Real Estate Professionals Explained: Agent, Broker, REALTOR®

 | Feb 19, 2019

Real estate professionals go by different names. There are agents, brokers, Realtors®, seller’s agents, buyer’s agents. The list goes on.

If you’re entering the real estate market for the first time, you may find real estate professionals’ various titles a little confusing. But you’ll benefit from knowing the difference. Other professions have managers and employees, but in this area of business, it’s a little different. People tend to use these titles interchangeably, but there are some important differences between the roles of the various professionals, as well as different requirements for using particular titles.

Titles for real estate professionals

The real estate profession is regulated by state governments, which have different requirements for earning a license. In general, though, the titles you may come across include the following:

  • Real estate agent: Anyone who earns a real estate license can be called a real estate agent, whether that license is as a sales professional or an associate broker. They look at listings on the multiple listing service and help you buy or sell your house. State requirements vary, but in all states you must take a minimum number of classes and pass a test to earn your license.
  • Realtor®: A real estate agent who is a member of the National Association of Realtors®, which means that he or she must uphold the standards of the association and its code of ethics.
  • Real estate broker: A person who has taken education beyond the agent level as required by state laws and has passed a broker’s license exam. Brokers can work alone or can hire agents to work for them.
  • Real estate salesperson: Another name for a real estate agent.
  • Real estate associate broker: Someone who has taken additional education classes and earned a broker’s license but chooses to work under the management of a broker.

Working with real estate professionals

While you are more likely to work directly with a real estate salesperson or an associate broker when buying, selling, or renting property, some brokers provide services for buyers and sellers themselves. If you have hired a real estate agent to help you buy or sell a property, that agent typically reports to a broker. The broker handles the earnest money deposit and establishes the escrow account. They will be an invaluable resource in the whole process.

In addition, the broker bears responsibility for the actions of the real estate agents under his or her supervision. While the majority of property transactions go through without any glitches, a broker will step in if there are any problems with your home or rental property purchase or sale (e.g., issues with your mortgage or inspection).

If you are unhappy with your real estate agent and cannot resolve the issues directly, your next step should be to talk with the broker to ask for help and perhaps other real estate professionals for you to consult.

Experience and education

Real estate brokers not only have higher education requirements than real estate salespersons, they also must have knowledge and experience working as an agent. For example, in Virginia the license requirements are as follows:

  • A salesperson must take 60 hours of classes and pass an exam with both state and national sections.
  • A broker must take 180 hours of broker-specific classes, pass an exam with both state and national sections, and have actively worked as a real estate salesperson for 36 of the previous 48 months.

When you are looking for real estate professionals, it is wise to work with a member of the National Association of Realtors who is committed to maintaining the professionalism of the real estate business. You can choose to work with a salesperson or a broker, but as a homeowner you should take the time to interview your agent and ask for references.

6 Responses to “Real Estate Professionals Explained: Agent, Broker, REALTOR®”

  1. Thanks for explaining that a broker is someone who has an education beyond the level of a real estate agent. My brother will be graduating from medical school soon and wants to find a medical facility to buy and start a family practice. I’m glad I read your article because I wasn’t sure what real estate professional he should hire, and now I know that a commercial broker would be a great option!

  2. It is good to know the difference between all of the different titles. I’m looking to get into a home here soon and from the list, I think I’ll go with a realtor. If anything, I’d just be sure that they are a professional.

  3. Ashley says:

    I thought that it was interesting when you explained that anyone can be called a real estate agent whether they are a sales professional or broker and that making sure to find an experienced professional is important. I have been thinking about buying a new home but I have been worried that I wouldn’t find a good real estate agent. I will be sure to do research to find someone with experience and good reviews in order to ensure quality.

  4. Jim Homeia says:

    Thanks for informative article. Actually there are many people don’t know the difference between real estate agents and realtor. Buying and selling a home is considered one of the most stressful times in a person’s life. Real estate agents understand this and are skilled in easing any worry in order to insure the next chapter in your life begins with a smooth transition.

  5. Robert says:

    There are so many types of real estate professionals that even agents sometimes confuse themselves. Some real estate agents add titles and certifications after their names to help them stand out in a crowd. Thank you Michele for writing in detail to understand.

  6. Ron Booker says:

    It’s great to know that real estate agents help you understand values when setting prices of a listing or an offer to purchase. One of my co-workers has been thinking about selling his property to buys something smaller. If he does, I will recommend him hiring a real estate agent to help him set the right price for his property.

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