A real estate agent is a licensed professional who arranges real estate transactions, putting buyers and sellers together and acting as their representative in negotiations. Real estate agents usually are compensated completely by a commission—a percentage of the property’s purchase price—so their income depends on their ability to close a deal. In almost every state a real estate agent must work for or be affiliated with a real estate broker (an individual or a brokerage firm), who is more experienced and licensed to a higher degree.
Agents act as go-betweens for the principal parties, carrying offers and counteroffers and other questions back and forth. Once a bid is accepted, agents on both sides often continue to work, helping their clients through the paperwork, conveying communications, advising on inspections and moving, and generally shepherding the deal through to closing.
The exact definitions of and distinctions between a real estate agent and a real estate broker vary among states. Generally, however, anyone who earns a basic real estate license (which involves taking a certain number of accredited courses and passing an exam) can be called a real estate agent. A real estate agent is essentially a salesperson, qualified to help consumers buy or sell a property.
Timing is important at this step. Make sure you are following the application process with your state so you can sit for your real estate agent exam soon after you finish your real estate licensing classes. This process will be state-specific and include a fee. Check with your state’s real estate regulatory authority for complete details. Some states require you submit fingerprints and pass a background check. This can take weeks to process. In many states, the application process must be complete before you can register or schedule your exam date. Don’t let the paperwork become a roadblock to getting started in your new real estate career.
A real estate broker is a step up the professional food chain. Brokers have additional training and education that have qualified them to pass a higher licensing exam; most states also require them to have a certain amount of recent experience as an active real estate agent. Brokers handle the technical aspects of the real estate transaction. A client signs a contract with a brokerage, not the individual agent. In many states brokers' additional certification authorizes them to handle other legal and financial aspects of a deal, such as handling the earnest money deposit and establishing the escrow account.
It’s important for consumers to understand whether a real estate agent represents the buyer, the seller, or both parties; obviously, the agent’s loyalty can greatly affect several details of the transaction, including the final price. State laws regulate whether an agent can represent both parties in a real estate transaction, technically known as “dual agency.” Agents must disclose their representation, so that buyers and sellers are aware of any conflicts of interest.
There are variety of ways you can choose to complete your real estate prelicensing education requirements, from live classroom locations at local real estate schools, some realty firms, universities and technical schools offer real estate licensing programs, home-study, and online real estate education. This is an important decision in your journey. Make sure you enroll with a school that has a good reputation, offers quality content and instructors, and is focused on positive student outcomes. Your real estate licensing education will be difficult and comprehensive, but it will also be the springboard to a successful career as a real estate professional.
The course will teach you real estate principles (terms like "lien," "escrow," and "encumbrance"), real estate practices (like how to determine a property's value), and the legal aspects of the business. Go to your state real estate commission's website to find information on licensing requirements and a list of accredited pre-licensing institutions.
A realtor is a member of the National Association of Realtors (NAR), a trade association. Both agents and brokers can be realtors, along with property managers, appraisers, and other real estate industry professionals. Realtors are expected to be experts in their field and must follow the NAR’s code of ethics, which requires agents to uphold specific duties to clients and customers, the public, and other realtors. In addition to NAR, realtors must belong to a state or local real estate association or board.
The process of buying a home or selling a home is very complex and the help of a real estate agent will prove invaluable in the end. Real estate transactions are far more complicated than an online purchase. A lot of paperwork is involved, so when property changes hands, you must have a real estate agent by your side. And the best place to find one is by using our agent directory!