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Realtor Real Estate License Difference

What is the difference between a real estate agent and a Realtor?  Many people use the words Realtor and real estate agent interchangeably, including some real estate licensees!  Have you ever seen the phrase “licensed Realtor” online or on a business card? If so, you saw the confusion in writing! Let’s clear this up now and answer a few common questions. Having a real estate license does not make one a Realtor!


Having a real estate license vs being a Realtor


A real estate licensee is someone who has passed the state real estate salesperson’s examination and has paid the licensing fee.  To sell residential real estate in CA, a person must be licensed and have his or her license hanging with a broker. Every state has a regulatory body which controls and monitors who gets (and keeps) a real estate license.  In California, it’s the Department of Real Estate (DRE). There is a lot of wonderfully helpful information on this website.  One section I reference frequently is the licensee lookup, which enables me to get some basic information on real estate agents such as when they first passed the realty test and got licensed, if they’ve been in any really big trouble, which brokerage they’re affiliated with, etc.  (I should add here that all professions or trades which require a license in Calif. also have this type of site and lookup feature. Another one I use a lot is the contractors state license board.)  Business cards and most marketing pieces by agents are now supposed to carry the agent’s DRE license number.  (Hint: the smaller the number, the older the license!)
Image of the beginning of the National Association of Realtors code of ethics in 2019A Realtor is a someone with a real estate license who’s also a member of the National Association of Realtors, the state and local associations wherever they live or work.  So in addition to being licensed by my state and a member of NAR, I am also a member of the California Association of Realtors (CAR) and the Silicon Valley Association of Realtors or SILVAR (the other big “board” or group in the San Jose area is the Santa Clara County Association of Realtors, also known as SCCAOR). Members of these groups have membership numbers which are entirely different from their state license number (you are highly unlikely to ever see these numbers). Don’t all real estate salespeople belong to both group?
No, all Realtors are real estate licensees, but not all licensees are Realtors.  The state gives the real estate license.  NAR and the state & local groups do not license anyone.  They are trade organizations.  So there’s no such thing as a “licensed Realtor”.  A Realtor is both a licensed salesperson and a a member of the Realtor organizations, though.
Being a Realtor is voluntary and membership in this trade organization requires a promise to adhere to a code of ethics which is above and beyond simply staying within the bounds of the law.  Put another way, what is legal may not also be ethical, and Realtors strive to work with a higher sense of duty and morality in their practice.
The key points for consumers include these:
1. Honesty with all parties (the Realtor’s own clients, the other agent in the transaction and the other parties in the transaction). “Fair and honest dealing” is a hallmark.
2. Always put the client’s best interest first, ahead of the Realtor’s.
3. Disclose everything significant with the party and transaction to all parties
4. Be truthful with the public (marketing pieces, open houses etc.)
If you’d like to read more about the code of ethics, you can read it yourself here: 2019 NAR Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice.
What percentage of real estate salespeople in Santa Clara County are also Realtors?
Being a Realtor is valued here, so about 2/3 of all real estate licensees in our area are Realtors. In some parts of the United States or in other areas of California, it’s a much smaller ratio.
Why would a real estate sales person not also be a Realtor? Isn’t having the real estate license enough?
The reasons can vary why someone would be a practitioner but not also a Realtor.  Being a member requires promising to adhere to the code of ethics but there is also a fee to join and annual dues.  It runs many hundreds of dollars each year (I believe mine run around $650 for all 3 combined), so agents who are only dabbling in real estate may not want to spend the money.  Dues paying members tend to be full time!
How can I tell if a real estate agent is also a Realtor?
You can find Realtors on the trade group websites. Since we have 2 local groups, the easiest way in our area is to just visit the CAR website’s Realtor lookup tool.
How do you pronounce the word “Realtor“?
A whole lot of people mis-prounce this word!  It’s a two syllable word: Real and tor are the syllables, said correctly, it sounds like “reel tore”. There is no “a” in the middle (mispronounced Real-a-tor).
Why hire a Realtor in particular?
When you hire a Realtor, you’re choosing to work with someone who’s committed to not just behaving within the law, but abiding by a higher standard of practice and ethics.  Realtors receive ongoing educational opportunities through the trade groups, share market knowledge at area, state and national meetings.  Additionally, Realtors belong to local associations of Realtors and if there’s a problem you can often take it there (should you not get satisfaction from the agent’s managing broker) rather than have to take it to the state. Homeowners should know, too, that the National Association of Realtors is the largest group committed to protecting homeowner’s rights in this country.

Need a Realtor in Silicon Valley, Los Gatos, Saratoga, San Jose or Santa Clara County?


If you are looking to hire experienced Realtors to assist you in buying or selling a home please contact us!  We work all of Santa Clara County and focus on the west valley communities, especially Los Gatos, Monte Sereno, Saratoga, Campbell and the San Jose districts of Almaden Valley and Cambrian Park.  Please see our profile page for more information on our background, awards, experience, and a link to testimonials and another link to a video about the way in which I help people to buy or market & sell residential real estate here in Silicon Valley.
If you want to locate an excellent Realtor outside of this area, contact us for that too! I know great agents all over the country and in some cases beyond our country’s borders too.

Mary Pope-Handy
DRE # 01153805
408 204-7673

Clair Handy
DRE # 02153633
Realtor, GREEN
408 721-6160

Christie’s International Real Estate Sereno
214 Los Gatos-Saratoga Road
Los Gatos, CA 95030 (Serving Silicon Valley, Primarily Santa Clara County)