Many people unfamiliar with the real estate industry use the terms real estate agent, broker and realtor interchangeably. There are differences among the three, however, in terms of the qualifications and the exact services each professional offers.

A real estate agent is a professional in the industry who has taken and passed 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.

A real estate broker has continued his or her education past the real-estate-agent level and has passed a state real estate broker license exam. Real estate brokers can work as independent agents or have other agents working for them: Agents who have passed the broker exam, but who choose to work under another broker is typically called a real estate associate broker. An associate broker may share in the brokerage profits above and beyond the typical agent commission.

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

Perhaps the biggest distinction among the three is that a broker can work on his or her own, while an agent has to work under a licensed broker. 

For more details, see Tips For Working As A Real Estate Agent.

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