Realtor vs Agent vs Broker A Guide to Real Estate Professional Titles

The world of real estate can be filled with unfamiliar terms, and the titles used to describe the professionals who help navigate it can be particularly confusing. While ” realtor,” “real estate agent,” and “real estate broker” are all frequently used, the distinctions between them can be subtle. This guide will break down the key differences between these titles, helping you understand the qualifications and roles of each professional in the real estate industry.

Realtors: Membership and the MLS Advantage

A realtor is a licensed real estate professional affiliated with the National Association of Realtors (NAR), a trade organization dedicated to promoting ethical practices and offering resources to its members. One major advantage of being a realtor is access to the Multiple Listing Service (MLS), a comprehensive database of properties for sale managed by local realtor associations.

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This access enables realtors to find properties that meet their clients’ needs and to showcase listings to a broader audience of potential buyers.

It’s important to note that not all real estate agents are realtors. In order to become a realtor, an individual must already be a licensed real estate agent and choose to join the NAR. Membership in the NAR involves adhering to a strict code of ethics, continuing education requirements, and annual dues. While not mandatory for licensure, being a realtor demonstrates a real estate professional’s commitment to the industry and to upholding high standards of practice.

Real Estate Agents: The Front Line of Sales

Real estate agents are the licensed professionals who directly assist buyers and sellers with real estate transactions. They help clients navigate the entire process, from property search and valuation to negotiation, inspections, and closing. Real estate agents can specialize in different areas, such as residential or commercial real estate, or work in specific geographic areas.

The qualifications for becoming a real estate agent vary by state. Typically, it involves completing pre-licensing education courses, passing a state licensing exam, and meeting any additional state-specific requirements. Once licensed, real estate agents can work independently or partner with a real estate broker.

Real Estate Brokers: Experience and Supervision

Real estate brokers hold a higher level of licensure compared to real estate agents. The process of becoming a broker typically involves additional education and experience requirements, often including several years of working as a real estate agent. Brokers have a broader range of responsibilities than agents, including:

  • Managing their own real estate brokerage firms, which may employ several real estate agents.
  • Overseeing the activities of real estate agents to ensure they comply with legal and ethical standards.
  • Handling more complex real estate transactions, such as commercial property deals.

In some states, a real estate broker can also choose to work independently, similar to a real estate agent. However, brokers have the added ability to “hang” the licenses of real estate agents under their brokerage. This means that the agent works under the supervision of the broker and shares a portion of their commission on closed deals.

Two-Tier vs. Single-Tier Licensing Systems

There are two main types of real estate licensing systems in the United States: two-tier and single-tier. In a two-tier system, there are separate licenses for real estate salespeople (commonly referred to as real estate agents) and real estate brokers. Real estate agents must work under the supervision of a broker.

In a single-tier system, there is only one type of real estate license, which is typically equivalent to a broker’s license in a two-tier system. However, some single-tier states have a designation for managing brokers. These are brokers with additional qualifications and experience who can oversee other brokers within a brokerage firm.

When Does “Real Estate Agent” Apply?

In a two-tier state, the term “real estate agent” specifically refers to someone who holds a salesperson’s license. They work under the supervision of a broker and typically focus on the sales aspect of real estate transactions. In a single-tier state, the terms “real estate agent” and “broker” are often used interchangeably, with “managing broker” used to designate a more senior broker with supervisory responsibilities.

Considerations for Choosing a Real Estate Professional

When choosing a real estate professional, whether it’s a realtor, real estate agent, or real estate broker, consider the following factors:

  • Experience: Look for a professional with experience in your specific area of need, whether it’s buying a home, selling a property, or navigating commercial real estate.
  • Area Expertise: If location is a major factor, choose a professional who is familiar with the specific neighborhood or market you’re interested in.
  • Specialization: Some real estate professionals specialize in certain types of properties, such as luxury homes, historic properties, or investment properties. Look for someone with expertise relevant to your needs.
  • Communication Style: It’s important to choose a professional who you feel comfortable communicating with. Consider their communication style, responsiveness, and ability to explain complex information clearly.
  • Client Reviews: Read online reviews or ask for referrals to get a sense of a professional’s reputation and how they work with clients.

Realtors vs Agents vs Brokers: A Recap

Here’s a quick recap to solidify the key differences between realtors, real estate agents, and real estate brokers:

  • Realtor: A licensed real estate agent who is a member of the National Association of Realtors, granting access to the valuable MLS database.
  • Real Estate Agent (Two-Tier State): A licensed professional who assists buyers and sellers with real estate transactions, working under the supervision of a broker.
  • Real Estate Agent (Single-Tier State): Often used interchangeably with “broker,” may refer to someone with a single, comprehensive real estate license.
  • Real Estate Broker: A highly qualified professional with the ability to supervise agents, manage a brokerage firm, and handle complex transactions.


Understanding the distinctions between realtors, real estate agents, and real estate brokers can empower you to make informed decisions when choosing a professional to assist with your real estate needs. Remember, regardless of the title, the most important factors are the individual’s experience, area expertise, specialization (if applicable), communication style, and client reputation. By considering these factors, you can find a real estate professional who will effectively guide you through the exciting, and sometimes complex, world of real estate transactions.


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