The basic difference between a real estate agent and a REALTOR® is a membership to the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR). All REALTORS® are real estate agents, but not all real estate agents are REALTORS®.

The Association of Real Estate License Law Officials (ARELLO) gave a 2021 estimate of around 3 million active real estate licensees in the United States, and the NAR had 1,534,008 active members in 2021. This means that roughly half of all real estate agents in the US are also REALTORS®.

To use the title of REALTOR®, a real estate agent must become a member of the NAR and adhere to their code of ethics.

The difference is a nuanced one and can be hard to pinpoint for those who aren’t industry insiders, so let’s break down exactly what that means.

What Are the Key Differences Between a Realtor and a Real Estate Agent?

As stated above, the base differentiator between a real estate agent and REALTOR® is an active membership to the NAR. With that membership comes a separate code of ethics that real estate agents pledge to adhere to when they join.

Duties of a Real Estate Agent

A real estate agent is a licensed real estate professional who assists in the buying and selling or renting of real estate in exchange for a commission.

All real estate agents are licensed by their state and maintain their license through annual continuing education requirements. Texas real estate licenses are overseen by the Texas Real Estate Commission (TREC).

To obtain a real estate license in Texas, a person must meet the following qualifications:

* Be at least 18 years of age and a U.S. citizen or a lawfully admitted alien

* Meet TREC's qualifications for honesty, trustworthiness, and integrity

* Complete 180 hours of pre-licensing education, consisting of six 30 hour courses

* Pass a final course exam with a minimum score of 70%

* Successfully complete a licensing application and pass a background check

Real estate agents are able to assist their clients from listing or home search to closing, providing expert advice throughout and filling out most of the paperwork, including offer letters and contracts. Their continuing educational requirements mean they stay up-to-date on all legal changes in the real estate industry.

Duties of a Realtor

A REALTOR® is a real estate agent who is also a member of the NAR and adheres to its strict code of ethics. The NAR code of ethics is more restrictive than those at the state level and is strictly enforced so that all who use the title REALTOR® are exemplary industry professionals.

There are 17 articles in the Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice of the National Association of REALTORS®. *Per this code of ethics, REALTORS® promise to:

* Protect and promote the interests of their client

* Avoid exaggeration, misrepresentation, or concealment of pertinent facts relating to the property or the transaction

* Cooperate with other brokers except when cooperation is not in the client’s best interest

* Disclose to the owner if they are presenting an offer for themselves, a member of their family or a close business acquaintance

* Not provide professional services concerning a property where they have an interest unless they specifically disclosed that to all affected parties

* Not accept any commission, rebate, or profit on expenditures made for their client, without the client’s knowledge and consent

* Not accept compensation from more than one party, even if permitted by law, without disclosure to all parties and the informed consent of their client

* Keep all monies given to them in trust for others, such as escrows, trust funds, clients’ monies, and other like items, in a special account

* Assure all agreements related to real estate transactions are in writing in clear and understandable language

* Not deny equal professional services to any person for reasons of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, national origin, sexual orientation, or gender identity

* Ensure the services they provide to their clients meets or exceeds the expected standards of practice and competence of their specific real estate discipline

* Be honest and truthful in their real estate communications and present a true picture in their advertising, marketing, and other representations

* Not engage in activities that constitute the unauthorized practice of law and shall recommend their clients seek legal counsel if needed

* Cooperate and present pertinent facts and evidence if charged with unethical practice

* Not knowingly or recklessly make false or misleading statements about other real estate professionals

* Not interfere with or take action inconsistent of exclusive broker relationship agreements other REALTORS® have with their clients

* Settle contractual disputes with other REALTORS® through mediation and arbitration rather than litigation

These points are broad summaries of each article. Please read the full Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice of the National Association of REALTORS® for detailed information.

The NAR states that their vision is “to be a trusted ally, guiding our members and those they serve through the ever-evolving real estate landscape.” In addition to protecting the interests of clients and the public in all real estate transactions, NAR also lobbies to protect the legal and financial interests of REALTORS®.

REALTORS® are also members of their state and local boards, which can be a city or regional board, depending on the area. These local boards allow for sharing of industry information between members. Texas is home to the Texas Association of REALTORS® and 73 local associations.

What Does It Take to Become a Realtor?

In order to be able to use the title of REALTOR®, a real estate agent must become an active member of the National Association of REALTORS®, the largest trade association in the US.

How Does One Join the NAR?

There are three steps necessary to become a member of the National Association of REALTORS®.

