Matt Holder, Home Owner in Menlo Park, CA

What's the difference between a Realtor, Real Estate Agent, Salesperson, and Broker?

Asked by Matt Holder, Menlo Park, CA Tue Dec 27, 2011

What are the generally accepted industry definitions of each? What should a home buyer or seller consider when looking for an agent? Do any have multiple definitions that change based on the situation (i.e. If you're a licensed Broker are you the Broker in the contract?)

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Jed Lane’s answer
Every Realtor is an agent but not every agent is a Realtor. A Realtor is a member of the National, State and local Associations of Realtors. It is a trade group that has a Code of Ethics that all members promise to adhear to. The Code contaisn rules beyond the laws that govern the actions of agents.
Every state has a department of Real Estate that licenses agents. Agents can have one of two levels of license, a salesperson or a broker license. An agent with a salesperson license must be supervised by a broker while a licensed broker can work alone or be associated with a firm.
Your agent is not the broker of record in the contract. The broker of record is the firm that the salesperson is associated with. There are contractural agreements between the brokerages that create the multiple listing service and cover the cooperation between the listing agent and the selling agent. (The selling agent is the one that brings the buyer to the trnascation).
For instance a home is being listed by Coldwell Banker and Remax brings the buyer. The companies are the legally recognized entity from which the fiduciary duty stems. Each agent has a fiduciary responsibility to the principal but Coldwell Banker and Remax have the ultimate responsibility to supervise and assure the correct actions are taken.
4 votes Thank Flag Link Tue Dec 27, 2011
Jed Lane, Real Estate Pro in San Francisco, CA
Going broadest to narrowest:

Real estate agent: anyone who sells real estate for clients
Realtor: agents who have joined the local/national association
Salesperson: lower level agent licensing standard, must be managed by a broker
Broker: higher level agent qualification, can work independently without supervision

Good luck finding an agent!
3 votes Thank Flag Link Tue Dec 27, 2011
These are 4 different things (although there is some overlap) and I am suprised that so many of these answers are incorrect however my answer is technical, applies to California and may be different in other places:
Realtor: Real Estate agent AND member of the NAR*
Real Estate Agent: person Licensed to perform real estate transactions as an agent
Salesperson: state granted license has to work for a broker to be a subagent for the client
Broker: state granted license that allows person to be a Real Estate Agent for the client

*The term Realtor is trademarked by the NAR - National Association of Realtors an organization that is older than the Licensing requirements (here). They function very similarly to a Labor Union, but also provide some tools Realtors use. Non-Members are not realtors even if they are brokers or salespersons.
1 vote Thank Flag Link Tue Dec 27, 2011
I'll respond to just one term - there is no such thing as a Realtor.
This is the most improperly used term in real estate. According to the US Patent and Trademark Office, the mark REALTOR(R) and its variations are owned by the National Association of REALTORS(R) (NAR), which provides specific guidance on how it is to be used. In short, it must allways be used in all capital letters, followed by the circle R registered designation. Only a member of NAR may be referred to as a REALTOR(R).
(Visit the NAR website for more info:
As a NAR member, I urge proper use of the REALTOR(R) designation because there are a growing number of non-NAR members now referring to themselves as realtors or Realtors, which only confuses the consumer. In my informal poll of clients, I've found that many of them believe "realtor" and "agent" mean the same thing. Obviously, this is not true. If we look in a dictionary, the word "realtor" either does not exist or is listed in its proper form per NAR rules and is defined as a NAR member.
The biggest difference between a licensed agent and a REALTOR(R) is NAR membership, and most importantly compliance with NAR's Code of Ethics. The Code is not just words on paper and an oath that REALTOR(S) take to uphold it, it also represents a system of local and state associations who have the authority to investigate Code violations and take appropriate disciplinary action, if required. No such code or system of self-policing exists for agents, realtors, or Realtors.
It is very important that NAR members use the REALTOR(R) designation properly, both to show pride in their membership and to communicate to the general public that REALTOR(R) has a very specific meaning. There are those who say it's no big deal, but we are in an industry where details always matter.
My advice to consumers is to never hire a realtor or Realtor, not even a Realtor(R). Always hire a REALTOR(R). Proper use of the designation is the best way to tell if a REALTOR(R) is the real thing or just a pretender.
I yield the soap box...
1 vote Thank Flag Link Tue Dec 27, 2011
Hi Matt,

Happy Holidays to you! I hope all is well with you and the rest of the Trulia Crew.

