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What's the difference between a real estate agent, realtor and broker?

Even though most people are part of a real estate transaction at some point in their lives, few know the difference between a real estate agent, a realtor and a real estate broker. Some use the titles interchangeably, but this is not accurate. Each title has a specific meaning and unique responsibilities under the law.

Real estate agent

Most real estate professionals fall under the agent category. A real estate agent is a professional who holds a real estate license in the state. Individuals must take classes and pass a test in order to hold a real estate license.

A real estate salesperson is another name for a real estate agent.


A realtor is a real estate professional who is a member of the National Association of Realtors and agrees to uphold the association's code of ethics and real estate standards.


A broker is required to take additional classes and pass a broker's license exam. All real estate agents must work under a broker. Real estate agents who are also brokers can work for themselves, or they can hire salespeople to work under them.

The rules and requirements for California real estate brokers

Brokers in California have many responsibilities under the law. For example, they must meet the following rules and requirements:

  • Brokers must make sure that their salespeople hold a valid real estate license in order to perform any activities requiring a license for compensation.
  • Brokers must notify the Department of Real Estate after hiring or firing salespeople.
  • Brokers must have a written agreement in place with every salesperson.
  • Brokers must reasonably supervise the salespeople that work under them.
  • Brokers must keep copies of all listings, deposit receipts, canceled checks, trust account records, and any other documents relating to transactions that require a broker's license for three years.

Many additional requirements, and more detail, can be found here in the California Bureau of Real Estate's Broker Compliance Evaluation Manual.

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