States require people to take pre-licensing training from a certified institution before they can sit for the real estate licensing exam. The required number of training hours can vary significantly by jurisdiction: In Virginia, for example, real estate agents must take 60 hours of pre-licensing training, but in California they need to take 135 hours.
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.
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.

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