It's pretty simple really. A Real Estate Agent and Salesperson are basically the same thing but with a preference in what that individual wants to be called. You'll also see the term Sales Associate used too. These are people that are licensed in their respective states after completing the necessary course work and passing the State Exam to take part in activities that require licensing. A Realtor is a Real Estate Agent who joins an organization like the National Association of Realtors (NAR) and takes an ethics exams along with continuing education to remain an active member. There is also a membership fee to be a member. A Broker must take a separate exam requiring more specific and detailed course work and is essentially responsible for all the agents in their "firm". You may take the Broker's Exam if you hold a 4 year college degree which include a set of statutory pre-licensing courses or have had a total of 2+ years of real estate experience as an agent. An Agent "hangs their license" with said Broker and cannot practice without doing this first.

I hope this is helpful.


1 vote Thank Flag Link Tue Dec 27, 2011
My oh My you really got a lot of answers But give John Souerbry's answer another look.... As he is right,
but I also know that the public is utterly confused with all these different expressions and I have also seen
real estate consultant, yes.... well in Illinois soon all of us will be brokers or managing brokers, and yes
if and when it comes to REALTOR look at how nicely John explained it.

Take care hope you got your answer...
0 votes Thank Flag Link Wed Dec 28, 2011
Hi, A REALTOR is a member of the National Association of REALTORS, if they aren't a member they are not considered a REALTOR. A salesperson has their basic license and can practice under a principle broker. A Broker has their Broker license and can either practice under a Principle Broker as an Associate Broker or just as a Broker on their own.

When you sign a listing agreement in NY the Company is the Broker and the agent is the representative of the company. there is so much confusion with the above titles when it comes to the general public. I'm not sure we will ever get everybody on board with the proper understanding. All we can do is handle it one homebuyer/seller at a time :o)


Christopher Pagli
Licensed Associate Broker
Accredited Buyer Representative
William Raveis Legends Realty Group
0 votes Thank Flag Link Tue Dec 27, 2011
I meant that Frank was wrong about REALTOR and Salesperson being the same thing. Honestly, I was not aware of the all-caps technicality until I read it in John's answer and I have not checked on that yet.....
0 votes Thank Flag Link Tue Dec 27, 2011
Hi Matt,

The basics are that the state licenses salespeople and brokers. Broker is the highest status with the state.

What you may be talking about is representation.

If you are selling your home, you want to find a person who is licensed that you are comfortable with that will represent you and only you.

They must be employed by a company that has a managing broker (or they may be that managing broker). That being said, there can be many brokers working for a brokerage firm that is headed by the Managing broker.

One last thing, I suggest that the person you hire be a person that does not do dual agency. That means is that they only represent you and will never represent a buyer of your home. This way, you are ensured that they are 100% in your corner.

Best of luck,

Fred Glick
CA DRE Licensed Broker #01507615
Managing Broker, U S Spaces, Inc
Web Reference:
0 votes Thank Flag Link Tue Dec 27, 2011
Not sure if it is different in California - you should connect with a Realtor from California to get definite info.
Soon we will all be Brokers or Managing Brokers ..... where the managing broker manages a brokerage office
and the brokers are brokers (they all are Realtors, Real Estate Agents and Salespersons or were so called
in the past), in 2012 there will only be Brokers (assisting buyers, investors and owners in the buying, investing in homes and selling of properties)....

All Brokers and Managing Brokers have to be licenses in the state in which they practice. Hope this helps

And as for selecting, select a Broker (Realtor) you communicate well with, one with some years of experience in your area, and someone who will keep you informed about the activities at your home once it is listed and the changes and activities in your immediate market area.... I always say pick your Realtor
the way you would pick your dentist, family doctor, attorney etc. someone you get along with well, who understands you and your needs etc.

Good luck to you
Edith YourRealtor4Life! and your Chicago and Northern Illinois Expert
Working always in the very BEST interest of her clients
0 votes Thank Flag Link Tue Dec 27, 2011
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