The process of choosing a real estate agent should be a careful one. You want to work with a professional who will not only act in your best interest, but will effectively guide you every step of the way so you feel confident about your home sale or purchase.
But when you’re browsing for potential agents, how do you decipher the difference between a licensed agent, a Realtor and a broker? Does one guarantee you an unmatched level of service, and should you take the title into account when deciding who to work with?
If you have trouble understanding the difference between an agent, Realtor or broker, don’t worry – you’re not alone.
To help you tell them apart, we’ve broken down the types of licensed real estate professionals based on their role and experience, as well as factors to consider as you vet potential representatives.
Real estate agent, sales associate or salesperson. Every person who is licensed to represent buyers and sellers in a real estate transaction is a real estate agent, no matter if they are doing a residential or commercial transaction.
The license is required to legally work on behalf of buyers and sellers in real estate transactions and is issued by the state, with variations on a minimum number of instructional hours (180 hours in Texas) and a test to receive certification. Additionally, most states require a background check and business insurance to represent consumers when buying or selling real estate.
Broker or broker associate. Real estate agents can choose to pursue a higher level of licensing after working professionally in the industry, 4 years in Texas.
The biggest component is experience; the title automatically separates you from others who have just entered the industry. Another major component is liability, once you are a Broker, then you have much more accountability to stand trial independently from your brokerage.
Realtor. Any agent or broker that’s a member of the National Association of Realtors (NAR) is a Realtor.
What makes a realtor unique? Members of the NAR have all taken a pledge to follow a set of ethics and guidelines that ensure their integrity. These codes of ethics carry weight for a Realtor in their day-to-day business practices and cover a wide range of pledges:
1. Shall put the interests of buyers and sellers ahead of their own.
2. Shall cooperate with other brokers and agents if it’s in the best interest of the client.
3. Shall refuse fees from more than one party without consent.
4. Shall not discriminate in any fashion.
5. Shall always present the truth in advertising.
All in all, the REALTOR® Code of Ethics offers a very specific outline for how an agent or broker should think, act, and perform their duties. This is not to say that the main broker and realtor difference is the type of individual—an ethical or non-ethical person. A broker can follow these same ethics guidelines without being a member of the National Association of Realtors. However, being a member of the NAR does offer a course of action if you have a complaint; you can contact your local board of Realtors.
Lastly, someone who is part of NAR is also part of the largest and most productive network of real estate agents. These relationships among the association reach across state lines to assist where needed, although an agent or Realtor may only work in the state where they are licensed, these referral situations can be a huge advantage to clients.
How to Decide?
Having a few years experience or adherence to a specific code may make you feel more comfortable hiring one person over another, but as with any industry, there are subpar professionals at every level of real estate brokerage. It’s important to carefully vet candidates with questions specific to your needs as a homebuyer, or seller.
That said, trade associations like the NAR and its local chapters are effective resources to help narrow your search if you don’t know where to begin.