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What is the Difference Between a Real Estate Broker and an Agent?

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Definition of Real Estate Agent Types

Whatever type of real estate agent you choose, make sure the person fits your needs.

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Question: What is the Difference Between a Real Estate Broker and an Agent?
A reader asks: "What is the difference between a real estate broker and an agent? We are working with a broker associate, and we don't know what type of agent she is nor what broker associate means."
Answer: There are so many types of real estate agents that even agents confuse themselves sometimes. To stand out in a crowd, some agents add titles after their names. They could be an associate, a real estate consultant or a REALTOR®, but they are all real estate agents.

Agents who give real estate advice must have a real estate license. Most states maintain an online site where consumers can look up an agent's name, get a license number and check on violations filed against an agent.

Here are definitions of the various types of real estate agents that you are likely to encounter:

Real Estate Broker

A real estate broker generally has more education than an agent, but not always. In California, for example, there are three ways to get a broker's license.

  • Individuals who have a four-year degree and have completed eight college-level real estate courses can qualify to take the broker's real estate exam.

  • Without a four-year degree the Department of Real Estate requires applicants to have:

  1. Two years of real estate sales experience, and
  2. Completion of eight college-level real estate courses.

  • Lawyers who belong to the bar are exempt from the college-level course requirements, but must pass the exam.

A real estate broker can work independently and / or hire real estate salespersons. The broker's exam is generally longer and more difficult than a salesperson's exam. Brokers are held to higher standards of knowledge.

Broker Associate

A broker associate is a real estate broker who works for another real estate broker. Although the broker could work for himself / herself, many choose to join a larger real estate network. Some pay a flat fee to the employing broker, and others earn a percentage of each transaction.

Real Estate Agent

Agents are licensed salespersons. They are not real estate brokers. A real estate agent must work for an employing broker and cannot work independently. Brokers are responsible for their real estate agents' actions.

Requirements for a real estate salesperson license vary from state to state. In California, applicants need to be at least 18 years old and to have successfully completed three college-level courses in real estate. State residency is not a requirement.

REALTOR®

A REALTOR® can be a real estate broker or a real estate agent. It is a title that means the individual belongs to the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR), subscribes to its extensive Code of Ethics and pays annual dues. Not every real estate agent belongs to NAR.

Members of NAR also belong to state and local trade associations. Complaints against a REALTOR® can be filed with the local board.

Listing Agent

Listing agents are also known as seller's agents because they represent the seller. A listing agent can be a real estate broker or a real estate agent. These types of agents owe a fiduciary responsibility to the seller under a listing agreement and must protect that interest.

Buyer's Agent

A buyer's agent is known as a selling agent (not to be confused with a seller's agent), a buying agent or, in some states, an exclusive buyer's agent. Exclusive buyer's agents never work for sellers. Many agents, however, work with both sellers and buyers, although not usually in the same transaction. Buyer's agents may or may not require a buyer to sign a buyer's broker agreement, depending on local custom.

Dual Agent

Agents enter dual agency when they represent both the seller and the buyer. Dual agency can happen even if the there are two agents involved -- a listing agent and a buyer's agent -- if both agents work for the same broker. That's because it is the real estate broker who creates agency. Dual agency is not legal in all 50 states.

Transaction Agent

In states where dual agency is not permitted, listing agents who find themselves in the position of writing an offer for the buyer may choose to become a transaction agent. This agent does not represent either party but simply facilitates the transaction.

At the time of writing, Elizabeth Weintraub, DRE # 00697006, is a Broker-Associate at Lyon Real Estate in Sacramento, California.

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