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.
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.
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.  

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.

Each state’s real estate licensing requirements are different. Your state’s real estate commission website will list the official prelicensing requirements. Kaplan Real Estate Education offers a couple pages that narrow this knowledge gap down. The Steps to Licensing page is designed to show, in simple steps, what it takes to become licensed in each state. In addition, Kaplan offers a page dedicated to each state’s real estate licensing and continuing education requirements. See the link below for your state’s pages.
Brokers typically own a firm or a franchise. They can be solo practitioners, but they must attain another higher-level license if they want to hire agents or other brokers to work under them. As mentioned earlier, a real estate agent usually cannot work alone but instead must operate through a real estate broker; the exception is in states such as Colorado and New Mexico, which mandate that every real estate professional be licensed as a broker.  Usually, though, agents work for brokers and split commissions with them.
Pay for membership to the local multiple listing service. Membership in your local MLS is essential, since you must use the system to list properties, which are then dispersed to websites like realtor.com®. The service also enables you to easily pull a property's tax information, analyze market trends, and see listings before they go on the market. Costs vary greatly: Membership for Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, DC, agents to the Metropolitan Regional Information Systems, for example, costs $1,136 per year; while on the low end are areas like California's Southwest Riverside County, which charges MLS dues of $220 per year.

In order to become a real estate agent and legally practice real estate, you must work under a supervising broker. Brokers are licensed by the state to oversee real estate transactions and ensure that real estate salespeople (that's you!) are adhering to the required legal and ethical standards.Think of it as a similar safeguard to how stockbrokers must work at a licensed firm to trade stocks, rather than just winging it on their own. Eventually, you could also apply for a license to become a real estate broker as well, but you will first want to get a few years as an agent under your belt.
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.
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Investopedia requires writers to use primary sources to support their work. These include white papers, government data, original reporting, and interviews with industry experts. We also reference original research from other reputable publishers where appropriate. You can learn more about the standards we follow in producing accurate, unbiased content in our editorial policy.
Do you know how to calculate the fair market value of a house? What about the capitalization rate or real estate conversion? Do you know what is the right type of appraisal for the house? The situs definition, as well as the replacement cost or income approach, may seem foreign to you. Moreover, as a real estate investor, do you know how to convert a warehouse into a loft? Or what novation in real estate means? Real estate agents are like copilots - they help home buyers, sellers and renters navigate through all the real estate documents they need to sign explaining all the unfamiliar real estate terms. And business gets a lot more complex as we dive into commercial real estate.
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