Real estate agents, sometimes called realtors, are licensed professionals who can help you buy or sell a home.
Most people use the words “realtor” and “real estate agent” interchangeably, but technically, they have two different meanings.
- A REALTOR (capitalized) is a member of the National Association of REALTORS (NAR). The NAR owns the REALTOR trademark.
- A real estate agent is any individual who holds a real estate salesperson’s license from their state.
An agent who is called a realtor might not be a member of the NAR unless they capitalize the title.
You don’t need to be concerned if your agent isn’t a REALTOR — agents who are REALTORS aren’t necessarily better than agents who aren’t. The NAR is just a trade association, not a licensing body, so membership is optional.
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🔑 Key takeaways:
- Real estate agents are often called realtors, but technically only a member of the National Real Estate Association (NAR) can be called a REALTOR.
- Agents who have a NAR membership aren’t necessarily better at their job than agents who don’t.
- NAR members aren’t just agents. Membership is open to licensed real estate professionals like appraisers, brokers, and property managers.
REALTOR vs. real estate agent
There’s significant overlap between REALTORS and real estate agents because many licensed agents are members of the NAR.
Agents who join the NAR have access to training resources, member discounts, and professional certifications.
The NAR also has a detailed Code of Ethics that all REALTORS must follow.
The NAR Code of Ethics
The NAR’s Code of Ethics contains 17 articles that guide the way REALTORS do business.
The articles in the Code of Ethics explain a member’s duties to:
- Their clients (buyers and sellers)
- The public
- Other REALTORS
For example, Article 6 prohibits REALTORS from charging clients any fees or commissions unless they agree to it.
Violating the Code of Ethics could result in disciplinary action, including dismissal from the NAR.
🔎 Search the NAR database
Anyone can search the NAR’s member database by name to find membership information about active REALTORS.
The results include what area(s) the REALTOR specializes in and the local/state REALTOR associations they belong to.
You can also search by city, state, and designation to identify qualified REALTORS in your area.
How do agents become REALTORS?
A real estate agent can only become a REALTOR if the designated broker at their firm is already a REALTOR. Designated brokers hold a broker’s license and are responsible for managing agents.
Membership criteria also includes:
- An active real estate salesperson’s license from the state
- Completion of NAR training on the Code of Ethics
- Payment of a one-time application fee and annual membership dues
- Additional training on the Code of Ethics once every three years
Are all real estate agents realtors?
Not all real estate agents are REALTORS because not every agent is a member of the NAR.
People often refer to all real estate agents as realtors, which is acceptable when it’s written in lowercase as a generic term.
What are a REALTOR's responsibilities?
A REALTOR's responsibilities, per the NAR's Code of Ethics, are to represent the best interests of their clients at all times, which includes things like:
- Protecting a client's confidential information
- Communicating with the client if their compensation changes
- Disclosing any known conflicts of interest when representing a client
Because a REALTOR can be an agent, broker, appraiser, property manager, or another real estate professional, the exact day-to-day responsibilities of a REALTOR vary.
Is there a difference between a real estate agent and a REALTOR?
The main difference between a real estate agent and a REALTOR is that REALTORS are members of the National Association of REALTORS.
If you’re a home buyer or seller, the difference doesn't really matter since the NAR is just a trade association, not a licensing body.
What really matters is the quality of the agent who you're working with, which can be evaluated by looking at things like what customers say about them, how quickly they sell houses, and how communicative they are.
Should realtor be capitalized?
According to the National Association of REALTORS, REALTOR should be capitalized at all times.
However, the NAR only has the trademark on the word when it is written all in caps. Real estate agent and realtor (no caps) are used interchangeably in casual conversation.
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