Real estate agent showing houses to homebuyers

Explained: Home Realtors vs. Agents vs. Brokers

Have you ever wondered what the difference is between home realtors, agents, and brokers? You are not alone in your confusion. Today, we will walk through how you can differentiate between them and know exactly who to go to for which needs. While they all share the common trait of being licensed to assist you in selling, buying, or renting homes, they each possess different attributes and differing levels of skill.

Realtor vs. Real Estate Agent

The primary and most obvious difference between a realtor and a real estate agent is that real estate agents are only authorized to help clients buy or sell residential or commercial real estate/property. Realtors, on the other hand, are licensed to do several functions within the real estate industry. Some of these additional functions include:

  • Help clients buy or sell real estate
  • Can be licensed appraisers
  • Able operate as property managers
  • May also practice as a real estate broker

Real Estate Agent

According to, real estate agents “are individuals who are licensed to help people buy, sell, and rent real estate. They are ultimately responsible for bringing buyers and sellers together and are paid a commission—usually a percentage of the property’s sale price.” While the requirements for certification vary from state to state, the essential requirements considered are age, education, exams, the application fee, background check, ongoing education, next level of licensing, and criminal history. also reveals that most commonly across the U.S., to qualify as a real estate agent, you must:

  • Be 18 years or older
  • Be a legal United States citizen and resident
  • Must take the required pre-licensing class as defined by the state
  • Take and pass the state’s real estate licensing exam
  • Pass a state-mandated background check
  • Be sponsored or backed by a real estate broker
  • Maintain any required continuing education, courses, and exams to keep the real estate license up to date

Real estate agents facilitate the sale or rental negotiations for homes and rental properties. Agents work with the buyers, sellers, renters, and other agents to convey the offers to the other party, work on the paperwork, and keep their customers alerted and up to date on any inspection requirements and communication of any vital details or deadlines. Although an agent can act as either buyer or listing agent, the agent cannot act as both listing and buyer agent simultaneously to avoid a conflict of interest. For even more information, check out this resource on how to differentiate between real estate agents.

Buyer’s Agent

Buyer’s Agents are responsible for:

  • Finding and presenting properties that meet the requirements laid out by the buyer
  • Assist with obtaining appraisals and inspections for the property
  • Working out the details, terms, submittal, and filing of paperwork

Seller/Listing Agent

The Listing Agent manages:

  • Listing prices
  • Staging the house
  • Closing costs
  • Handles the filing and submission of paperwork on behalf of the seller


A realtor is an individual who is a member of the National Association of Realtors (NAR). So they take courses outside of the required real estate licensing exam. Most of the additional training is around ethics, and it is a course that needs to be completed every few years. Realtors are also active members of local real estate boards or associations.

Real Estate Brokers

Real estate brokers are usually real estate agents who have received a state real estate broker license after further education. They typically have agents that work for their brokerage, and the brokers get a percentage of the commission earned from each sale. Of course, brokers also have deals they work and close as agents do, but the difference is that they don’t have to split the commission with other parties. 


Types of Real Estate Brokers

  1. Associate Brokers are brokers who are licensed but do not supervise other agents.
  2. Managing Brokers are leaders who oversee transactions and daily operations in the office. They also hire, train, and manage staff, including agents as well as administrative support.
  3. Principal/designated brokers — agent supervisors whose primary responsibility is to make sure they comply with state and national real estate laws.


The commission of the property sale must be split among the selling and listing agents and brokers. To begin with, the commission of a home sale will usually be between 5%-6% of the sale price. This commission first gets split in half between the listing and selling brokers, who will then split it in half with their selling and listing agents.

For example, the commission of a home sale gets divided between the listing agent, listing agent’s broker, buying agent, and buying agent’s broker. Thus, each party will receive about 1.5% of the total 6% commission. As for who pays the commission, that burden rests entirely upon the shoulders of the seller. This happens when the commission is factored into the selling price of the home, not added to the selling price, and does not factor in closing costs and fees.


‘Is it better to be an agent or a broker?’ you may ask. Just picture the differences in pay to a typical hierarchy: Usually, one would start as a real estate agent working for a broker, making less than the broker and operating under more general restrictions than the hiring broker. 

Remember, with more pay usually comes with more responsibility and more at stake. In addition, earning more as a broker does mean more opportunities to make money even if they aren’t actively selling real estate. Having agents under your wing brings along added perks and more financial security. 

As a broker, if you work for yourself as an agent, you can also keep all of the commission. In addition, as a broker, you also have the flexibility to work in varying brokerage roles, whether that be as an associate, managing, or designated broker. 

Education, skill, and experience

Perhaps you are interested in learning the differences between these roles because you are about to start the home buying or home selling process. Or maybe you are interested in pursuing a career in the real estate field. Regardless of your reasoning, hopefully, this article has helped answer some of your questions. 

In addition, if you have considered selling your home and not hiring a listing agent, this article has attempted to shed some light on the fact that the laws and regulations in the real estate world are varied and complex. For even more information on why you should choose a real estate agent to sell your home, check out the article, 7 Reasons for Choosing a Real Estate Agent Instead of FSBO from our learning center. 

To be an agent or broker requires education, skill, and a good grasp of state law. In conclusion, there is a reason that people traditionally utilize their services, and that usually benefits the buyer or seller in some way through higher selling prices, better negotiations, ease, and overall success of the transaction. They make a commission for a reason, and that reason is that they provide an invaluable service. So, if you’re looking for your next career, maybe you just found it.




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