What Is The Difference Between A REALTOR And A Real Estate Agent?

what is the difference is between a REALTOR and a Real Estate Agent

The word REALTOR and real estate agent are often thrown around synonymously.  

In most consumers’ minds, there is no difference between a REALTOR and a real estate agent.

When talking about the difference between a REALTOR and a real estate agent, we should also add a real estate broker to the mix.

Real estate broker is another term thrown around synonymously with real estate agent and REALTOR.

On top of all that you have listing agents, facilitators, buyer’s agents and dual agents to consider. It can leave a consumer’s head spinning.

It is important as a consumer to know the difference and who you are working with as an agent.  It makes a difference in what level of experience an agent has and what capacity they are able to work with you during the sale or purchase of a home.

REALTOR vs Real Estate Agent vs Real Estate Broker

Are all real estate agents Realtors? Is a real estate broker the same thing as a real estate agent?

Whether you are working with a real estate agent, broker or REALTOR, they can all help you buy or sell homes and all are real estate professionals, they are not exactly the same thing.

What Is A Real Estate Agent?

A real estate agent or a real estate salesperson is licensed by the state that they are doing business in, to buy and sell real estate for others. It is important to note, that no unlicensed person can accept money for the sale of any real estate for others without a real estate license.  

Real estate agent licensees must participate in an approved real estate courses by the governing entity that oversees real estate in that state. 

In Massachusetts, that department that oversees real estate licensees is the Massachusetts Board of Registration of Real Estate Brokers and Salespersons. In most other states it is a board or commission that supervises the real estate industry for the state.

Most states require a real estate salesperson to attend a class of 30-90 hours of classroom instruction. Upon completion, they must pass a state-approved test to get their real estate license.

Once a person successfully completes their real estate exam they are able to help people buy, sell or rent real estate under the supervision of a real estate broker. 

A real estate agent must also complete continuing education every two years to maintain their real estate license.

To start a real estate career licensed salesperson must work under a licensed broker no matter what type of real estate sales they participate in.

What Is A Real Estate Broker?

A real estate broker is allowed to manage real estate agents under their supervision as well as help individuals sell and buy real estate. Independent agents must hold a broker’s license even if they do not have agents working for them.

Real estate agents are just that. They are agents of the broker doing business in the broker’s name. Ultimately the real estate broker is responsible for all agents doing business under their umbrella.

Real estate brokers have to take additional training and take a broker exam as well as work for a real estate broker to gain work experience for a minimum of one to three years. A broker in most states must be bonded as well.

All real estate brokers start out as real estate agents. The training for a real estate broker covers more of the legal and ministerial acts of running a brokerage and managing others. 

What Is An Associate Broker?

An associate broker is a licensed real estate broker who works for another broker. They could work independently or have their own real estate brokerage and have chosen to work for another broker instead.  All in all a broker has more training than an agent and often will have more experience than an agent.


REALTOR is often thrown around as a generic term for any real estate professional. But, the term REALTOR® is used for real estate professionals who are members of the National Association of REALTORS or NAR. Membership to NAR is optional for an agent or broker and is not required.

The National Association of REALTORS has been around since 1908 and is the leading, most influential real estate organization in the country with over one million members. 

In Massachusetts a REALTOR® must belong to a local real estate board as well as the Massachusetts Association of REALTORS®

What is the benefit of being a REALTOR®?

  • Networking- A REALTOR member has increased networking opportunities by being a member of NAR.
  • Education- There are many education opportunities for an agent to enhance their real estate skills. NAR offers designations for many real estate niches. For example, the SRES is a senior real estate specialist who is knowledgeable on helping the over 55 community or a CBR is a Certified Buyer Representative who is proficient working a buyer’s agent.
  • Resources- NAR provides its member with tons of resources from nationwide market statistics, legal help, best practices etc… The wealth of knowledge and resources REALTOR® gains by being a member is invaluable.
  • Code of Ethics- By being a REALTOR® Member of NAR you are also agreeing to a certain code of ethics that are beneficial to clients, the public and other REALTORS®.

The National Association of REALTORS was also the first trade organization to hold its members to a higher sandard with a strict Code of Ethics.

Below find the basic outline for the REALTORS® Code of Ethics that NAR members must follow:

REALTORS® Duties to Clients and Customers as spelled out by The NAR Code of Ethics

  • Article 1: Protect the best interests of the client.
  • Article 2: No misrepresentation, exaggeration, or hiding facts about the property at hand.
  • Article 3: Realtors should cooperate with each other unless it’s not in the best interest of the client.
  • Article 4-5: Disclose any personal interest in a property.
  • Article 6-8: No recommending services for a kickback or collecting money under the table. Keep client funds separate from your own.
  • Article 9: All documents pertaining to the transaction should be presented to the buyer/seller in understandable terms.

REALTORS® Duties to the Public

  • Article 10: No denying services on the basis of discrimination.
  • Article 11: Provide clients with competent services only within a Realtor’s professional scope.
  • Article 12: No false or misleading advertising.
  • Article 13: Don’t break the law.
  • Article 14: Cooperate with the Realtor board’s investigative proceedings if charged with a violation.


