What Makes a Realtor Different From an Agent?

real estate agent standing outside home with new homeowners giving them the key
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Some people think that all real estate agents are realtors. However, being a realtor is a specific designation, and not every real estate agent can legally use that title. If you're considering a career in real estate or are looking for someone to help you buy or sell your home, keep in mind that many major brokerages insist their agents become realtors, but it is not legally required.

What is a Realtor?

A realtor is a real estate agent or affiliated real estate professional who is a member of the National Association of Realtors (NAR). The term "realtor" is a registered trademark used to describe a real estate professional who joins NAR. Realtors are located in all parts of the world, and, as of 2019, the association consisted of 1.2 million members from 70 countries.

Many benefits exist when agents become realtors, such as:

  • Educational materials from state and national NAR websites
  • Full-color magazines available in print and online¬†with news and informative content
  • Representatives who lobby Congress on their behalf for Realtor legislation
  • Discounts on equipment and other helpful products and services
  • Training and educational opportunities, including affiliations with special designation programs
  • Annual state and national conventions
  • Legal hotline assistance and access to legal documents

Realtor Code of Ethics

In the early 1900s, real estate agents were considered peddlers. Agents have gained a better reputation since those early days. If you ask a realtor what sets them apart from a regular real estate agent, they will tell you that realtors are held to a higher standard. When agents become realtors, they must agree to conduct their business in a way that adheres to NAR's Code of Ethics.

The strict guidelines in the Code of Ethics cover upstanding requirements that deal with all aspects of the job, from working with consumers and fellow agents to writing truthful advertising.

Multiple Listing Service

Local groups of agents can band together to share information about the listings they want to sell through the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) to make transactions more efficient. Most groups that take advantage of the MLS technology are affiliated with their state and national realtor associations and typically require all MLS agents to become members of both of those groups.

Agents who become realtors pay dues to their state and local realtor organizations and to begin and maintain membership with their local MLS.

Realtors Are Accountable for Their Actions

Realtors can file complaints against each other through the local board or Association of Realtors. The public can also file a complaint with the board. A complaint is based on a possible violation of the Code of Ethics.

The organization cannot suspend real estate licenses. Each state grants licenses in the U.S. and can only be suspended by the real estate licensing commission that granted it.

When a complaint is filed, a Grievance Committee made up of volunteers first assesses the matter. This group does not establish whether the claim is truthful. Instead, the Grievance Committee determines whether there would be a violation of the Code of Ethics if the facts as stated were true. If the answer is yes, then a date for a hearing is established.

During the hearing, the realtor can obtain legal counsel and is allowed to present their side of events. The verdict reached by the committee is final. If the realtor is found guilty, punishment can include a temporary or permanent revocation of membership benefits such as access to MLS, a monetary fine, a requirement for more education, or a combination of any or all of those things.

Realtor Educational Requirements

All agents licensed as realtors are required to take continuing education courses approved by their state licensing boards to retain membership in the NAR. The content of the classes often focuses on ethical work habits and consumer protection topics. Consumers and real estate agents can learn more about what it means to be a realtor on the NAR's website.