A real estate agent is someone who’s taken a course (or more) and passed a state exam and is licensed by the state to sell real estate.
A Realtor (pronounced REEL-TOR, not real-a-tor) is an agent who’s ALSO a member of the National Association of Realtors, which is a voluntary trade group. Realtors promise to abide by and take very seriously their Code of Ethics. Ever wonder what is in it? It’s not short and is quite comprehensive. Take a look:
Please understand that not everything that is legal is also ethical – Realtors have a higher standard of practice. Often non-Realtors (at least in Siliocon Valley) are not full-time agents but dabble in real estate. Realtors are usually full-time and work as professionals.
Finally, if you have a problem with an agent who’s not a Realtor, you have to complain to the state. With a member of NAR, who is almost always also a member of the state association (CAR – the California Association of Realtors) and local (either SILVAR – the Silicon Valley Association of Realtors or SCCAOR – the Santa Clara County Association of Realtors), you can take action locally for most any issue and do not need to go all the way to the state level. Agents work hard to remain in good standing with the local, state, and national boards.
In the San Jose area, most of the large realty firms are “all Realtor” offices. Usually becoming a member of NAR, CAR and either SILVAR or SCCAOR is a requirement for joining the company. In other areas and in other states, in can be different. So it’s mostly the independents where you’ll find a real estate licensee who’s not also a Realtor. But ask!
When you interview an agent, then, the first question to ask is this: are you a Realtor?