Realtor vs. Real Estate Agent – What’s the Difference?

22, September, 2023

If you're in the process of buying or selling a home you've probably come across the terms "realtor" and "real estate agent." While these terms may seem interchangeable, there are important differences between them that can affect your real estate journey. Both realtors and real estate need to be licensed to sell real estate, but not all real estate agents are realtors.

Let’s break down the difference between realtor vs. real estate agent to help you navigate the real estate industry. Whether you're a first-time homebuyer or a seasoned seller, understanding these differences is crucial.

Comparing Realtor vs. Real Estate Agent

Aspect Realtor Real Estate Agent
Licensing Realtors must be licensed Real Estate Agents must be licensed
Membership Realtors are a Member of National Association of Realtors (NAR) Real-Estate Agents may or may not be a member of NAR
Code of Ethics Realtors are Bound by NAR's Code of Ethics Real Estate Agents have no mandatory code of ethics
Designation Can use "Realtor" as a professional title Cannot use "Realtor" unless a member of NAR


What Is a Realtor?

Let's start by defining what a realtor is. A realtor is a real estate professional who is a member of the National Association of Realtors (NAR). NAR is a trade organization that represents real estate professionals across the United States. To become a realtor, an individual must adhere to a strict code of ethics and meet certain standards.

Couple tours a home during an open house with either a realtor or a real estate agent.

National Association of Realtors Report

Stay up to date on the latest from the NAR in their recent homebuyer report.

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What Differentiates a Realtor from a Real Estate Agent?

So, what sets realtors apart from other individuals working in the real estate industry? The key distinction lies in realtors' membership with NAR and their commitment to upholding the Code of Ethics. Realtors are held to a high standard of professionalism, which can benefit both buyers and sellers.

What Is The National Association of Realtors Code of Ethics?

The Code of Ethics is designed to promote professionalism, integrity, and fairness in the real estate industry. Here are the key components of NAR's Code of Ethics:

  1. Duties to Clients and Customers: Realtors must treat all parties honestly and fairly. They are obligated to put their clients' interests above all others, including their own.
  2. Duties to the Public: Realtors must present a true picture in their advertising, marketing, and other representations. They should not engage in false or misleading advertising.
  3. Duties to Other Realtors: Realtors must not interfere in the exclusive relationships that other realtors have with their clients. They should respect other realtors' agency agreements and not attempt to "steal" clients.
  4. Duties to their Brokerage and Employees: Realtors must fulfill their obligations to their brokerage and should not engage in any practices that harm their brokerage or colleagues.
  5. Duties to the National Association of Realtors (NAR): Realtors are required to cooperate with and abide by the rules and regulations of NAR.

By adhering to this code, realtors aim to build trust with their clients, foster a positive reputation in the industry, and contribute to a fair and ethical real estate marketplace. It's important for anyone working with a realtor to be aware of NAR's Code of Ethics and to hold their realtor accountable to these ethical standards.

Is a Realtor a Real Estate Agent?

Realtors and real estate agents have overlapping capabilities in the homebuying journey, but not all real estate agents are Realtors. Being a realtor is a way for a professional to show that they are committed to a higher standard of ethics than most agents.

Real Estate Agents: The Basics

Now that we've covered what makes a realtor unique, let's delve into the broader category of real estate agents. A real estate agent is a licensed professional who assists buyers and sellers in the process of buying or selling real estate. This category includes realtors, but it also encompasses a broader range of professionals.

What Do Real Estate Agents Do?

Real estate agents work with a wide range of clients, helping them navigate the complexities of the real estate market. They can act as listing agents when selling a property or as buyer's agents when assisting with a purchase. Their responsibilities include:

Duties of a Real Estate Agent

  • Market Analysis: Real estate agents evaluate market conditions to determine the optimal pricing strategy for a property.
  • Negotiation: They negotiate on behalf of their clients, aiming to secure the best possible deal.
  • Paperwork: Agents handle the extensive paperwork involved in real estate transactions, ensuring that all legal requirements are met.
  • Guidance: They provide guidance throughout the buying or selling process, explaining complex terms and procedures.

Education and Licensing: Realtor vs. Agent

If you're considering working with a homebuying professional, you'll want to know about the education and licensing requirements for a realtor vs. agent.

Realtor Education and Licensing Requirements

To become a realtor, an individual is required to become a licensed real estate agent. This involves completing pre-licensing courses and passing a state licensing exam. Once they've obtained their real estate license, they can then choose to become a realtor by joining NAR. This additional step involves committing to NAR's Code of Ethics and becoming a member of both the state and national real estate associations.

Real Estate Agent Education and Licensing Requirements

Licensed real estate agents' education and licensing requirements follow a similar path to realtors. They also need to complete pre-licensing courses and pass the state licensing exam. However, licensed real estate agents may choose not to become members of NAR and, therefore, do not have the designation of "realtor."

The Benefits of Working with a Realtor

Now that we've explored the differences between realtors and real estate agents, you may wonder what does a realtor do for a buyer or seller of a property. Here are some considerations on why you should work with a realtor:

  1. Ethical Standards: Realtors are committed to upholding a strict Code of Ethics, ensuring that they act in their clients' best interests at all times. This commitment to ethical conduct can provide peace of mind to buyers and sellers.
  2. Expertise: Realtors receive specialized training and education through NAR, making them well-versed in the intricacies of the real estate market. Their expertise can be invaluable when navigating complex transactions.
  3. Access to Resources: Being part of a national organization like NAR means realtors have access to a vast network of professionals, resources, and market data. This access can help them provide their clients with up-to-date information and a competitive edge.
  4. Advocacy: Realtors actively advocate for policies that benefit homeowners and property buyers. Their involvement in shaping state and national real estate laws can lead to more favorable conditions for their clients.
  5. Guidance and Support: Buying or selling a home can be a daunting process, but realtors are there to guide you every step of the way. They can provide clarity on complex terms and procedures and offer support during negotiations and transactions.

Considerations When Choosing an Agent

While working with a realtor can offer many advantages, it's essential to keep in mind that not all real estate agents are realtors. When selecting an agent to assist with your real estate needs, it's important to know what to look for:

What To Look For In A Real Estate Agent

  1. Understanding Your Goals: Start by defining your goals as a buyer or seller. What are you looking to achieve? Are you seeking a specific level of service or expertise? Understanding your objectives will help you choose an agent who aligns with your needs.
  2. Agent Credentials: Check the credentials of potential agents. Are they licensed real estate professionals? Are they members of NAR and hold the designation of realtor? Credentials can be an indicator of their commitment to ethical standards.
  3. Experience: Ask about an agent's experience in the real estate market, especially in your specific area. Experienced agents may have a better understanding of local market trends and can provide valuable insights.
  4. Compatibility: Consider your compatibility with the agent. Communication and trust are essential in any real estate transaction. Choose an agent with whom you feel comfortable and can build a positive working relationship.
  5. References: Don't hesitate to ask for references or reviews from past clients. Feedback from others who have worked with the agent can provide valuable insights into their professionalism and effectiveness.

In summary, the difference between realtor vs. real estate agent boils down to membership with the National Association of Realtors (NAR) and adherence to its strict Code of Ethics. While all realtors are real estate agents, not all real estate agents are realtors.

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