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The REAL Differences in Using a Real Estate Agent and a REALTOR®

You've probably heard the terms used interchangeably, but there are important differences between a real estate agent and a REALTOR®. While both are licensed agents that ultimately perform very similar job roles, being a REALTOR® means more. In fact, REALTORS® are agents that choose higher ethical standards in order to do more for their clients.

Let's explore some of the major differences between these two real estate titles:

Real Estate Agents

A real estate agent is a licensed professional who helps consumers with the buying and selling of commercial or residential real estate. While you might think the prerequisites and training for this type of licensure would be rigorous and time-consuming, this is unfortunately not the case in many states.

For Alabama, agents complete 90 total hours of coursework (60 pre-exam and 30 post-exam) and pass one exam to earn their title. Any US citizen 19 years or older with the equivalent of a high school degree and no criminal history can take the coursework and exam, and they will immediately become a licensed agent.

Licensed agents are required to complete 15 hours of continuing education (CE) every two years in order to maintain their license. Of these 15 hours, 3 hours must be achieved through a course titled “Risk Management: Initial Contact to Accepted Offer,” and all other hours can be gained through electives on any subject matter pertaining to real estate business and certified as CE through the Real Estate Commission.


A REALTOR® is a licensed real estate agent that has gone a step further by becoming a member of the National Association of Realtors (NAR) through a local chapter. The term “REALTOR®” is trademarked and is the equivalent for the word “member.” While the average consumer uses “REALTOR®” interchangeably for “real estate agent,” the correct usage applies directly to an agent’s membership with NAR.

Ethical Standards

NAR adheres to a Code of Ethics by which their members are governed. This code establishes rules for a REALTOR®’s daily business practices and interactions with clients, potential clients, the public and other REALTORS®. When a licensed agent joins NAR through a local chapter, they are required to take a course (and maintain it triennially) on the REALTOR® Code of Ethics. Revisions are made yearly to the Code to ensure that all current laws and practices are up to date.

These national standards are implemented by the local and state associations that offer routine educational training and mediation whenever standards are not upheld. If ever needed, you – as a buyer, seller, or member of the public – can file an Ethics Complaint to the local association where a REALTOR® holds his or her membership. When a complaint is filed, the local association schedules grievance hearings to mediate and hold the REALTOR® responsible for the ethical standards they have sworn to maintain.

Multiple Listing Service (MLS)

Additionally, REALTORS® have access to numerous resources through their local association. At Baldwin REALTORS® in Baldwin County, Alabama, they provide their members with access to the local Multiple Listing Service (MLS), along with additional technology and applications to help them be the most professional agents in the Southeast region. The MLS is a data treasure trove of listing information that benefits both buyers looking for homes and sellers trying to determine the most appealing way to list their home. There's no shortage of property information a local REALTOR® can offer you through the data and tools they have at hand.

Expanding Education & Networking

Additionally, through their association membership, REALTORS® have access to courses and educational events on all different real estate subjects. From the art of negotiating to multiple offer scenarios – even REALTOR® safety – the accessibility to knowledge is endless for a REALTOR®, as they too must maintain their state license through continuing education. They can also gain designations and certifications through their NAR membership that attest to their skillsets on different areas of business. As a buyer or seller, you can take confidence in your REALTOR®’s understanding of the transaction process.

By participating in these educational offerings, members are also expanding their professional network by meeting and forming new colleague connections. This is another benefit to anyone looking to buy or sell. A REALTOR® has a deep pool of connections by which he or she can share information on a new listing or ask about a property that has all the non-negotiable features his or her client is wanting.

Finding the Right REALTOR® for You

Baldwin REALTORS® is the local association and MLS for Baldwin County and the surrounding Southern region. By offering education, technology and advocacy for local real estate, their goal is to raise up ethical experts that consumers can trust. You can search for REALTORS® on their website based on the designations they have earned.

They’ve also taken their enhancement of members one step further by creating the Baldwin County Certified Specialist (BCCS) certification. REALTORS® that earn this certification have proven their experience, knowledge, and commitment to a unique “area” of Baldwin County real estate – Resort, Eastern Shore or Rural. Click here to explore a list of the current Baldwin County Certified Specialists who went the extra mile for the sake of your overall real estate needs.


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