Revisit your state real estate commission's website for instructions on how to sign up to take the licensing exam. (Most states outsource administration of the exams to third-party testing centers.) Exams are typically divided into two portions: one on federal real estate laws and general real estate principles, the second on state-specific laws. Both typically consist of 60 to 100 multiple-choice questions, including math questions that require you to use a calculator (e.g., prorating taxes for a specific property). Most pre-licensing courses provide students with sample tests, and many real estate commissions publish sample questions online.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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