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Real estate agents usually specialize in either commercial or residential real estate. Either way, they perform different duties, depending on whether they work for the buyer or the seller. Agents who work for the seller, also known as listing agents, advise clients on how to price the property and prepare it for a sale, including providing tips on last-minute improvements that can boost the price or encourage speedy offers. Seller agents market the property through listing services, networking, and advertisements.
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.
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.
Some brokerages charge a lower commission for more expensive houses, and some handle the entire transaction for a flat fee that’s much less than a regular commission. Other companies offer a fee-for-service pricing structure that lets sellers pay only for certain parts of the sale process, such as adding the property to a multiple listing service (MLS).