What's the Difference Between a Real-Estate Broker, Real-Estate Agent, and Realtor?

Whether you’re down-sizing or up-sizing, leisurely browsing for a new summer home or frantically trying to find a place to sleep before your lease is up, we can all probably agree: the process of moving—the schlepping around town, the haggling over prices, the discovery of some previously unreported issue that derails the whole thing—is a drag. But as in every potentially complex situation (and any situation in general), knowledge is power. And while you may not know that your dream house’s basement has a tendency to flood every spring, or that your upstairs neighbor’s self-care routine involves blasting death metal until the early hours of the morning, you can know the difference between a real-estate agent, broker, and realtor. So let’s get into it, shall we?

A real-estate agent is a professional who has a license to help people buy, sell, or rent real-estate. To get that license, he or she must go through a training process and pass a written exam, though the number of hours of training varies from state to state.

One rung up the real-estate-professional ladder is a real-estate broker: an agent who has taken additional classes beyond the agent level and passed a broker’s licensing exam. Like the agent certification, the broker training specifics vary from state to state, but most require a certain amount of experience as an agent (typically three years) along with a number of courses or training hours. Unlike an agent, a real-estate broker can own a real-estate firm and/or hire other agents or brokers to work for them.

Both real-estate agents and brokers can also be realtors, simply by being a member of the National Association of Realtors. (Fun fact: the NAR is the largest trade organization in America, with 1.3 million members). Realtors pay dues to the association and agree to a set of ethics guidelines, which mostly involve not lying about the market value of a property, not lying about other realtors, etc.

Other types of real-estate-professional titles you may come across are all specialized roles within the agent/broker system: buyer’s agents, who represent the buyer; listing agents, who represent the seller; leasing agents, who deal with leasing or renting out properties; associate brokers, who are brokers who work for other brokers; and principal brokers, who are brokers who have other brokers who work for them.

Happy house-hunting!

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