Real Estate Agents vs. Brokers vs. Realtors: An Overview

There are many different people who work within the real estate industry including agents, appraisers, inspectors, and salespeople. But sometimes the lines between the roles of these individuals may get a little blurred.


What Are The Differences Among A Real Estate Agent, A Broker And A Realtor?

In particular, most people confuse the terms real estate agent, broker, and realtor—and use them interchangeably. While there may be overlaps in what they do, the three are distinctly different, especially when it comes to their qualifications and where they sit on the professional ladder.

In a nutshell: A real estate agent is an industry professional who serves as the facilitator of real estate transactions. They are ultimately responsible for bringing buyers and sellers together and are paid a commission—a percentage of the property's sale price. A broker, on the other hand, owns a brokerage and employs real estate agents. A broker generally has more training than an agent and handles some of the more technical parts of a transaction. Finally, a realtor is a member of the realtors' association. This category includes agents, brokers, salespeople, appraisers, and other real estate professionals. Realtors are bound by a code of ethics and must be experts in their fields.

Now that you know the basic differences, read on to find out what each professional does, their qualifications, and their place in the real estate industry.

Key Takeaways

  • Real estate agents are licensed to facilitate real estate transactions, are paid commissions for their sales, and work for brokerages.
  • Brokers are more experienced and qualified and can work as independent agents or have other agents work for them.
  • Realtors are part of the National Association of Realtors, a trade organization, and can hold any position within the real estate industry.

Real Estate Agents

A real estate agent is an industry professional who takes and passes all required real estate classes, along with the real estate licensing exam in the state in which he or she intends to work. As the starting point for most of those going into the real estate field, it is the most encompassing of the titles. Agents are also referred to as real estate associates.

The agent can represent both buyers and sellers involved in a real estate transaction. A buyer's agent will ask for a wish-list for their dream home and try to match it to any available inventory. An agent who represents a seller will actively market the property and try to solicit buyers.


Agents are responsible for carrying offers and counter-offers between each party, along with any queries they may have. An agent will work with another agent once an offer is accepted, guiding clients through the process of filling in paperwork. They also make sure their clients are fully aware of any requirements to complete the sale including inspections, moving, and important dates such as the closing.

How Agents Are Paid

Real estate agents work for brokers or agencies and are normally paid on a commission basis. This means they receive a percentage of the sale price of a property. So that means the higher the sale price, the higher the commission.

Real Estate Brokers

A real estate broker is someone who continues his or her education past the real-estate-agent level and successfully receives a state real estate broker license exam.

Real estate brokers can work as independent agents or have other agents working for them. Agents who pass the broker exam, but choose to work under another broker, are typically called real estate associate brokers. Associate brokers may share in the brokerage profits above and beyond the typical agent commission.


Brokers who work with buyers normally look for properties that match the criteria set forth by their clients, conduct negotiations, prepare offers, and help the buyers with any other issues leading up to the closing date. Sellers' brokers, on the other hand, determine market values of their clients' properties, list and show properties, communicate with sellers about offers, and assist in the offer process.

How Brokers Are Paid

Like real estate agents, brokers receive a commission once a sale is completed. Thie amount is listed in the contract between the broker, and the buyer or seller. The listing agreement or contract generally outlines how much of a percentage of the sale will go to the broker.


A realtor is a real estate professional who is a member of the National Association of Realtors (NAR)s. To become a member, a real estate professional has to agree to abide by the association's standards and uphold its code of ethics.

Although the word "realtor" is commonly confused with that of "real estate agent" the designation is open to a variety of professions within the real estate industry, including:

  • Residential and commercial real estate brokers
  • Salespeople
  • Property managers
  • Appraisers

As of April 2019, the association recorded more than 1.3 million members across the country, 68% of whom were licensed sales agents. Another 20% of these were brokers, and 14% held broker associate licenses. Anyone who is part of the association is licensed to use the realtor trademark as part of their name. It cannot, however, be used as a designation of the professional's license status.

Bound by a code of ethics, realtors promise to be transparent and honest and to uphold their clients' best interests in all transactions.

Realtors, regardless of their role, should be experts in their field and, as noted above, are bound by the association's code of ethics. Realtors should be honest and transparent with their clients, avoid exaggeration and misrepresentation. They should also conduct their business with the best interests of their clients in mind.

Special Considerations

Perhaps the biggest distinction among the three is that a broker can work independently, while an agent has to work under a licensed broker. So when you work with an agent to buy or sell your home, you're actually working someone who is employed by a real estate brokerage agency. In effect, you're hiring the agency to help you through the process, with the agent acting as the firm's representative.


Every real estate professional is subject to regulations. Real estate agents and brokers in the United States are licensed by each state, not by the federal government. Each state has its own laws defining the types of relationships that can exist between clients and brokers, and the duties of brokers to clients and members of the public.