brokers earn money through commission, either as a portion of an agent’s deal or their own deals. The real estate agents that work underneath them are required to split the commission with each transaction. Brokers can then increase the amount of income they can make by closing their own deals and earning commission they are not required to split with the rest of the team.

Working With A Broker vs. Real Estate Agent

Whether you’re working with a broker or a real estate agent, your experience will likely be similar. Although it usually won’t make much of a difference, independent brokers do sometimes have access to more properties. As brokers are independent and not working for an agency, they can adjust their fees as they don’t need to share with an agency. Apart from these small differences, the experience is more or less the same whether you use a real estate broker or a real estate agent.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why Should I Work With A Real Estate Professional?

Any type of buyer or seller should consider working with a real estate professional due to the unique skills and expertise they have to offer. Here are just a few of their qualifications to take into consideration:

  • Experience: A real estate professional’s sole job is to understand the inner workings of property buying and selling processes. They will inform clients so that they may navigate the process as smoothly as possible.

  • Location-specific knowledge: A professional will know the ins and outs of local markets, including comparable properties, price points, schools and crime rates. They can also help determine fair and competitive prices, respective to the market and property type.

  • Negotiation: Another advantage to working with a real estate professional is their ability to serve as a buffer between parties involved. During the negotiation process, agents often help keep waters calm between buyers and sellers, acting as the middlemen.

  • Professional Connections: Real estate professionals maintain a network with other professionals and previous clients they have worked with. They can provide you with references, as well as help connect you with interested buyers or sellers if so desired.

Can You Sell Your Home On Your Own?

You can sell your home on your own by creating a For Sale By Owner (FSBO) listing. This route is best suited for those who don’t mind putting in a lot of time and research to be successful. Marketing your own property may require signage, a flat fee to be listed on the MLS, photography costs, and more. If you feel confident you can handle these factors, and get the best price on your property you may very well be successful.

For those who want to sell their own home to avoid paying commission, it can be slightly more complicated. Even if you avoid paying a listing agent, there is still a high likelihood that commission will be attached to the transaction for the buyer’s agent. Be sure to read this guide to learn more about who pays closing costs.

Is The Word Realtor Always Capitalized?

The word “Realtor” is always capitalized, as the National Association of Realtors has trademarked the term. This is one nominal difference between Realtor and agent, though it can be helpful to note. In 1916, the NAR coined the term “Realtor” as a way for members to distinguish themselves from non-members, later obtaining a copyright and trademark in 1950. The trademark is still upheld by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office today.


By this time, hopefully, the difference between “Realtor vs. real estate agent,” as well as the distinction between agents and brokers, has been clarified. The real estate industry is robust, with talented professionals taking ownership of each of its unique niches. Whether or not you decide to work with an agent or broker or navigate buying a house on your own, it is important to acknowledge the important work done by real estate professionals.

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