What is the Difference Between a Realtor and Sales Associate?

A Realtor is a Licensed Professional and a Member of the National Association of Realtors (NAR).  A Real Estate Sales Associate May or May Not Be a Realtor

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Many people have questions about what the most common terms used for real estate professionals actually mean. Below, you will find the answers. Specifically, we discuss realtors, real estate sales associates, real estate brokers, and real estate agents. 

Real Estate Professionals: Your Guide to the Terms

What is a Realtor?

A realtor is a licensed professional who is a member of the NAR. The National Association of Realtors (NAR) is the nation’s largest real estate industry trade organization. Formed in Chicago, Illinois more than a century ago, the NAR now has more than 1.1 million members. Members of the National Association of Realtors are bound to abide by the organization's official code of ethics. Notably, the NAR owns the trademark rights over the industry term ‘realtor’. 

You may hear someone who buys and sells real estate referred to as a ‘realtor’. Though, they might not actually be one. To be a realtor, a person must be a member of the NAR. To be clear, this means that not every real estate agent or real estate broker is a realtor. If a professional does not become a member of the NAR, which is not required in all states, they are technically not a realtor. 

What is a Sales Associate?

A real estate sales associate is a person who is licensed to buy or sell real estate. A real estate sales associate — also called a real estate salesperson — may or may not be a ‘realtor’. Some sales associates are members of the NAR, while other sales associates have not joined the NAR. To become a real estate sales associate in the United States, a professional needs to obtain the proper state issued license. Getting a real estate salesperson license requires meeting certain educational requirements and passing a mandatory licensure exam. 

What is a Real Estate Broker?

A more useful distinction can be made between real estate brokers and real estate sales associates. A real estate broker is a professional who has undergone additional training and, in most states, has been in the industry for at least a few years. Real estate brokers have some responsibilities that are above and beyond the responsibility of real estate sales associates. 

Most importantly, in most jurisdictions, a real estate broker has the legal authority to open up their own practice and to hire real estate sales associates to work for them. When a real estate broker does this, they become legally responsible for overseeing the professional conduct of the real estate associates who are working under them. 

What is a Real Estate Agent?

Finally, one of the most common terms used by members of the general public to describe members of the industry is ‘real estate agent’. This is where things can get especially confusing — many people call all licensed real estate professionals “real estate agents”. You may hear the term used to refer to a realtor, a real estate broker, or a real estate salesperson. It is best to think of a real estate agent as a broad term that encompasses all licensed real estate professionals. If you want to know more about a real estate agent, you can ask if they are a broker or an associate. From there, you can also ask if they are a member of the National Association of Realtors. 

Now that You Know the Difference Between Realtor vs. Sales Associate, Are You Ready to Get Your Real Estate License?

We are here to help. If you are interested in starting a career as a realtor or real estate salesperson, you need to obtain the proper state-issued license. Among other things, you must pass the real estate exam. It can be a challenging test — in most states, nearly half of applicants fail in their first attempt. 

This is where Real Estate Prep Guide can make a difference. We are proud to offer the best real estate study guides and practice exams. Our students are protected by a money back pass guarantee. You will pass the test or get a full refund — no questions asked. Let’s get started: access your free trial now