Real Estate Agent Vs. Realtor

Learn the difference between real estate agents and realtors, as well as how to choose one.

If you will soon be buying or selling a home, you will need the assistance of a professional real estate agent or realtor. You have probably heard these terms used interchangeably, but real estate agents and realtors are not precisely the same.

All realtors are real estate agents, but not all real estate agents are realtors. In the United States, the realtor designation applies to those real estate agents who are members of the National Association of Realtors (NAR), or whose firms belong to that organization. The National Association of Realtors, founded in 1908, is the largest professional organization for real estate agents. It has over three quarters of a million members in the United States, and it is divided into state and local organizations.

Is There an Advantage to Using a Realtor?

If you belong to a professional organization yourself, you know how much you benefit from the chance to keep up in your field and communicate with your colleagues. Real estate agents who join NAR reap similar benefits. While all real estate agents must pass a licensing test before they are permitted to enter practice, attaining the realtor designation adds an extra layer of certification. Realtors agree to adhere to a strict Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice which protect you as a home buyer or seller.

NAR offers additional certifications that extend beyond the realtor designation. The organization encourages it members to be strong generalists, but also to develop an area of specialty. To that end, it offers a number of designations that a member can achieve, based on the kind of property they handle most often. When you are investigating real estate agents, you can ask about these designations in addition to asking if they are NAR members. The designations that a homebuyer is most likely to be interested in are ABR (Accredited Buyer Representative), which reflects expertise in representing buyers, CRS (Certified Residential Specialist), which reflects expertise in listing and selling residential properties, and ALC (Accredited Land Consultant), which reflects expertise in dealing with undeveloped land, including individual lots.

Certified Residential Specialists have their own organization alongside NAR, the Council of Residential Specialists, with more than 30,000 members. Attaining this designation shows that a real estate agent is committed to working with homebuyers and sellers, has reached a certain volume of transactions, and has completed their education requirements.

Choosing a Realtor

Going with a real estate agent who can use the realtor designation means working with a committed professional. Once you've decided to work with a realtor, however, you will need to choose one, and not all realtors are created equal. The NAR and CRS websites both have search functions to help you locate their members, and this can be a place to start. Ask friends, family members and colleagues who have moved recently about their experiences with their realtors. Talk to several realtors to see who might be a good fit, and ask about the realtor's special qualifications and experience, particularly with any special needs you might have. Ask the agent if he or she represents mostly buyers, mostly sellers, or an even split. If you're buying, you'll want an agent who specializes in working with buyers, and vice versa.

Be especially careful if you're selling your home. You might be tempted to work with the realtor who quotes you the highest price for your house - but this realtor might take longer to sell your house (and at a lower price than you first talked about) than a realtor who is realistic with you from the beginning.

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