• The Real Difference Between a Realtor and Real Estate Agent

    What’s in a Title? ~ A World of Difference


    • Becoming a realtor is an ethical choice.
    • A realtor can bring more to the table.
    • Search for the best realtor to suit your real estate needs.


    All realtors are real estate agents, but not every real estate agent is a realtor. Often people think that “real estate agent” and “realtor” are interchangeable terms. There are differences, however, in the requirements and roles connected with these titles.

    It might seem like a maze of confusion to consumers, but armed with the right information, it will be easy to understand the distinction.

    What is the difference between a realtor and real estate agent?

    Real estate agents have earned a real estate license (sales associate, associate broker, broker) based on the regulations in the state where they want to practice their profession. The requirements vary from region to region but include attending a specific number of classes and passing a mandatory licensing exam. This career level is the starting point for most real estate professionals.

    The agent and the realtor start their career in the same way; they go through the same education and testing. Yet after licensing, the person with the real estate license can pursue realtor status or just be an agent practicing on their own.

    If real estate agents want to achieve realtor status, they must join the National Association of REALTORS®, uphold NAR standards, and follow a specific code of ethics. A realtor is held to a higher ethical standard than the average real estate agent. This code is of extreme importance to realtors, their profession, and consumers.

    The Basics

    The initial words of the National Association of REALTORS® Code of Ethics address the basics that every realtor must understand about real estate including how land and property ownership contribute to a functioning, productive, and healthy environment. Realtors protect the dream of home ownership for their clients.

    There are 17 Articles in the Code of Ethics which is strictly enforced by local real estate boards. These 17 Articles of the Code of Ethics contain several underlying restrictive Standards of Practice. The regulations are proof of the industry’s effort to regulate the real estate sector.

    All the stipulations encourage excellent business practices. Honesty is a huge deal in the NAR Code of Ethics, as well as the realtor’s pledge to put a client’s interests above their own. Therefore, that is why consumers put such tremendous trust in realtor status.

    Realtor versus real estate agent

    The Obligations

    This ethical code highlights the fact that the real estate profession comes with obligations beyond those of general commerce. Realtors have to act in an exemplary manner with clients, prospects, customers, the public, and their peers. The duties stipulated by the Code of Ethics include all real estate-related activities and transactions whether conducted in person, through telephone or internet, or any other means.

    Realtors have a social responsibility and patriotic duty which requires diligent preparation and dedicated commitment on their part. They have a common responsibility to act with integrity and honor, and continually maintain and seek to improve their professional standards. Realtors stay up-to-date about the ever-changing real estate market, related laws, trends, and practices and, as well, keep their clients informed about the dynamic developments.

    In addition, realtors must work to eliminate any practice which would harm the public or bring disgrace to the real estate profession. Also, they must report any knowledge of conduct in violation of their ethical code such as misappropriation of funds, willful discrimination, and real estate fraud.

    NAR Standards of Practice include the following obligations and many more…

    Realtors cannot discriminate against any person in their real estate employment practices or deny provision of professional services. They must act in an unbiased and objective approach at all times.

    Realtors must pledge to prioritize their client’s interests, but they must also treat every party involved in a transaction with honesty. Their code of ethics offers blanket protection for the public and raises the level of professionalism and service in real estate.

    They must not reveal confidential information about clients or use it to a client’s disadvantage.

    When securing listings, they should not mislead the owner about market value. Realtors must not exaggerate, misrepresent, or conceal important facts about the property or transaction. They must be honest in real estate communications and always present an accurate picture in advertising and marketing.

    When looking to represent a buyer/tenant, realtors should not mislead anyone about the savings realized by using their services. Realtors must be above reproach in all financial dealings.

    Realtors must submit offers and counter-offers in an objective manner and prompt fashion. They must provide their clients with any important information in quick order.

    When everyone in an industry succeeds, then the success extends to the overall sector. Therefore, real estate professionals must cooperate with one another for the good of the profession and should not try to gain any unfair advantage over competitors. Not every Code of Ethics dictates how one should treat their peers. The century-old NAR Code of Ethics, however, provides this unique and valuable perspective.

    Realtor services must conform to the standards of practice in their real estate sector. As well, realtors must not provide specialized professional services in an area unless they have an acceptable level of competence in that category, or are working with a skilled person, or else they should make clients aware of their lack of experience in that niche.

    Realtors must keep up-to-date about professional developments. The existing Standards of Practice can be modified from time to time, or the NAR could approve additional new Standards of Practice. The official ethics code is revised every year to reflect the latest in real estate law and practices. The Code of Ethics evolves because the real estate market is always in a state of constant change.

    How To Join NAR

    How to join NAR

    Membership in the National Association of REALTORS®, the largest trade group in the US, helps increase business opportunities for real estate professionals. Members can take advantage of advanced marketing, prospecting, and brand-building techniques. Realtors become client advocates, market experts, and negotiating geniuses.

    After a real estate agent gets licensed and develops a budget, it is time to make a decision about whether or not to pursue realtor status. Before agents can join NAR, they must be members of a local real estate association. Members of local boards are automatically extended membership into the national organization.

    New NAR members must take an online test about the Code of Ethics as well as pass an exam. Current members must do an online ethics refresher course every four years. Membership in a local real estate board requires an annual fee that covers the membership charge for the NAR and any state organizations.

    NAR members belong to one or more of 1,400+ local associations (boards) and 54 state and territorial associations of REALTORS®. Home appraisers, property managers, real estate counselors, and real estate brokers can also be members of the National Association of REALTORS®. In order to be eligible to join NAR and use the realtor title, the agent has to choose an affiliated brokerage (where they “hang their license”) and attend a certain number of meetings at a local chapter.

