Does a real estate agent really need to be a REALTOR?

Real Estate Broker/Owner with Intero Real Estate CA BRE #01191946

We're about to lose a lot of our colleagues next month.  The annual renewal of local association dues is coming up for many agents.  Many associations will lose members who can't afford the cost of renewing - typically several hundred dollars in many places (over $700 for my association).  The membership includes many so-called "member benefits" including forms, business discounts, and political advocacy.  If they stay in business, is it necessary for them to be REALTORS?

In the State of California there are a large number of agents who opt not to be REALTORS.  I'll bet there are agents in other states too.  They get their brokers license, set up an office, get E&O insurance, and...they do just fine.  Their clients like them, they work ethically, and they do a good job of buying and selling homes.

Does that agent really need to be a REALTOR to do a good job?  This is just a theoretical question, not a justification for the expenses of organized real estate.  The cost of doing business is fairly high across the board.  When you consider the cost of being a REALTOR, getting MLS access, paying a desk fee, and then account for commission splits, it's really expensive to be an agent and also a REALTOR.  A smart business decision could be to simply not become or stay a REALTOR.  So, what's the difference?  Many of us talk about what makes being a REALTOR great and some of those aspects include:

ETHICS:  Often the defining difference is that a REALTOR would follow the Code of Ethics while a plain agent isn't required to.  However, I know of many agents who are REALTORS who violate the COE constantly in the name of doing business. Conversely, I know a few non-REALTORS who are very ethical and follow the COE anyway.  Is membership required to be an ethical agent?

LOCAL BOARDS:  Our local board has meetings where agents can network and present properties.  If they're not REALTORS, they can't have that engagement.  Is it necessary?  I dont' know.

SOFTWARE:  As far as I know, you can't get ZipForms without being a member.  In today's world of paperless offices, that's a major difference.  Is it important?  If you're only doing 1-4 transactions a year, it's cheaper to buy paper forms.

This is a philosophical debate.  I'm not, repeat NOT, advocating one way or another.  I'm a REALTOR and plan to remain one.  I'm just asking people to think about what happens when our colleagues drop off the membership rolls, are they really any different.  Can agents do just fine without being members?



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Charlie Dresen
Steamboat Sotheby's International Realty - Steamboat Springs, CO
Steamboat Springs, CO e-Pro

This is a very thought provoking post and like Gabe, I've enjoyed the variety of comments. While I have no intention of not being a Realtor, I question if buyers and sellers really even know the difference between a Realtor and a non Realtor? The term has become so generic that it's really most useful to us and the access it gives us to the MLS, forms, processes and procedures. I would guess to the average buyer and seller every real estate agent out there is a Realtor.

Dec 30, 2011 11:52 PM #79
Kat Palmiotti
Grand Lux Realty, 914-419-0270, - Monroe, NY
The House Kat

You don't need to be a REALTOR® to be ethical, and just because you are one doesn't mean you ARE ethical. 

That being said, for practical reasons, most REALTORS® are forced to become one because access to MLS isn't allowed without belonging to the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.

It then becomes a necessary cost of doing business, whether you agree with the process or not.


Dec 31, 2011 12:18 AM #80
Charita Cadenhead
Keller Williams Realty - Birmingham, AL
Serving Jefferson and Shelby Counties (Alabama)

Gee Bryan you sure know how to strike up a conversation.  As many have stated, our arms may be twisted into becoming Realtors® (must be member of NAR in order to be member of local board).  I look at being a member of NAR as the cost of doing business and have never sweated it not once have I complained about it.  I just have to do what I have to do in order to be able to maintain that membership if I chose do do and I DO CHOSE to do so.

Dec 31, 2011 12:31 AM #81
Michael Setunsky
Woodbridge, VA
Your Commercial Real Estate Link to Northern VA

Bryan, in my area the Association controls the MLS and the lockboxes. I would think it would be hard to work with clients if you can't get into a house to show it. I did pay my dues this year, but the ROI seems to be very low. Happy New Year!!

Dec 31, 2011 12:45 AM #82
Dr. Tameka Bryant
The Real Estate House - Kansas City, MO
Helping you close more deals!

I've been a Realtor for 10 years and each year I happily pay all of my dues.  I see agents that aren't Realtors in the market, but they aren't nearly as productive.  I utilize the benefits of any organization I'm affiliated with and NAR is no different.  Every year I do a cost benefit analysis and can see my investment net me more than $8,000 in referrals and other perks. 

Dec 31, 2011 12:47 AM #83
Jennifer Allan-Hagedorn
Sell with Soul - Pensacola Beach, FL
Author of Sell with Soul

Great discussion. I wrote a blog a few years back called "I am now a REALTOR, the World is Safe" after I paid my $407 to the local Board, got my receipt and went back to business as usual. It certainly didn't change who I was or how I ran my business, and the 3-hour "ethics" class which consisted of mostly one sales pitch after another was a joke. Seriously - I'm going to be "ethical" (or not) because I took a silly class or paid a membership fee (or not)? Besides, in Colorado anyway, what I agree to as a licensed Broker Associate via the Real Estate Commission is pretty much the same thing as the REALTOR COE.

I've never much cared for NAR after dealing with them as an exhibitor in the 2007 National Convention. It was a freakin' nightmare and I'm not sure I've ever felt so ripped off and taken advantage of. And the whole idea that they force agents to belong (in many areas) in order to access the tools to properly do their jobs is just wrong. If you want someone to join your Club, make them WANT to join your club, don't force them to!

