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  • Writer's pictureDiana Manaker

Realtor vs Real Estate Agent: What is the difference?

These terms are often used interchangeably, but they’re actually very different.

A realtor is a licensed professional who belongs to the National Association of Realtors (NAR). However, a real estate agent is a licensed professional who works in the real estate industry but is not a member of the NAR.

Both realtors and real estate agents help people buy, sell, and rent properties.

But understanding the differences between them is critical.

What is a Realtor?

A Realtor is a real estate professional who is also a member of the National Association of Realtors (NAR). The NAR is a trade association that sets standards for its members and provides them with resources and support. A Realtor has all the training, licensing, and education of a real estate agent, but has taken an additional step to join NAR. As a consequence, the Realtor is also bound by the NAR code of ethics.

NAR was founded in 1908. It’s the largest professional trade association in the United States, with more than 1.5 million members. NAR’s membership consists of real estate brokers, agents, appraisers, and other industry professionals.

The organization lobbies on behalf of its members and the real estate industry at large on issues such as homeownership, business taxation, and professional regulation. It also provides its members with resources such as training courses, publications, and a national real estate listing database.

What is a real estate agent?

A real estate agent is a professional who helps people buy, sell, or lease property. Real estate agents typically work for a real estate broker or another real estate professional. A real estate agent can be a Realtor but being a real estate agent doesn’t necessarily imply that one is a realtor.

To become a real estate agent, you must first complete the necessary education and training. This typically includes completing a real estate pre-licensing course and passing a state-specific exam. Once you have your license, you can start working in the real estate industry.

A real estate agent may work with residential real estate, commercial real estate, or any other type of real estate. They may eventually become an associate broker or an actual broker and can act as either listing agents or buyer’s agents. They still have a full real estate license and are still a licensed real estate agent, they just aren’t with the National Association.

What’s the difference between a Realtor and a real estate agent?

The main difference between a Realtor and a real estate agent is that a Realtor is a member of the NAR and must adhere to its strict code of ethics. There are other differences, of course, but from a client’s perception, this is probably the biggest one.

A secondary difference is that a NAR member can connect with the MLS directly, whereas someone who is just a licensed real estate agent may need to connect through their principal broker.

What are the benefits of working with a Realtor?

Working with a Realtor offers many benefits, including access to the Multiple Listing Service (MLS), which is a database of properties for sale that is only available to members of the NAR. Realtors also have access to other resources, such as legal and financial advice, that can be helpful when buying or selling property.

That doesn’t mean that the right real estate agent is always a Realtor. But being a Realtor makes it easier to get open houses, work with a licensed real estate broker, and pitch to potential buyers and sellers. A Realtor is more likely to be connected with other real estate sales agents and listing agents and is consequently more likely to complete a deal. Realtors are generally believed to be more motivated and professional, as they have gone through additional steps to secure their credentials.

What is the NAR Code of Ethics?

The National Association of Realtors’ code of ethics is a set of standards that all members must adhere to. The code includes standards for ethical conduct, professional responsibility, and honest dealing. Realtors who violate the code of ethics can be subject to disciplinary action, including expulsion from the NAR.

The NAR code of ethics includes:

  • The obligation to put the interests of clients ahead of their own.

  • The duty to uphold the highest standards of honesty, integrity, and fairness.

  • The commitment to act in a manner that contributes to the preservation of the free competitive enterprise system.

  • The pledge to avoid exaggeration, misrepresentation, or concealment of pertinent facts.

  • The duty to treat all parties involved in a transaction honestly and fairly.

  • The obligation to cooperate with other real estate professionals to help ensure that the real estate market functions efficiently and effectively.

The NAR code of ethics is designed to protect the interests of both buyers and sellers in the real estate market. It ensures that Realtors uphold the highest of standards while representing their clients. If a Realtor does not obey the NAR code of ethics, they can be expelled from the association.

That’s not to say that real estate professionals don’t have to act with decorum. A real estate professional can also have their license taken away if they engage in unscrupulous activities, such as price-fixing. The difference is simply that Realtors have an additional barrier of both protection and scrutiny.


The main difference between a Realtor and a real estate agent is that a Realtor is a member of the National Association of Realtors and must adhere to its code of ethics. Realtors have the back up of additional credentials and direct access to the MLS. However, if you’re looking for an agent, you shouldn’t dismiss one simply because they aren’t a Realtor. Being a Realtor does convey a lot of advantages, but not being one isn’t necessarily a red flag.


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