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Decoding realtor vs. real estate agent vs. broker

Buying a home is a big step — and many buyers find they need to work with several individuals along the way to get the help they need. As a buyer, you may wonder what the differences are between a real estate agent and a realtor or be confused about how a broker can help you on your homebuying journey. Take a look at these roles and how they can help you purchase the home of your dreams.

Realtor vs. real estate agent

Realtors and real estate agents serve very similar roles. In essence, realtors are real estate agents that belong to the National Association of Realtors, also referred to as the NAR.

Realtors must meet specific criteria each year in order to remain active members of the organization:

  • Join the local chapter of the NAR, which may vary by state
  • Take the online course and pass the test on the Code of Ethics
  • Pay their dues

In order to remain a member of the NAR, realtors must also adhere to the Code of Ethics throughout their careers, including adhering to specific standards dedicated to helping consumers. According to these standards:

  • Realtors must never mislead buyers or tenants about the fair market value of a property or benefits the buyer could receive by working with a realtor service.
  • Realtors must submit offers and counteroffers objectively, in keeping with the needs of the clients.
  • They can only represent both buyer and seller if both the buyer and the seller know about the dual representation and agree to it.
  • They must maintain their clients' privacy, exercise due diligence when managing a property for the owner or buyer and disclose relevant information to buyers they work with.

Real estate agents must be licensed by the state but may not be subject to the same rigid standards as a realtor.

Should you choose a realtor or real estate agent?

Ultimately, both a realtor and a real estate agent must adhere to ethical standards and practices, and they’ll fill much the same role in helping you find and purchase a home or sell your existing home. Whether you work with a realtor or real estate agent will depend on your specific preferences and the options available in your area.

How does a realtor or real estate agent help with the homebuying process?

As you look for a new property, a realtor or real estate agent is an integral part of the homebuying process. They will:

1. Help find homes in your price range

Realtors and real estate agents have access to wider databases, which they can quickly narrow down to homes within your price range.

2. Provide you with a realistic perspective on each property

When you're buying a home, it's difficult not to get invested in a home. You may fall in love with a property because of certain features and try to ignore any problems the home has. A real estate agent or realtor can provide an outside perspective that will help take emotions out of the equation.

3. Give you more information about how to decode listings

Real estate listings can contain a lot of information, much of which may be difficult to understand. A realtor or real estate agent can help break down those listings so you don't waste time visiting properties that won't fit your needs.

4. Work as the point of contact throughout the negotiation

Your real estate agent or realtor will help you negotiate the price of the home and any details like closing and move-in dates, items that will remain with the house, who will pay closing costs and more.

5. Connect you with a home inspector

Before you buy a home, you want a home inspector to go through it, evaluate any problems and provide information about any issues that need to be addressed. A real estate agent or realtor can schedule that appointment for you and help you go over the details from the home inspection, which may determine whether you want to proceed with purchasing the property.

6. Help you stage, photograph and prepare a home for sale

If you're selling your home, a real estate agent or realtor will help you set it up so you can showcase its features.

This could encourage more buyers to make offers and increase the odds that you’ll get a great offer on your property.

7. Walk you through the closing process

There’s a lot of paperwork that goes into the homebuying process, from your mortgage application to your contract. A real estate agent or realtor will help you prepare and fill out the paperwork, make sure you understand it and get it filed so you can make the home yours.

The role of a broker in the homebuying process

A real estate broker fills many of the same roles as a real estate agent or realtor in the buying or selling process. However, they go an extra step and obtain additional certifications which are based on the state where that agent practices. In some states, all real estate agents must have a broker's license. In most states, however, a real estate broker fills a slightly different role.

Real estate brokers often hire other real estate agents, realtors and brokers to work underneath them. Their additional training and certification better prepare them to handle the market and offer critical advice to both homebuyers and sellers. They are also trained and prepared to help other realtors and real estate agents achieve their duties.

What is different about a real estate broker?

A real estate broker often has multiple agents working underneath them. Those agents usually take on the bulk of the responsibility for showing homes, staging homes and connecting buyers with their ideal properties. Agents often also take on the task of completing paperwork for their buyers. A broker, however, takes on additional duties related to those agents. The broker:

1. Ensures all agents and realtors keep up with their licensing

In many cases, real estate brokers run large firms with multiple agents. Each of those agents needs to keep their licensing and certifications current, as well as their memberships in professional associations. A real estate broker helps keep track of all of those details.

2. Provides training and additional resources to agents

Brokers with large firms may have access to resources that smaller firms do not. A broker may also have more training tools that they can provide to their agents, which can make them more effective in the homebuying and selling process.

3. Provides marketing resources and handles basic services for the agents

A real estate broker may have access to better discounts or a wider marketing reach. For sellers, this means that working with a real estate agent under a larger broker may allow you to connect with a wider range of people who might be interested in your property.

For buyers, this may mean access to a wider range of homes, which can increase the odds that you’ll find the perfect fit for you. A broker may also have access to tools like 3D and virtual tours that will better showcase properties. This is particularly helpful for buyers who cannot visit every property in person.

4. Oversees each agent's transactions

A broker bears responsibility for the agents that work underneath them. Often, brokers will oversee transactions and paperwork related to specific sales. With so much information and so much complexity in the homebuying process, it can be beneficial to have an extra set of eyes looking over everything, increasing the odds that the buying process will go smoothly.

Whether you work with a real estate broker, agent or realtor, having a professional on your side makes it easier to find the home of your dreams or sell your property. Speak to a Home Lending Advisor and learn more about the benefits of working with real estate professionals.

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