  • Article 15: No false or misleading statements about other Realtors.
  • Article 16: Don’t solicit clients that have already signed an exclusive listing agreement with another Realtor.
  • Article 17: Contractual disputes will be mediated or arbitrated by the Realtor Board.

Here’s a quick recap of REALTOR vs real estate agent vs real estate broker. While they all can conduct real estate transactions for you there is a slight difference that may or may not make a difference to you.

Important Distinctions between REALTORs vs Real Estate Agents vs a Real Estate Brokers?

Understanding the difference between REALTORs vs Real Estate Agents vs Real Estate Broker is important.  Real Estate Brokers and REALTORS bring a higher level of experience and training that a real estate agent may not have.

  • A licensed real estate agent is allowed to conduct the purchase, sale or rent of a piece of real estate and accept a commission under the supervision of a real estate broker.
  • A real estate broker started out as a real estate agent and has received additional training. They are able to conduct business independently or manage real estate sales agents under them.
  • REALTORS® are either licensed real estate agents or brokers who belong to the National Association of REALTORS®. Not all agents or brokers are REALTOR®.

All REALTORS are real estate agents. But not all real estate agents (or brokers) are REALTORS.

Should I hire a REALTOR or a Real Estate Agent?

Why Use A REALTOR vs a Real Estate Agent?

Why use a REALTOR when buying or selling a home?

Here are 3 reasons why a consumer who is in the market to buy or sell should use a REALTOR vs. a Real Estate Agent

  • Statistically, a REALTOR® is better educated and skilled about the business of real estate and consistently earns more money as an agent because of their experience. Experience and training translate into better success for their for you as a home buyer or a home seller.
  • A REALTOR has access to additional education and resources through their national and local associations to provide you with better service.
  • REALTORS® are also held to a higher standard in their dealings with you.  
  • By supporting a REALTOR®, you are supporting an organization that supports issues revolving around homeownership. The National Association of REALTORS® works daily on advocating on the national, state and local levels for the ability for the consumer to own, buy and sell real estate.

Working With A REALTOR vs. A Real Estate Agent You Are Promoting Your Own Best Interest As Well

Did you know, The National Association of REALTORS was instrumental in keeping the Federal Flood Insurance program intact after Hurricane Katrina when legislation was set forth to dissolve the program? 

Without the National Flood Insurance program, it would have left many homeowners without flood insurance.

NAR was also instrumental in recent legislation that excluded the delta on homes sold short as income. Giving tax relief to already financially burdened homeowners.

If you have the opportunity consider hiring a REALTOR vs a real estate agent. , you are supporting your own best interest as well.

Membership to the National Association of REALTORS is not inexpensive and is what holds back many agents from participating in NAR. That money spent on membership directly benefits every U>S.citizen that owns a home or wants to own a home.

A Word On Real Estate Agency

When talking about real estate agents vs REALTORS vs real estate brokers we should quickly talk about real estate agency.

An agent is someone who conducts business for someone else. So it makes sense that a real estate firm or brokerage is often called a real estate agency. 

An agent can work for you or with you in one or more different capacities.

  • Seller’s Agent or Listing Agent- They have a fiduciary responsibility to the seller. The seller’s best interest is represented by a listing or sellers agent.
  • Selling Agent or Buyer’s Agent- They have a fiduciary responsibility to the potential buyers and the buyer’s best interest is represented by a buyer’s agent.
  • Transactional or Facilitating Agent- They represent no one and are only there to facilitate the transaction between both parties without favoring one party over another.
  • Dual Agent- In some states, dual agency is where a person who holds a real estate license can represent both parties at the same time. It is complicated and I highly recommend not considering a dual agent.

Final Thoughts

Whether you hire a real estate agent vs a REALTOR vs a broker is up to you, they can all be a good fit for your situation. There may be advantages for you to hire one over the other.  Remember anyone selling a home for a commission must be a real estate agent and not all real estate agents are REALTORS.  But it may be in your best interest to hire a REALTOR

Do your homework and conduct several interviews.

The difference between a REALTOR and a real estate agent is just part of the equation in hiring the right real estate professional. No matter who you hire, they all have the potential of doing a great job for you.

The main difference between a REALTOR and a licensed real estate agent is membership in a trade association. By following a specific code of ethics a REALTOR is held to a high standard when promoting a clients’ best interest and working with other agents. Consider using a REALTOR for your next real estate transaction. It can be a good idea because when you hire a REALTOR you are also helping support an organization that promotes the best interest of a homeowner and homeownership in the United States.

Other Real Estate Resources:

What Is The Difference Between A REALTOR And A Real Estate Agent? was provided by Kevin Vitali a Massachusetts REALTOR.  If you are looking to buy or sell a home call Kevin at 978-360-0422.



  1. There can be both good and bad Realtors and real estate agents. Though the odds of finding a good agent is much better when looking at Realtors. Though, in all cases, prospective clients should do their homework.

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