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Real Estate 101: The key differences between real estate agents and realtors

By Beni Restea | May 15, 2024

Do you know how the terms “real estate agent” and “Realtor” often get tossed around like they’re one and the same? Well, here’s the thing: there’s actually a bit of a difference between the two. It’s like those insider secrets in the industry that can leave clients scratching their heads. But don’t worry, we’ve got your back. In this article, we’re going to unpack the difference between a real estate agent and a Realtor so you can navigate the property world like a pro. Keep reading to get the lowdown and clear any confusion you may have. 

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

Alright, let’s get into the nitty-gritty of it all - what’s the real difference between a Realtor and a regular real estate agent

So, picture this: all Realtors are real estate agents, but not every real estate agent is a Realtor. It’s a bit like a riddle, but once you unravel it, it’s pretty straightforward. 

Here’s the lowdown: A real estate agent is someone who’s gone through the hoops of getting licensed to sell property. This involves diving into 100+ hours of coursework and taking a state exam. They usually work under a broker, who sort of acts like their supervisor and takes a piece of their commission.

Now, A realtor, well, they’re a special breed of a real estate agent. They’re card-carrying members of the National Association of Realtors (NAR), which, despite the recent NAR commission lawsuit, is one of the largest trade associations in the US. Think of it as joining an exclusive club with fancy benefits and a strict code of ethics. Realtors are held to a higher standard of behavior set by the NAR, so you can trust them to be upfront, ethical, and knowledgeable about the market.  

Oh, and here’s a fun fact: “Realtor” is actually a trademark title, so it always gets the royal treatment with a capital “R.” If you spot it written in lowercase, someone’s not following the rules. 

Long story short, while both real estate agents and Realtors do pretty much the same thing, Realtors have to jump through a few more hoops and follow stricter rules. But hey, that just means you’re getting someone dedicated to their craft and with your best interest at heart.   

What is a real estate agent?

Let’s take a closer look at what real estate agents really do. It’s not just about showing nice houses and putting up “For Sale” signs. 

Real estate agents are licensed professionals who help people buy and sell homes. They’re like the go-betweens for buyers and sellers, guiding them through the whole process. 

Their job includes things like figuring out property values, marketing homes, negotiating deals, and handling all the nitty-gritty details of buying or selling. They must know much about the market, prices, mortgages, and legal stuff. 

Becoming a real estate agent isn’t something you decide to do one day. After taking around 100 hours of real estate classes, you must pass a state exam. It’s a legit profession.

Their day-to-day is busy- hosting open houses, making calls, meeting clients, negotiating contracts, and dealing with heaps of paperwork. 

Ultimately, their goal is to ensure their clients have successful real estate deals, whether finding their dream home or selling their property for a price they’re happy with. 

How to become a real estate agent?

So, you’re interested in becoming a real estate agent? Let’s break it down. First things first, check out your state requirements for licensing. Each state has its rules, so do some research upfront to avoid headaches later. 

Once you’ve got the state specifics down, it’s time to hit the books. Before you can get your license, you’ll need to complete some coursework from an accredited real estate school. Expect about 60 to 90 hours of studying, and yes, there’s a test involved - actually, two tests: one national exam covering general real estate principles and another focusing on your state’s laws. 

Once you’ve passed those exams, it’s time to find a real estate brokerage to work with. These are agencies where agents operate. New agents need to team up with a sponsoring broker who will guide them through their first transactions and take a cut of their commissions. 

And now, for the fun part - once you’re settled with a broker, you can start building your client base. You’ll be showing homes, negotiating deals, filling out contracts - all the exciting stuff that real estate agents do daily. 

What is a Realtor?

A Realtor is basically a real estate agent who’s part of the National Association of Realtors (NAR), the biggest trade group in the U.S., formed in 1908. Being a Realtor is a big deal because it shows you’re serious about your job and abide by a strict Code of Ethics. 

Why the fancy title? Well, “Realtor” has actually been trademarked by NAR since 1916, and it’s like a badge of honor for members. 

So, why join NAR and become a Realtor? Three reasons: First, aligning yourself with an organization known for high ethical standards gives clients more confidence in your abilities. Secondly, NAR provides many resources like education, research, and networking events, which can help you stay ahead in the game. And lastly, as a Realtor, you get a say in shaping the future of the real estate industry through NAR’s advocacy efforts. 

In simple terms, being a Realtor means committing to being a better, more ethical real estate agent with the support of a strong association. 

How to become a Realtor?

If you want to join the NAR, you must first be a licensed real estate agent, meaning you’ve completed your state’s education requirements and passed the licensing exam. Then, you apply to NAR, but it’s not just paperwork and fees; you must also join a local real estate board affiliated with NAR. This ensures you’re part of a professional community. 

As part of the application, you agree to follow NAR’s strict Code of Ethics, which sets Realtors apart. You must also take an ethics training course every three years to stay aligned with NAR’s standards.


In wrapping up, it's clear that distinguishing between a real estate agent and a Realtor is vital for anyone diving into the property market. While both play roles in buying and selling homes, Realtors are a special breed within this field, holding membership in the National Association of Realtors (NAR) and abiding by its strict Code of Ethics. Becoming a Realtor involves more than just getting licensed; it entails joining a local real estate board associated with NAR and committing to continuous ethics training. Opting for a Realtor ensures clients a higher standard of professionalism, ethics, and dedication to their needs, ultimately enhancing their real estate journey. But that doesn’t mean real estate agents can’t deliver the same level of professionalism and ethics. You can find dedicated real estate agents who choose not to adhere to NAR and can satisfy your real estate needs very well.

Beni is very passionate about real estate, finance and traveling, which is the motivating force behind the inspiring topics he writes about for
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