Although “real estate agent” and “real estate broker” are often used interchangeably, these titles are not synonymous.
A real estate agent is licensed in their state to facilitate a real estate transaction and all of the tasks that come with it. That includes pricing a property, marketing a listing, and communicating with the clients throughout the transaction. Legally, real estate agents must “hang their license” with a brokerage, a real estate operation run by a licensed broker.
A real estate broker is also a licensed real estate agent, but they have undergone additional training and education to obtain a specific broker’s license. This license permits them to work independently, own a brokerage, and manage real estate agents on their team.
While brokers have completed training to manage a real estate business, these professionals are not by default more equipped to sell your home than a regular real estate agent. Top-selling real estate broker Sara Lee Parker advises sellers to look at a real estate professional’s overall track record, not just their title when making a hiring decision.
We’ll walk you through the key differences between real estate agents and brokers and help you decide who to hire for your home sale.
Real estate agents
Real estate agents are professionals who help people buy and sell homes. They can represent the seller, the buyer, or both in some cases.
To become a real estate agent, individuals must obtain a license. Real estate licensure criteria vary from state to state, but most have specific requirements for:
- Age (generally 18 or older)
- Application and related fees
- Background checks and fingerprinting
- Continuing education
- Education (high school diploma or GED)
- Prelicensing courses
- Real estate exam(s)
- Reporting any criminal history
Many businesses and education institutions offer real estate prelicensing classes, including local real estate firms, colleges, universities, and technical schools. Some offer virtual programs, night classes, and flexible scheduling to accommodate students who work full-time or have other obligations.
A real estate agent who represents a client selling their home is a “listing agent.” Some of the key responsibilities of a listing agent include:
- Conduct market research to price a home based on current market conditions
- Develop and execute a marketing plan to get maximum exposure for a listing
- Gather offers from buyers and present them to the seller
- Vet buyers before accepting an offer
- Negotiate the best terms possible for the seller
- Attend the home inspection and appraisal and represent the seller’s best interests
- Coordinate the completion of all necessary paperwork throughout the process
- Communicate with all parties involved at every stage of the sale
As the primary point person acting on the seller’s behalf, the listing agent oversees the many tasks involved in selling a property to help the process go as smoothly as possible.
Real estate agents must work under a brokerage. The brokerage supports the agent with resources, assistant staff, and often an office space in exchange for a portion of the agent’s commission fees. This allows real estate agents to spend more time working with the client instead of managing the day-to-day responsibilities of running a business.
The majority of real estate agents earn money through commission, which is generally an agreed-upon percentage of the property’s sale price. The national average real estate agent commission fee sits around 5.8% of the sale price and is split between the listing agent and the buyer’s agent.
Realtors® vs. real estate agents
According to estimates from the Association of Real Estate License Law Officials (ARELLO), there are more than 3 million active licensed real estate agents in the United States. And more than 1.5 million of these agents are also members of the National Association of Realtors®(NAR).
NAR membership offers a wide range of resources to help real estate professionals develop their skills and stay in touch with housing market movements. Some of the benefits of NAR membership include access to professional educational tools, member events, and discounts on items like office supplies and electronics.
Real estate brokers
A real estate broker is a real estate professional who has a real estate license and a broker license in their state. While real estate brokers perform all of the same duties as a typical agent when selling a property, they also can work independently, run their own brokerage, and hire other real estate agents to work for them.
Like the real estate agent licensure process, the procedures and requirements to earn a broker’s license are different from state to state. Most states have minimum criteria for age, education, and applications. Additionally, most states require applicants to have a few years of experience as a practicing real estate agent to become a licensed real estate broker.
Parker sees her broker title as a sign to her clients that she’s committed to continually developing on a professional level. “For me, having a broker’s license, I would think, gives people confidence in an agent who has taken the next step to get that next level of education,” she shares.
She ran a successful brokerage for several years before opting to work for someone else. The reason she transitioned back to an agent? She wanted to spend more time personally handling real estate transactions and less time managing the business.
Brokerage owners oversee the day-to-day management tasks that come with running any type of business, including expenses, payroll, and taxes. The broker is ultimately responsible for their agents’ activities and must protect the brokerage from lawsuits.
Brokers support their agents and resolve more complex matters that arise within the company or with a particular transaction. For example, if an agent is unsure if they should disclose a property issue, they will ask their broker to make the final call.
Like all business managers, brokers mediate issues between agents on their team as well. Depending on the size of their brokerage, they may split their time more or less evenly between client work and business management.
The broker must have their real estate license and broker’s license in the state where they manage a brokerage. Like any business owner, brokers must obtain funding for various business expenses, including rent, utilities, marketing, and employee wages.
