Real estate agent vs. REALTOR: What’s the difference?

Oct 25, 2023 | Ask the Realtor

In our daily conversations, we often use words interchangeably, assuming they mean the same thing when, in fact, they do not. A Kleenex is a brand of tissue, but not all tissues are Kleenex; a Xerox is a type of photocopy, but not all photocopies are Xerox. Similarly, a REALTOR is a type of real estate agent, but not all real estate agents are REALTORs. Let’s delve into the distinction between the two.

The term “REALTOR” is a special title given only to real estate agents who are members of the National Association of REALTORS (NAR). This explains why “REALTOR” is capitalized. Being a member of the NAR grants real estate agents certain privileges and responsibilities, not just toward each other but also towards the public they serve.

One key responsibility of a REALTOR is to engage in ongoing education, which goes beyond the basic requirements set by the state for a real estate license. They are required to attend ethics training every three years, following specific criteria established by the NAR. These ethics standards are so important that many of them have been incorporated into state laws, providing consumers with added legal protection.

A significant part of a REALTOR’s responsibility revolves around adhering to the code of ethics set forth by the NAR. This code consists of 17 articles that outline the ethical duties that all REALTORs pledge to uphold. Duties to clients and customers include putting clients’ interests before their own and maintaining honesty in all transactions; avoiding misleading or concealing information about properties within their expertise; cooperating with other brokers when it benefits their clients; disclosing any family relationships with clients; not offering services on properties in which they have a personal interest without disclosure; seeking the client’s consent before accepting payments or commissions; disclosing and obtaining consent when receiving payments from multiple parties involved in a transaction; keeping personal and client funds separate; clearly communicating and providing copies of agreements to all parties in a transaction.

Expanded duties to the public include refraining from discrimination based on various factors; providing competent services within their area of expertise; maintaining truthfulness in advertising and marketing; avoiding unauthorized practice of law; and cooperating and presenting evidence when charged with unethical conduct.

Duties to other REALTORs include avoiding false or misleading statements about other real estate professionals; not interfering in another REALTOR’s contractual relationships; and resolving disputes with other REALTORs through arbitration rather than litigation.

REALTORs have access to additional continuing education opportunities that regular real estate agents are not required to complete. This higher level of education and commitment in the field makes REALTORs more valuable to consumers seeking to buy, sell, lease, or rent real estate.

It’s also important to note that “REALTOR” is a registered trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and the correct pronunciation is “reel-tore,” not “reel-a-tur.”

When you’re in the market for a real estate professional, it’s a good idea to interview several REALTORs to find the best fit for your specific real estate needs. Their specialized training and commitment to ethical conduct can make a significant difference in your real estate transactions.

If you’d like to learn more about the current local market conditions, explore available options or subscribe to local market statistics that you can follow at your own pace, reach out to Theresa Grant, Real Estate Broker (DRE #01202881) at [email protected]. You can also follow her on Instagram, @theresagrantrealtor, and YouTube, @theresagrantrealtor.


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