“Agents,” “Brokers,” and “Realtors” – What’s the Difference?

Whether you’re buying or selling a home, having an experienced real estate professional to help you throughout the process is extremely helpful. But when you enlist their services, you may come across a professional who advertises themselves as a real estate “agent,” “broker,” or “Realtor.”

The question is, what’s the difference between each one of these professionals? And why do their titles matter?

State governments regulate the real estate profession, and each title has slightly different requirements when it comes to acquiring a license. But do their distinctions really matter when it comes time for you to buy or sell?


An “agent” is any real estate professional who has earned their real estate license. Agents are also referred to as “salespersons,” though these terms can be used interchangeably to mean the same thing. In California – as in any other state in the US – anyone who wishes to become a licensed real estate agent or salesperson must take certain courses and pass their respective exams. More specifically, agents in the Golden State have to go through 135 hours of real estate training before being eligible to write their exam.

In order to work as an agent, these professionals must be associated with a real estate broker or brokerage.


Real estate agents can become brokers by taking specific courses to become a broker and by passing their respective exams. Unlike real estate agents, brokers are able to work on their own, since they themselves are brokers. But they must have a certain amount of experience working as a real state agent first before becoming brokers.

In order to become a real estate broker in California, agents have to undergo 360 hours of real estate training and work as a real estate agent for two years prior to taking the exam. However, agents who have a four-year degree in real estate may be eligible to waive this two-year experience requirement.Ā 

Brokers may choose to open up a brokerage and hire a team of real estate agents to work with them. In this case, brokers take a cut of the commissions earned by their agents on every real estate transaction that is successfully completed.

Further, there are real estate “associate brokers,” who have taken additional courses to earn a broker’s license, but may choose to work under a broker rather than on their own.


Any real estate professional who’s a part of the National Association of REALTORSĀ® can be considered a Realtor. In order to be an upstanding member of this organization, real estate agents must adhere to a specific code of ethics. There is also an annual fee that is required by each member to maintain membership with this association. For the remainder of 2018, that yearly membership fee is $120, and by 2019, that fee will increase to $150.

Does the Title of the Professional Matter?

At the end of the day, the decision to work with someone who calls themselves an agent, broker, or Realtor doesn’t really matter to buyers and sellers. The work that needs to be done to successfully buy and sell real estate will remain the same. Working with a licensed professional means that you’ll have the benefit of having a trained expert to guide you through the process.

If you work with an agent, that professional will report to a broker, who will be responsible for handling escrow and dealing with any monies involved. If you work directly with a broker, all of this will be handled by the broker themselves.

In either case, it’s ultimately the broker or brokerage that holds all responsibility for either the services provided by the agent or the broker themselves. If any issues arise, they will need to be dealt with through the brokerage.

The Bottom Line

Agents, brokers, and Realtors may have slight differences in their educational requirements, but the end result that they all strive to achieve is the same: to provide expert guidance and service to every client they take under their wing. Whether you’re buying or selling, having one of these professionals in your corner will give you the best odds of experiencing a successful transaction.