“Realtor” and “real estate agent” – synonymous or not?

Apple and pear

Are the terms “real estate agent” and “realtor” interchangeable? Those inside the industry know that they’re not, but they also know that it seems to be a bit of an industry secret — many consumers aren’t sure at all what the difference is between a real estate agent and a realtor, or whether there even is one.

Broker license

The titles “real estate agent” and “realtor” are often used interchangeably. Because using the term “real estate agent” can be a bit clunky and wordy, those who may not be familiar with the differences between the two designations often use the term “realtor” as a shorthand to refer to anyone who is in the business of helping people buy and sell real estate.

But they are different! Although both real estate agents and realtors are licensed to sell real estate, each title refers to a specific type of real estate professional, and there are notable distinctions between the two.

Real estate agent

A real estate agent is anyone who is licensed to help people buy and sell commercial or residential property. The agent may do so as a sales professional, an associate broker or a broker. In order to obtain a real estate license, agents must complete a certain minimum number or classes and pass an examination prescribed by the state. State licensing requirements vary.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, real estate licensing applicants must complete anywhere between 30 to 90 hours of classroom instruction from an accredited college, university or technical school, depending on the state.

Applicants must also pass an exam that covers national as well as state and local real estate law, standards and practices.

All real estate agents must pay an annual licensing fee and renew them every one or two years, depending on the state. In some states, agents may have to complete a certain amount of continuing education courses before their licenses can be renewed.


A realtor is a trademarked term that refers to a real estate agent who is an active member of the National Association of realtors (NAR), the largest trade association in the United States. To protect the title from misuse, the association obtained a copyright and trademark on it. The association adopted its current name in 1974.

Headquartered in Chicago, NAR has more than 1 million members across the country — and membership is not restricted to only real estate agents and brokers. Members may also be property managers, appraisers, real estate counselors and other professionals involved in the real estate industry.

NAR’s current campaign, “Get Realtor,” aims to build realtor brand awareness and is particularly aimed at reaching millennial buyers and sellers through the use of social, digital, online and traditional media channels. Members also receive discounts on items such as certification courses, books and brochures, conference attendance, car rentals, mobile phones, dental and health insurance and prescription coverage.

Take home-message

In summary, consider this a guide you can share with clients to help explain how this real estate agent versus realtor thing works.

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