Broker vs REALTOR: What’s the Difference? 

real estate agent shakes hands with couple

Like many industries, real estate is full of jargon that can be confusing to the uninitiated. Probably the most commonly misunderstood terms are “broker” and “realtor.” This article explains what each term means, how they differ, and what it means for those interested in starting a career in North Carolina real estate.

Key Takeaways

  • The terms “broker” and “real estate agent” are often used interchangeably. But strictly speaking, in most states, a broker can manage other agents. In contrast, an agent typically represents buyers and sellers directly.
  • In North Carolina, a broker is an entry-level real estate license, and a “managing broker” requires experience and additional coursework.
  • A “Realtor®” is a real estate professional who is a member of the National Association of Realtors (NAR), requiring adherence to a specific code of ethics and payment of annual dues.

What Is a “Broker”?

A real estate broker is licensed to represent home buyers and sellers. The term “real estate broker” is often used interchangeably with “real estate agent.” However, the terms do not necessarily mean the same thing.

In most parts of the country, a real estate broker is someone who manages other real estate agents or salespeople and thus requires a higher license level. However, in North Carolina, a real estate broker has the same license level as a real estate agent or salesperson. In contrast, a managing broker has the licensing level needed to manage one or multiple brokers.

What Is a “Realtor”?

A REALTOR ® is a member of the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR), a trade association representing real estate professionals, agents, appraisers, property managers, and more. To become a member, you must belong to one or more local or state-level associations, such as the North Carolina REALTORS®, pay annual dues ($156 as of 2024), and agree to abide by NAR’s Code of Ethics.

Because the term “realtor” is a trademarked word, it is technically supposed to be shown in all capital letters with the registered trademark symbol (®) at the end of the word (i.e., REALTOR®). But, because “realtor” has become so synonymous with the term “agent” or “broker,” like how “kleenex” has become synonymous with “tissue,” you often see it without the capital letters and trademark symbol. It’s important, however, to use the official spelling in legal documents and promotional materials.

What’s the Difference Between a Broker and a REALTOR®?

The most significant difference between REALTORS® and brokers is that you don’t need to be a REALTOR® to practice real estate in North Carolina (or any state), but you do need your broker’s license. However, there are some perks to joining NAR.

For instance, NAR members receive discounts on insurance, marketing tools, and other necessities that real estate professionals often use daily. NAR members have the opportunity to network with other REALTORS® both locally and across the country. Plus, you can have the REALTOR® designation at the end of your name on marketing materials, such as your business card and website, which can help elevate your authority as a trustworthy real estate professional to clients and prospects.

However, NAR isn’t the only organization providing these kinds of benefits. For instance, the Institute for Luxury Home Marketing, which caters to those interested in selling high-end or luxury homes, offers a membership that provides similar benefits to its members. Members receive discounts on education and marketing tools, networking opportunities, elevated branding, and more.

Why does this matter?

If you are interested in becoming a North Carolina real estate broker, it’s important to understand that joining a real estate association or membership is not necessary. While these organizations can be beneficial, especially to new brokers just starting out, they aren’t without their costs. Be sure to account for membership dues as a start-up cost if you plan to become a member of NAR, the Institute for Luxury Home Marketing, or other associations.

Are you excited to get your real estate license in North Carolina so you can start helping clients buy and sell properties? Superior School of Real Estate is North Carolina’s leading in-person and online real estate school. We offer affordable pre-licensing courses taught by local experts. And now, we are also proud to provide audio real estate courses! Contact a licensing advisor today to learn more about how to become a broker in NC.