Is there a difference between a real estate agent and a Realtor?

 For many people, the terms “real estate agent” and “Realtor” are interchangeable.  This is not correct.  Fifty-seven percent of Realtors are licensed sales agents, with the remainder performing other related functions.  All real estate agents are licensed to practice real estate, but this in itself does not make them Realtors. 

What is a real estate agent?  What is a Realtor?

In the simplest terms, a real estate agent is a person who has completed the required academic courses in his or her state and then passed a licensing exam.  This person is authorized to work under a broker and conduct real estate activities such as representing property buyers and sellers in their transactions.


A Realtor is a real estate agent who is a member of the National Association of Realtors (NAR), a trade organization in the United States.  As an NAR member, agents subscribe to its Code of Ethics.  Headquartered in Chicago, the NAR refers to itself as “America’s largest trade organization.”


Origin of the word “Realtor”

While a licensed real estate agent can perform the same sales functions as a Realtor, membership in the NAR (which is optional) often sets these agents apart in the mind of the public.  The words “Realtor” and “Realtors” were trademarked by the NAR in 1949 and 1950.  Non-member agents may loosely be referred to as “Realtors,” but rightfully they are not.

 In print, “Realtor” is always to be styled with a capital R.  According to the NAR,  all letters should be capitalized: REALTOR, and in an official capacity, a trademark symbol follows the word.


Where the words were trademarked part-way through the 20th century, they have been around since 1916.  “Realtor” was coined by Charles N. Chadbourn, then vice president of the National Association of Real Estate Boards.  The word derived from real (as in real estate) and –or, used in Latin nouns ending in –tor (such as actor, creator).

 A guideline for Realtor standards of practice

The NAR’s Code of Ethics is a lengthy document of nearly 7,800 words.  It contains the sections Duties to Clients and Customers, Duties to the Public, and Duties to REALTORS.  Real estate agents applying for membership in the NAR agree to abide by the tenets set forth in the Code.


The Association of Real Estate License Law Officials estimates that there are some 2 million currently licensed real estate agents in the U.S.   The NAR claims a membership of about 1.2 million.  This shows that more than half of all licensed agents have taken the next step of NAR membership and committing to practicing their profession according to the association’s ethical code.

 As licensed Realtors, we hope this has cleared up any confusion surrounding the terms “Realtor” and “real estate agent.”

 Nick & Ellie