REALTOR® Versus Real Estate Agent

If you’re relatively new to real estate, chances are you may find some of the industry lingo a bit confusing. For instance, when it comes to representation, what is the difference between a real estate agent and a REALTOR®? The terms are often used interchangeably, but there are notable distinctions.

It may seem trivial at first glance, but understanding these two titles can provide clarity on what type of professional may best suit your needs.


What is a real estate agent?

A real estate agent is someone licensed by their state to help people buy and sell real estate.

To become an agent, an individual needs to take and pass the classes and exams required by their state.

The written licensing exam typically covers general real estate principles, federal real estate laws, and state-specific laws. Once an individual passes the exam, he/she will become a real estate agent, likely join a brokerage, and begin working with buyers, sellers, and renters.


What is a REALTOR®?
REALTOR® is a trademarked term that refers to an individual who has met all the requirements of a real estate agent and is also an active member of the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR).

Any agent interested in joining NAR must first join one of its 1,100-plus local real estate associations — like the Greater Lansing Association of REALTORS®

As a member of NAR, an individual must subscribe to the standards of the association and its Code of Ethics. REALTOR® Nancy Petroff, associate broker with Coldwell Banker Hubbell BriarWood, says adhering to this code is the most significant difference between a REALTOR® and a real estate agent.

“Essentially, NAR holds REALTORS® to a higher standard,” she said. “The Code of Ethics is a set of guidelines that is strictly upheld and enforced by real estate boards. It specifically lists our duties to our clients and customers, the public, and our fellow REALTORS®.”

According to the code's preamble, REALTORS®, "pledge to observe [the code's] spirit in all of their activities whether conducted personally, through associates or others, or via technological means and to conduct their business in accordance with the tenets."

NAR’s Code of Ethics has been in place for more than 100 years and was founded on the principles of the “Golden Rule.” It consists of 17 Articles, which contain various underlying Standards of Practice, including the requirement that REALTORS® be honest and transparent with clients, avoid exaggeration and misrepresentation, and conduct business with their clients’ best interest in mind. REALTORS® must attend a course on the Code of Ethics every three years.

In addition to being held to such a high professional standard, Petroff says REALTORS® also have access to educational opportunities that aren’t necessarily available to non-member agents.

“We’re able to attend state and national conferences which provide updates on the market and important talks from industry experts,” she said. “We also have access to NAR’s annual legal updates, which help us stay informed of changing laws and regulations.”

Petroff adds that many local associations also provide educational opportunities.

“We are fortunate because GLAR offers its members a variety of classes led by experienced local professionals,” she said. “Our industry is continually evolving, so having access to continuing education is critical in helping us serve our clients to the best of our ability.”

Petroff says when you work with a REALTOR®, you are getting the best of the best when it comes to representation.

“REALTORS® have extensive local market knowledge, they’re professional negotiators who are looking out for your best interests, and they provide an unbiased, third-party perspective to help you stay focused on the issues that are most important to you,” she said. “This is likely the biggest financial decision of your life and guiding you through it is a responsibility we take very seriously.”

If you are getting ready to buy or sell a home and want to find a trusted REALTOR®, visit the Greater Lansing Association of REALTOR®’s website at