What’s the difference between a realtor, broker, and agent?

  • Real estate agents are licensed to help you buy, sell, and rent properties. They must work for a broker or a brokerage and cannot work independently.
  • Brokers are agents who have gone through additional education and licensing requirements that allow them to work independently or hire other agents to work for them.
  • Realtors are agents or brokers who are also members of the National Association of Realtors (NAR), a trade association that holds its members to a strict code of ethics.
In this article:

There's a central figure in the story of buying or selling your home: A person who is there with you from start to finish, guiding you through the process's practical and emotional ups and downs. This person is your realtor. Wait, they’re your broker. No, they’re your real estate agent.

The terms used to describe this person can be slippery, and while realtors, brokers, and agents are all real estate professionals licensed to help you buy, sell, or rent a home, their training and the scope of their abilities differ.

What does a real estate agent do?

Broadly speaking, real estate agents assist customers in property transactions. On a more granular level, they steer the deal to completion — all the way from start to finish.

This is no simple task. Real estate transactions are multi-faceted, with legal, financial, and logistical components. Behind each of those elements are people: notaries, real estate lawyers, and other agents; banks and lenders; buyers, sellers, and their families.

It is the job of the real estate agent to advocate on behalf of their client to all of these parties, while shepherding their client through their responsibilities in the transaction.

Real estate agents’ training

To become a real estate agent, you must complete a pre-licensing training course. The requirements of the course vary by state, but they take as many as 135 hours in California, or as little as 63 hours in Florida. Generally, the courses cover:

  • State and local laws and regulations
  • The pricing and valuation processes
  • Real estate financing
  • Contracts and sales
  • Assessments and taxes

Once a candidate has completed their state’s required course, they are eligible to take the real estate licensing exam and activate their license once they pass. Real estate agents may then join a brokerage, where they will be supervised by a more experienced broker.

Types of real estate agents

Not all agents have the same responsibilities in the real estate world. These are the most common types of agents: 

  • Seller’s agent (aka listing agent): This real estate agent represents you in the sale of your property. They advise sellers from home prep to closing day; their responsibilities include preparing the home for sale, photographing the property, creating and marketing the listing, hosting showings, and negotiating for the seller at the closing table.
  • Buyer’s agent: This real estate agent represents you in the purchase of a property. Their responsibilities include finding you compelling listings, helping you put in offers, guiding you through all the stages of closing, and negotiating for you. 
  • Dual agent: A dual agent represents both the buyer and seller in a property transaction. They can offer some cost savings, but many industry experts view dual agency as a dangerous conflict of interests: How can a dual agent effectively advocate for one party while representing both? Because of this, dual agency is prohibited in Alaska, Colorado, Florida, Kansas, Maryland, Texas, Vermont, and Wyoming.

Learn about the difference between a listing and selling agent.

Realtor vs real estate agent

Realtors can be real estate agents or brokers, but to be called a realtor, an agent or broker must be a member of the National Association of Realtors (NAR). The NAR is an organization that fosters professional behavior and the development of real estate professionals. It is America’s largest trade organization, representing 1.5 million members.

According NAR, 67% of realtors were licensed agents, with 35% holding either broker or associate broker licenses. So why take the extra steps to become a realtor? Realtors have access to special benefits organized by the NAR, such as tools to enhance their business, real estate market data, and educational opportunities. 

National Association of Realtors Code of Ethics

One of the distinguishing characteristics of the NAR is that it holds its members to a strict code of ethics, which dates back to 1913. The code was one of the first of its kind adopted by any business group and was created to ensure that realtors provide the highest quality service while furthering their clients’ best interests.

Real estate has a long, fraught history of discrimination that remains today. In 2020, the NAR addressed growing awareness and concern about bias in real estate by revising its code to make its commitment to antidiscrimination explicit and introducing training around implicit bias.

Real estate agent vs broker

A broker is a real estate professional who has gone through additional training and licensure to obtain the title of broker. A broker’s license allows these real estate experts to work independently, free of the supervision of a firm. It also enables them to open their own firm, and hire and advise agents.

Real estate brokers’ training

To become a licensed broker, you must first be a real estate agent. While the requirements vary by state, most call for candidates to have worked as an agent for two to three years before applying to become a broker

Agents who meet this experience requirement must complete additional coursework and pass a final exam. Once they’ve done so, they are free to exercise their new responsibilities, either independently or at a firm.

Types of real estate brokers

There are three different tiers of brokers:

  • Associate broker: These licensed brokers choose to work under another broker and typically do not supervise agents.
  • Managing broker: These brokers oversee the daily operations of a brokerage. This includes hiring and training agents, managing staff, and overseeing transactions.
  • Principal or designated broker: Brokers with this title typically supervise agents to ensure they comply with real estate laws and standards. Real estate offices are required to have at least one designated broker.

Differences between real estate agents, brokers, and realtors

The nuances between real estate agents, brokers, and realtors can get redundant for the average homebuyer or seller. It can be helpful to know their major differences:

Agents Brokers Realtors
Licensed real estate professional
Can help you buy sell or rent
Can work independently It depends
Can supervises other agents It depends
Member of National Association of Realtors (NAR) It depends It depends

When you buy or sell your home with Orchard, you’ll work with licensed agents and realtors with local knowledge and experience.

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