Realtor vs Real Estate Agent: Distinguishing the Roles and Helping You Choose the Proper Service

two Real Estate Agent in suit sitting on sofa

Not everyone knows the difference between a realtor vs real estate agent because the terms are often used interchangeably. However, not every realtor is a real estate agent and not every real estate agent is a realtor.

Realtors and real estate agents have different qualifications and provide different services. Keep reading to distinguish the roles and qualifications of a realtor vs real estate agent to help you find the right service provider for your needs.

What Is a Realtor?

A realtor can be an exclusive buyer’s agent, broker-associate, managing broker, or a real estate agent. They are distinguishedby the fact that they must subscribe to the Realtor Code of Ethics, which was adopted in 1913 and includes 17 articles. The underlying Standards of Practice are much stricter than the conduct required by state guidelines governing agents who hold a real estate license.

Realtor Code of Ethics

The primary difference between a realtor vs real estate agent is the Realtor Code of Ethics. Consumers, lawyers, and practitioners alike accept the NAR, or National Association of Realtors, code of ethics as the benchmark of professionalism in the real estate industry. To qualify as a realtor, one most complete their ethics training within a year of joining the association. To remain a member, every four years, one must complete a code of ethics continuing education course consisting ofno fewer than two-and-a-half hours. Here is what the 17 articles encompass:

  • A realtor pledges to treat all involved parties honestly and hold the buyers’ and sellers’ interests above their own. They will abstain from concealing, exaggerating, or misrepresenting material facts regarding a property. They are obligated to investigate material situations and disclose them when such action is reasonably warranted.
  • Realtors promise to cooperate with other agents or brokers when it is in the best interest of their client.
  • Realtors must disclose if the client they are representing is a family member who owns or is about to purchase real estate. They must also disclose that they are a licensed real estate agent if they are a buying or selling party in a real estate transaction.
  • Realtors will disclose a contemplated or present interest before providing a professional service in a transaction where such an interest exists. A realtor will never collect a commission without the knowledge of the seller, nor will the realtor collect fees from a third party without the express consent of the seller. A realtor will not accept fees from multiple parties without the informed consent of each involved party.
  • Realtors will never co-mingle their funds with the client’s funds. They will do their best to ensure that all written documentation is intelligible and everyone who is signing the aforementioned documents has a copy.
  • Under no circumstance will a realtor discriminate in any way on the grounds of national origin, sex or gender identity, mental or physical handicap, familial status, sexual orientation, or race or color.
  • A realtor will settle matters by submitting to arbitration rather than going through the judicial system to seek legal remedies. A realtor agrees to not speak ill of the competition and will not file ethics complaints without grounds to do so.
  • A realtor will never practice law unless also a licensed lawyer. A realtor will uphold good standards of practice and refuse to deliver any service they are not qualified for.
  • Realtors must disclose if the client they are representing is a family member who owns or is about to purchase real estate. They must also disclose that they are a licensed real estate agent if they are a buying or selling party in a real estate transaction.
  • A realtor promises to cooperate should any charge be brought against them and present all requested evidence in a timely manner.
  • A realtor will never solicit the client of another realtor or interfere with an existing contractual relationship.

What Is a Real Estate Agent?

A real estate agent is a licensed professional who helps people rent, buy, and sell all types of real estate including houses, apartments, and commercial properties. To obtain that license, people must undergo pre-licensing training. The number of hours required varies from state to state.For example, California requires real estate agents to take 135 hours of training. On the other hand, Virginia only requires 60 hours of pre-licensing training. To determine if your real estate agent is also a realtor, look for the REALTOR® registered trademark on their advertising materials and business cards

What a Real Estate Agent Can’t Do

Among the differences between a realtor vs real estate agent is what a real estate agent cannot do. While a real estate agent performs the same work as a broker, they are not qualified to run their own brokerage firm. To qualify as a real estate agent, one must be at least 18 years old, pass an exam on basic real estate laws and transactions related to the sale of a property, and complete at least 40 hours of coursework.On the other hand, a real estate broker is held to a much higher standard of knowledge. A broker’s exam is much longer and harder than that of a real estate agent, and a broker is responsible for guaranteeing that each real estate transaction goes smoothly. While not every real estate broker runs their own brokerage firm, their knowledge of real estate law is generally more complete than that of a real estate agent. A broker also has more power and responsibility.