1. Become a member of your local chapter of the NAR

2. Pay your application fee and dues to the NAR, as well as to your state and local chapters

3. Complete your required education classes within 120 days of joining and pass the exam

All members are expected to maintain their membership by adhering to the Code of Ethics, paying their monthly dues, and retaking their online education every four years.

What Are the Requirements?

In order to join the NAR, applicants must meet the following criteria:

* Be a licensed real estate agent and a member of their local chapter of the NAR

* Be licensed under a REALTOR®. Most brokerages have a designated REALTOR® for their company.

* Have no civil judgments within the last seven years involving civil rights laws, real estate license laws or other laws prohibiting unprofessional conduct.

* If an applicant has a record of criminal conviction(s) within the last seven years relating to real estate or that could put others at risk, the applicant must provide mitigating factors for consideration

* Submit a written application to their local board

* Must provide information relating to Code of Ethics violations or pending violations, pending arbitration, or unpaid arbitration awards or monies to any other association

* Agree to always abide by the NAR Code of Ethics

* Agree to abide by the constitution, bylaws, policy, rules and regulations of the NAR and their state and local chapters

* Complete their orientation course

* Submit a membership application that is “acknowledged” by REALTOR® Principal

How Much Does It Cost to Join the NAR?

The current NAR dues for 2022 are $150. Membership dues for NAR are billed annually and will be prorated monthly for new members based on their join date. There is also an annual special assessment fee of $35 to fund NAR’s Consumer Advertising campaign.

REALTORS® will also owe dues to their state and local boards. Those will vary from board to board and can be charged annually or quarterly.

What Are the Benefits of Working With a Realtor?

Working with a real estate agent who has the title of REALTOR® has definite benefits for their client. First and foremost, REALTORS® adhere to the strict code of ethics outlined above. This means that they have pledged to act with integrity, cooperate with other real estate professionals, and look out for the best interests of their clients. It also means that there is a governing body to hold them to those standards.

Secondly, REALTORS® enjoy access to a robust network of similarly minded professionals and can lean on their organizations’ experience and clout in the community.

REALTORS® also have access to NAR published research and market data, training, and special certifications, giving them an informational edge over the competition.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Are the Different Kinds of Real Estate Agents?

There are four main types of real estate agents: listing agents, buyer’s agents, rental agents, and brokers. Any real estate agent can be a listing, buyer, or rental agent, and many perform all three roles regularly throughout their career. Brokers can also perform all three functions.

To better understand, let’s break down what each term means in detail.

* Listing Agent: a real estate agent who has signed a listing agreement with a seller and is representing them in the sale of their property. They will market the property, including adding it to the local multiple listing service (MLS), showing the home to potential buyers and holding open houses. They will also help to weigh any offers received, negotiate on the seller’s behalf, write up the contract and assist with any and all paperwork associated with the closing.

* Buyer’s Agent: a real estate agent who has signed a buyer's representation agreement with a prospective buyer and will act as their advocate. They will guide the buyer through the entire transaction, including finding potential properties, offering advice, negotiating on their behalf, and writing and submitting the offer.

* Rental Agent: (sometimes referred to as a leasing agent) a real estate agent who specializes in assisting with rental properties. They will help potential renters find properties and will assist their clients with understanding the rental agreement. Some rental agents represent the property owner and work to find renters for their properties.

* Broker: a real estate agent who has completed the further education required for a state broker’s license. (Think of it as a master’s degree vs a Bachelor’s degree.) Brokers are also able to supervise real estate agents licensed under them, as within a brokerage, and are ultimately responsible for all actions taken by those agents, acting as an advisor and mediator as needed.

Is The Word Realtor Always Capitalized?

The word Realtor must be capitalized and is sometimes required to be written as REALTOR® because “Realtor” is a registered trademark of the National Association of Realtors.

Does a Realtor Make More Than an Agent?

No, Realtors do not make more money than real estate agents. Both earn their money through commission upon successful sale or lease of a property.

Realtors and real estate agents both perform a valuable service in the industry and working with either should be a rewarding experience. A real estate professional can guide you through the complicated process of buying or selling real estate by leaning on their education and experience. It is important to ensure that the person you choose to work with fits your communication style and is knowledgeable about the type of property you wish to buy.

Be sure to check out “How Much Do Real Estate Agents Make In Texas” for more great information about becoming a real estate agent.

If you are ready to buy or sell and need to find a great REALTOR® to guide your way, visit us at to get started today.