Agents, Sales Associates, Brokers, and Realtors

The terms Realtor and Real Estate Agent are often use synonymously and frequently incorrectly. For those who care, there is a difference between the terms broker, sales associate, agent, and Realtor.  It would be advantageous for somebody looking for a real estate professional to understand the difference.


A Realtor is a real estate professional who belongs the National Association of Realtors (NAR). NAR’s members are residential or commercial real estate brokers, real estate salespeople, property managers, appraisers, counselors, or others engaged in a variety of aspects of the real estate industry, where a state license to practice is required. Members pledge to a code of ethics, which was adopted in 1913. The term Realtor is a trade name and does not indicate the type of state license possessed i.e. Broker or Sales Associate.  Here is a link to the code of ethics Realtors pledge themselves to: Realtor Code of Ethics

Sales Associate:

A Sales Associate is real estate professional who is licensed by the State of California to engage in real estate sales and marketing.  This is the most common type of real estate license issued by the state.  Professionals with this type of license are allowed to take listing contracts, write purchases agreements on behalf of buyers, conduct open houses, arrange home inspections, and a host of other duties related to real estate sales.  80% of real estate professionals who engage is real estate sales have this type of license.

Licensing– To become a sales associate, a person must meet the following requirements:

  • Be at least 18 years old
  • Reside legally in the US
  • Not been convicted of any crime involving moral turpitude
  •  Complete three college level real estate course two of which must be
    1. Real estate principles
    2. Real estate practice
    3. Any one of twelve other optional courses (Escrow, property management, law, etc)
  • Pass the state exam by obtaining 70% or better on a 150 question exam within 3 hours and 15 minutes.
  • Submit fingerprints, and under go a background check.

Employment- Sales associates must work for and under the supervision of a licensed broker.


A real estate broker is a professional who is licensed by the State of California to engage in real estate sales.  Brokers are allowed to conduct the same activities as a sales associate, but brokers have demonstrated to the State of California that they have a greater knowledge and understanding of real estate issues and practices and are allowed to engage in the following additional duties:  Handle escrows, originate real estate loans, sell real estate investments and other real estate related jobs.

Licensing– To become a broker, a person must meet the following requirements:

  • 18 years old
  • Reside legally in the US
  • Be honest and truthful and not be convicted of any crime of moral turpitude
  • Complete 8 statuatory college level real estate courses to include:
    1. Real Estate Practice
    2. Legal Aspects of Real Estate
    3. Real Estate Finance
    4. Real Estate Appraisal
    5. Real Estate Economics
    6. Complete 3 of 11 other real estate related courses (such as Mortgage Loan Brokering, Escrows, Advanced Law, etc)
  • Provide proof that the applicant has satisfactory experience in the real estate industry
  • Pass the state exam by obtaining 75% or better on a 200 question exam within 5 hours.

Employment–  Brokers are allowed to supervise sales associates, own and manage brokerages and are allowed to work for themselves.


The word Agent, is not used in licensing.  There is no license that states “Real Estate Agent”.  You are either a broker or a sales associate. The term agent is a legal term that refers to the relationship between the broker and the principal. The dictionary definition of agency is:

A business or organization established to provide a particular service, typically one that involves organizing transactions between two other parties. 

In real estate, agency is created when a principal (homeowner) enters into a contract with an agent (the broker) to represent the principal’s best interest when dealing with a third party (a buyer).  Agents have a fiduciary responsibility to act in the best interest of their client. Agency can also be created in the insurance and travel businesses hence the term: Travel Agent, Insurance Agent, etc.

In Summary: 

Sales associates work under the supervision of a broker.  Most real estate sales people are sales associates.  Brokers have shown the state that they have experience and knowledge worthy of owning or managing a brokerage, and are allowed to conduct a wider variety of real estate duties.

Any licensee can become a Realtor by joining the National Association of Realtors (NAR) and by remaining a member in good standing.  It is against the law for a real estate professional to use the term Realtor if they are not indeed members of the NAR.

California-Brokers-LicenseIf you would like to know the licensing status of any real estate professional in California, you can either ask them for their license, which should be on a wallet sized card issued by the state of California or you can do an internet search at this link: License look up

If there is a real estate term or title that you would like clarification on please let me know in the comments section and I’ll try to give a simple explaination.

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