How to Pick the Best Real Estate Agent

Knowing the difference between a realtor vs real estate agent will help you find the best real estate agent for your needs. One of the first things you should look for when picking out a real estate agent is a realtor license. You know that an agent with this professional license is held to a higher standard than that required by the state. Someone with a realtor license will be knowledgeable and must take continuing education courses periodically.Let’s look at some other steps you should take to find the best real estate agent:

Speak With Recent Clients

speaking of her clients in real estate

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Ask a potential agent to provide a list of properties they have listed and sold in the past 12 months. Request contact information for their clients. Learn what the asking price was and what the sales price was. If you are selling your property, try to speak with other owners who sold properties that were similar to yours in key features, such as price and location. You want to find a real estate agent who specializes in the type of property you are selling. Another good question for sellers to ask is how long the property was on the market.

Seek the Right Credentials

Just like doctors, real estate agents have specialties. It is a good idea to find a real estate agent with additional credentials related to your situation. The most reputable ones take additional training courses in particular areas. Some designations a real estate agent may have include:

  • CRS – certified residential specialist (qualified to handle residential real estate)
  • ABR – accredited buyer’s representative (qualified them to represent buyers in real estate transactions)
  • SRES – seniors real estate specialist (has completed training to help both buyers and sellers who are 50 years of age or older)

Look at Current Listings

When considering a potential real estate agent, check her current online listings. Places to find these listings include her agency’s website and other sites, like, a searchable database of properties currently on the market. Since most buyers begin their property search online, you want an agent who uses this space effectively.Look at how attractive the online listings are and how similar the properties are to what you are trying to sell, purchase, or rent. Are they in a similar area? Are they in a similar geographic region? You should find enough listings that the business appears healthy but not so many that you expect a several day turnaround time on your call.

Gauge the Agent’s Local Knowledge

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The best real estate agent will be extremely knowledgeable about local properties. Mention a property in your area that is either for sale or was recently sold. If she is familiar with the property and can share a few details with you, then she is on top of the market and really knows your area. This is the type of agent you should be looking for.

Look for Experience

To tell how long an agent has been practicing, ask your state licensing authority. If you feel comfortable being direct, you can ask the agent. The ideal real estate agent has been in business for at least five years. Your real estate agent should also be able to demonstrate knowledge of your area of interest and properties in your price range.

Look for Exceptional Communication Skills

As important as experience is, excellent verbal and written communication are just as important. Beyond looking at an agent’s current listings, look at their signage, brochures, and website. You want an honest real estate agent who can effectively communicate what it will take to get your asking price in a reasonable amount of time.

Look for a Human Connection

Your real estate agent should connect with you on an interpersonal level. Take note of how the broker or agent listens to you and asks you follow-up questions about your goals. Technology goes a long way in helping you find the perfect property to purchase or getting your property seen by potential buyers. However, a person is required to understand your particular goals and execute the required strategies to achieve these goals.

Ask About Professional Awards

awarding for best and good real estate

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Look for professional awards, including awards given by peers. For example, “Realtor of the Year” is an award given by the local or state branch of the National Association of Realtors. Whether you are buying or selling a property, you want the best of the best. If a professional association, or even a group of peers, has recognized an agent as exceptional, that is someone you might want to work with. 

Check for Disciplinary Actions

Your state does more than just license real estate agents. It also disciplines them. When you reach out to your state’s regulatory body to confirm the licensure of a real estate agent, ask if they have had any complaints or disciplinary actions. You may be able to find this information online.

Realtor vs Real Estate Agent: The Bottom Line

There are significant differences between a realtor vs real estate agent. While real estate agents are licensed professionals who have completed education related to real estate transactions and law, a realtor is held to a higher standard. When looking for the ideal real estate agent, first look for one who is a realtor.Then, speak to current clients and get referrals if possible. Your real estate agent should be knowledgeable in the area you are interested in and properties in your price range. Look for additional relevant credentials and find someone who you can relate with on a personal level and communicates effectively.

Featured Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

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