female real estate agent holding model house

3 Important Differences Between Real Estate Agents

This content was originally published on July 16, 2018, and updated on February 13, 2023.

One of the most complex aspects of buying a home is mastering the language of the real estate industry, which is filled with uncommon terms. However, it’s not just a matter of learning new words. You may also need to unlearn a few things you thought you knew. 

For example, did you know that the word “REALTOR®” is a trademark denoting membership in the National Association of REALTORS®—and that “REALTOR®” cannot be used synonymously with “real estate agent?”

Here’s how it works:

Level 1. Real estate licensee

All real estate agents must be licensed. Each state sets its own requirements in terms of the minimum number of hours spent in real estate education. 

Before receiving a real estate license, agents must also pass an exam covering national, state, and local real estate laws, standards, and practices. 

After passing the exam, and affiliating with a real estate brokerage, a licensee can begin representing buyers and sellers in property transactions.

Level 2. REALTOR®

REALTORS® adhere to a higher set of standards. The term “REALTOR®” is a registered trademark that active members of the National Association of REALTORS® can only use.

The term REALTOR®  identifies a real estate professional who is a member of the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR)—the largest trade association in the U.S., with over a million members—and subscribes to its strict Code of Ethics. The term REALTOR® can only be used to convey membership in NAR.

This matters to homebuyers because REALTORS® abide by a strict Code of Ethics and Professional Standards—duties that go beyond state licensing laws and help ensure the fair and honest treatment of all parties to real estate transactions.

Level 3. Accredited Buyer’s Representative (ABR®)

The National Association of REALTORS® also helps its members develop more profound real estate expertise by providing education and conferring designations and certifications in various areas of specialization, including buyer representation.

To earn the Accredited Buyer’s Representative (ABR®) designation, REALTORS® must take additional courses and demonstrate prior experience representing buyer-clients in real estate transactions. 

The education emphasizes an agent’s fiduciary responsibilities to buyer-clients, including adhering to specific duties, obligations, and high standards of good faith and loyalty throughout the transaction process.

Most buyers prefer working with an ABR® designee once they understand these crucial differences between real estate professionals. It’s a choice that can significantly improve your home-buying experience. Plus, it’s easy to find an ABR® designee near you!