Brokers can operate independently or purchase a franchise brokerage under a well-known real estate brand. With a franchise brokerage, a broker gains immediate access to the brand’s training and marketing resources. However, in exchange, they’ll have less autonomy over the daily operations of the business.
Brokers earn income from their own transactions and receive a share of commissions earned by their team members.
Recap: key real estate agents vs. brokers
Real estate agents
- Are licensed to practice real estate in their state
- Cannot work independently; must be employed by a broker
- Earn income through commission on every transaction
Real estate brokers
- Are licensed to practice real estate in their state
- Have completed additional education and training beyond that of an agent
- Hold a broker’s license in their state
- Can work independently, won a brokerage, and hire agents to work for them
- Earn income through their own transactions and from agents who work for them
Real estate broker vs. agent: Who’s more equipped to sell your home?
While Parker is quick to acknowledge that real estate brokers have advanced education and training, she also reminds sellers that a broker license is not the only indicator of a real estate professional’s success.
Parker shares that she’s worked with plenty of real estate agents who are just as knowledgeable and skilled as brokers. These agents simply have not taken time to obtain a broker’s license, or are uninterested in the business management side of real estate.
Instead of focusing on a real estate professional’s title, evaluate their sales history and professionalism. HomeLight’s data reveals that the top 5% of real estate professionals sell homes for as much as 10% more than the average agent.
Here are some of the qualities sellers should look for to find a top real estate agent to sell their property.
- Strong sale-to-list ratio: Top negotiators earn their clients more money on their home sale. They price a property, make effective repairs and upgrade, and negotiate concessions that impact a seller’s bottom line.
- Low average days on market: Lengthy transactions cost sellers time and money. The top percentage of real estate agents know how to reduce days on market (DOM) and sell a home quickly.
- Glowing client reviews: Read real estate professional’s client reviews on websites like Google Business, Yelp, Facebook, and HomeLight. Note the consistencies in the reviews and how the agent or broker responds to any negative reviews.
- Additional certifications: Both real estate agents and brokers can take additional training courses to hone their skills. Some of the more common certifications real estate agents may achieve throughout their career include:
- Certified Residential Specialist: Offered by the Residential Real Estate Council, the CRS is the highest credential available to a sales agent, broker, or manager.
- Seniors Real Estate SpecialistⓇ: SRES designation denotes expertise in helping clients 50 and over purchase and list their properties.
- Military Relocation Professional: Agents and brokers with specific training on the processes and producers involved with service members’ relocation earn MRP certification.
- Certified Real Estate Brokerage Manager: With training offered by the Real Estate Business Institute, CRB brokers learn the ins and outs of running a thriving brokerage.
Questions to ask a potential agent or broker
The right agent or broker can make a big difference in the time it takes to sell your home and how competitive that final offer is. So, it makes sense to “interview” a few real estate professionals before signing a contract to work with an agent or broker.
Can you tell me about your experience selling homes like mine?
Parker stresses that every seller should ask potential agents about their experience first and foremost. Have they sold homes in their neighborhood at their price range before? Do they have referrals to share? What is their list-to-sale average?
Will I be working with you or with your team? Are you well connected with relevant professionals in the area?
Next, ask about the real estate professional’s network. How long has their brokerage been in business? An established and respected firm with a good reputation likely has extensive resources at its disposal, including mortgage professionals, appraisers, stagers, and most importantly, potential buyers.
As one of the top 1% of agents in the Atlanta area, Parker knows just how beneficial that pool of resources can be:
“So many homes are selling off-market these days just before they hit the market. That is often because people have a pool of potential prospects for these listings or an inside knowledge of options that are coming on the market just because of word of mouth.”
What will working together be like?
Beyond the numbers, finding the right real estate professional also depends on personal connection. After all, they are probably going to be first on your speed-dial list for the days and weeks while you’re selling your home.
Is the agent responsive to emails and calls? Do they answer your questions and listen to your concerns? Are they taking the time to explain every step and stage of the process, so there are no surprises? Open communication is one good indicator of a positive and productive real estate transaction.
Selling a home is a significant undertaking. Don’t feel pressured to hire the first agent you meet. The time you invest upfront to find the right real estate agent to list your property is likely to pay off later in a smooth and successful transaction.
Find a top real estate agent near you today
HomeLight makes it easy for property buyers and sellers to connect with top sellers in their area. We analyze verified real estate transaction data from across the nation to identify the top 5% of agents in the country.
Simply plug your property details into our free Agent Finder and we’ll match you with the top three real estate professionals for your home sale. From there, we recommend that you interview your candidates to determine whose experience and personality is the best match for your needs.