REALTOR® vs. Real Estate Agent

You’ve heard of real estate agents. Maybe you’ve heard of REALTORS®. If you’re like most people, you probably use them interchangeably, thinking that they’re the same thing.

But they’re not!

Around 90% of buyers and sellers used some sort of real estate professional in 2012, and we strongly recommend you follow suit. There’s too much at stake not to leave it to the professionals. So your next question may be, “do I get a real estate agent, or a REALTOR®?

What’s The Difference?


A REALTOR® is a licensed real estate salesperson who belongs to the National Association of REALTORS®, the largest trade group in the country. The biggest difference is the NAR’s code of ethics that all REALTORS® have to follow. It is an in-depth code that is enforced by the NAR. REALTORS® who break the code can be fined or have their licenses taken away.


REALTORS® are real estate agents and brokers who have joined the NAR, or the National Association of REALTORS®.

To become a REALTOR®, professionals must join their local NAR chapter and pay a one-time application fee, then a yearly membership due.

The fee pays for lobbying efforts, marketing, and resources like Code of Ethics training, webinars, and other classes so that REALTORS® are always continuing their education.


To be approved by the NAR Board you must:

  • Hold a valid real estate license
  • Be active in the real estate business
  • Have no official sanctions against them for unprofessional or immoral behavior
  • Have no recent or pending bankruptcy

Real Estate Agents

On the other hand, agents aren’t part of the NAR and don’t have an ethics code to follow. Agents are still licensed to sell property, but are not held accountable by any organization.


You probably have friends or relatives who are real estate agents. It can be a popular career choice because it doesn’t require years of schooling or an expensive degree.

To become a real estate agent, you need a license. To get the license, you have to take a certain number of classes (which differs by state) and pass an exam. A real estate agent probably spent between 30 and 90 hours in a classroom of an accredited school before they can sit for the state exam. Massachusetts requires 40 hours.

The exam covers local, state, and national real estate law, standards, and best practices.

Once they pass the exam, the agent pays an annual fee to renew their license. In some states, continuing education is required.

The 7 Benefits of Using A REALTOR®

1. Honesty: The ethics code that REALTORS® follow requires them to be honest about the property–in real life and in advertising.

2. You Come First: REALTORS® are required to put you first. Their fiduciary responsibility is to you. They have to put your needs above theirs.

3. Accountability: REALTORS® are held accountable by the NAR. If they ever break the ethics code or otherwise sully the NAR’s good name, they can be fined or suspended.

4. Real Estate laws change all the time. REALTORS® are obligated to stay current with new laws, regulations and practices. They are constantly refreshing and adding to their training and knowledge.

5. Above and Beyond: The fact of the matter is that REALTORS® live and breathe real estate. They know all about the dangers of polybutylene piping and the pros and cons of FRT plywood roofing. You probably don’t know to ask about those things, but REALTORS® do–and will.

6. The Most Accurate Pricing: Online pricing tools can give you an estimate for how much a property may cost, but often they can be grossly inaccurate. REALTORS® have up to date information about property value in the local market. REALTORS® can get you top dollar for your home–often as much as $40,000 more than you think!

7. Skip the Paperwork: No one likes paperwork. But with a REALTOR®, they take care of it and you don’t have to slog through it! Contracts can be as long as 50 pages, and there’s no sparknotes for this. And even if you did read all 50 pages, would you understand half of it? Let your REALTOR® take care of it.

More On the Code of Ethics

To become a REALTOR®, one must agree to abide by the NAR’s official Code of Ethics and Professional Standards. The code dictates the  duties a REALTOR® has to clients, customers, the public, and other REALTORS®.

The code was based on the Golden Rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Basically, REALTORS® need to cooperate with others to make sure their clients’ best interests are being represented.

The code is updated every year and re-published in the January edition of REALTOR® Magazine. Though it’s more than 100 years old, the code is constantly being added to and revised so that it stays up to date with modern real estate practices. 

The code is important to NAR because they want to create and uphold an outstanding reputation of honesty and morals for REALTORS®.