    The principals of a real estate firm must join the REALTOR® association before any non-principal can become members. “Principals” refer to sole proprietors, partners, corporate officers or majority shareholders of a company, or branch office managers acting for a principal.

    All agents, brokers, and appraisers who are licensed or affiliated with the principal can join the REALTOR® association once the principal becomes a member. Of course, members of the firm can choose whether or not they want to become REALTORS®.  

    The Advantage of Realtor Status

    At least 1.2 million members have joined the National Association of REALTORS®. A NAR member enjoys a number of benefits including access to discounted programs, research, statistics, real estate market data, unique offers on products and services, online marketing systems, innovative tools, and transaction management services. Realtors can reap the rewards of been associated with other NAR members known for their excellent reputations.

    As of March 25, 2016, there were 1,150,141 realtors out of almost 2,500,000 real estate agents; half of real estate agents are realtors, and this position has various perks. Realtors have access to more organizations (including NAR, the State Board of Realtors, and the Local Board of Realtors) than an ordinary real estate agent.

    For example, when a realtor is a member of a local board, they can attend meetings, classes, luncheons, and charity events, and run for leadership roles. Through local association membership, realtors can network and learn the best practices for their area. Realtors also gain knowledge from annual conferences and ongoing education. Such professional enrichment can give them an edge in the fast-paced world of real estate.

    Of course, these boards have membership fees which can vary according to the board and state. Membership in a local real estate board or association requires an annual fee, but that covers membership charges for the NAR and other state organizations.

    Several multiple listing service boards require members to be realtors before they can obtain access to their data. In some cases, however, these boards might grant access to non-realtors, but only after they pay a fee.

    Since realtors are members of the local real estate association, they have access to an extended list of buyer’s agents. More than half of home sales are cooperative sales in which a seller’s agent works with a buyer’s agent. A realtor might advertise a home to groups of buyer’s agents who tour multiple properties.

    The widely-respected title of realtor is an advantage in the real estate profession. Of course, there are many excellent real estate agents who are not realtors. Yet realtor status adds an extra level of credibility and trust in the eyes of the public.

    After all, it is common knowledge that realtors must adhere to a strict code of ethics which protects buyers and sellers. The key points of this ethical code show why the title of realtor would make such an impression on a potential client.

    Obviously, consumer groups are going to recommend to customers that they choose an agent with realtor status because they are bound by ethical regulations. Realtor status can give real estate agents that extra advantage on the path to professional success.

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    Why Buyers and Sellers Should Choose a Realtor

    Due to their beneficial affiliation with NAR, realtors can show homes for sellers more often and be able to present buyers with a wider variety of choices. Realtors can match clients with the best home for them.

    They should be able to find a property which meets the client’s guidelines and suits their budget. Realtors know the area’s neighborhoods and the local marketplace.

    Realtors can pursue new avenues and help clients to avoid problems. The average agent does not have these valuable connections. Realtors have access to several listing services and extensive data about the market.

    There can be a variety of benefits in choosing a realtor, and specific regions might even have extra ones. For example, each REALTOR® joining the Florida Realtors must pay into the Real Estate Recovery Fund. The fund is created by the Florida Real Estate Commission (FREC) to reimburse any person, partnership, or corporation which is judged by a civil court to have encountered monetary loss as a result of any act by a broker or sales associate involving Florida real estate.

    Just like other trade organizations, the NAR provides members with a unified voice to work for state and national improvements to legal protections.

    How To Find the Best Realtor

    Since buying or selling a home is such a major investment, consumers want to find the best realtor. Ask family and friends about their experience with realtors. As well, there is a Find a Realtor search engine on the NAR website. Clients believe that they have an extra level of security with a realtor as compared to a non-member agent.

    Consumers can meet with several realtors before they choose one. Ask questions, learn about the realtor, and inquire about suggestions for finding your perfect home. The answers should give a potential client an idea about a realtor’s knowledge of the neighborhoods.

    Considering the importance of real estate transactions, it is always wise to double check a realtors’ credentials such as if they have an active license or are part of the MLS (Multiple Listing Service).

    Inquire about education after their original license. There are several certifications and designations which a realtor might list among their achievements such as Certified International Property Specialist (CIPS), Certified Residential Specialist (CRS), and Graduate of Real Estate Institute (GRI). These levels might have different requirements, but they all consist of more than one daily class and final exams.

    Inquire about the number of properties they sold last year, or if they usually sell homes above or below the original asking price. Find out how much time the realtor will devote to your transaction.

    A full-time realtor is the preferred choice. Potential clients should do a thorough check on the realtor’s reputation. Ask for references. Before making a commitment, the customer should also clarify that they want to be represented and given priority in the deal.

    Sellers might want to work exclusively with a seller’s agent, and buyers with a buyer’s agent. Regardless though when a client signs a contract with either agent, they have pledged previously to look out for the client’s best interests.

    Conduct an interview; ask the realtor to explain their planned course of action to achieve the desired results.

    Usually, home sellers sign an exclusive agreement with a seller’s agent. Yet if a client is not satisfied with the realtor’s representation, they can end the contract at any time and find a new agent. Homebuyers do not have to sign such agreements, but some agents might still ask you to do that. An experienced realtor can guide a client through any real estate process.

    home for sale by realtor

    Choosing a Realtor is the Right Choice

    Realtors are united by their high ethical standards. The NAR Code of Ethics has served as a benchmark to show other businesses how to treat consumers in the most exemplary fashion. Realtors treat all parties with respect and practice the highest degree of conduct.

    Their professional excellence is observed every day as they work to build thriving communities. An expert and experienced realtor can save you stress, time, and even money. Put your dream of home ownership in the hands of a trusted realtor; it’s the smartest decision for buyers and sellers.

    Choose a realtor; there is a world of difference between a realtor and real estate agent.

    Read the entire NAR Code of Ethics.