Dec 31, 2011 12:49 AM #84
Joni Bailey
Berkshire Hathaway Home Services - Anderson Properties - Huntsville, TX
Your Huntsville / Lake Livingston Area REALTOR®
Personally, I am proud to be a RAeALTOR and would be a member even if it were not required to access MLS. Why? The same reason I have taken so many additional classes... To go ge extra mile and be all that I can be!
Dec 31, 2011 01:44 AM #85
Dave Sullivan
Real Estate One - Birmingham, MI
Michigan Realtor with an investor viewpoint

great post happy new year...

Dec 31, 2011 02:04 AM #86
Sandy Acevedo
951-290-8588 - Chino Hills, CA
RE/MAX Masters, Inland Empire Homes for Sale

Congrats on the feature and great post. You have posed an interesting question. I had not known about all the major differences before.

Dec 31, 2011 03:13 AM #87
Lorraine Santirosa
Mission Realty Group - San Diego, CA
#1 San Diego Military Relocation Expert!

This is a great post because it makes us take a hard look at our professional organization and the benefits of being a member. 

Dec 31, 2011 04:43 AM #88
Krystyna Baty
The Real Estate Group - Torrance, CA

Great post! Good to see that I'm not alone in raising those same questions. 

Dec 31, 2011 04:49 AM #89
Jo Soss
HOMEFRONT Realty - Kettle Falls, WA
HOMEFRONT Realty @ LAKE Roosevelt - Stevens County

I am not a Realtor.  I was for years but once I went out on my own I opted not to join or have my office affiliated.  Our MLS is not a Realtor MLS we are owned by our member brokerages - which I an one.  We have Express Forms .  My office does subscribe to the COE - and each agent must adhere to it as well.  Anything the Realtors in my area have I have - except the option to attend a WAR meeting - never attended one when I was a Realtor.

Happy New Year! 

Dec 31, 2011 05:14 AM #90
Alan Brown
Coldwell Banker Montrose Colorado - Montrose, CO
26 Years of Real Estate Experience .

In the world of Trade Unions its called a closed shop. Many local boards make you be a member of your State and National associations in order to get MLS access (closed shop)

Although I am a member of NAR and my Local and State organizations I do so because as an office my broker wont opt out, even though we could have MLS access without being members. I know the vast majority of the agents in my office would opt out if they could.

Make it voluntary to join all thes assocaitions and lets see how many people pay their dues. Many of the positions that NAR  take are counter to the best interests of the membership. I for one would opt out if I could.

Dec 31, 2011 05:18 AM #91
Erica Ramus
Erica Ramus - Ramus Realty Group - Pottsville, PA - Pottsville, PA
MRE, Schuylkill County PA Real Estate

Interesting how in some parts you do NOT have to be a realtor to have MLS access. I wish this was true in my area.

Dec 31, 2011 06:28 AM #92
Christine Donovan
Donovan Blatt Realty - Costa Mesa, CA
Broker/Attorney 714-319-9751 DRE01267479 - Costa M

Bryan - I think you can get ZipForms without NAR/CAR membership.  It just costs more.

Dec 31, 2011 01:58 PM #93
Mike Grumbles
Gray Fox Realty - Franklin, TN
The Relocation Engineer in Franklin TN



Good post. The issue is coming up more and more. Personally i choose to be a REALTOR and it means a lot of thing like you said but the forms (contracts) are typically provided to REALTORS form the state or local boards exclusively for REALTOR members.


The political advocacy is part of our dues but it will continue if one member drops off the membership they still will receive the benefit of our joint effort. Just like this year when the rates increased because the membership is down the rates go up for those of us that remain.

The issue i see without being a MLS member , which in our area requires REALTOR membership means your listings will have to be marketed on your own without cooperation from other brokerages.   Lock boxes to provide security for sellers is (in our area) associated through the board. What do you do for a new client that wants to know more about homes for sale without MLS access?  Obviously the setup of boards varies from state to state but looks like in my area not being a member would impact opportunity to make a career in real estate. 

Jan 01, 2012 05:41 AM #94
Lloyd Binen
Certified Realty Services - Saratoga, CA
Silicon Valley Realtor since 1976; 408-373-4411

Bryan,  NAR has not done a good job distinguishing Realtors from non-Realtors. CAR does an excellent job providing valuable products and services.  This industry would be a mess without a strong Code of Ethics.

Jan 01, 2012 09:36 AM #95
Marnie Matarese
Showing you the best of Sarasota!

REAL ESTATE IS LOCAL!  How many times has that been drummed into your head?  I think that NAR is totally not needed, am happy to be a member of my local MLS and the Florida Association of Realtors.  NAR is like the old union set up that needs to be disbanded.  What a mess with this last snafu and outright lying about statistics.  I am proud to be a realtor, will continue to be one but wish I could opt out of NAR!

Jan 02, 2012 11:48 AM #96
J. Philip Faranda
J. Philip Faranda (J. Philip R.E. LLC) Westchester County NY - Briarcliff Manor, NY

Association member ship is required to be in out MLS so the decision is made for me. That said, our local association is, in my view, excellent. 

Jan 02, 2012 02:22 PM #97
Inna Ivchenko
Barcode Properties - Encino, CA
Realtor® • Green • GRI • HAFA • PSC Los Angeles CA

I would like to opt out from paying some dues, but seems it is not easy, since all of them are connected. But paying near 1k/year for something I never use is not convenient and very expensive.

Dec 03, 2014 04:28 PM #98
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