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REALTOR® or Real Estate Agent? Difference Is More than Semantics!

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Many home buyers and home sellers use the words "REALTOR®" and real estate agent interchangeably, but the distinction is far greater than most people imagine. This is one of those rare cases where words do make a difference. The distinction may seem minor to consumers, a matter of semantics, somewhat like using Kleenex (a registered trademark) for tissue or jello (an informal spelling of the registered trademark Jell-O) for gelatin; but in the real estate world, there is a huge difference between a real estate agents/brokers and  a REALTOR®

In 2003, a real estate agent who was not a member of NAR, petitioned the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to cancel the trademarks, on the ground that "Realtor" and "Realtors" were generic terms rather than a trademark. On March 31, 2004, the USPTO's Trademark Trial and Appeal Board denied the petition.

Real estate agents, real estate brokers and REALTORS® are all licensed by the state to act as intermediaries between buyers and sellers of real estate to facilitate the sale and purchase of property. Only realtors, however, are members of the National Association of Realtors (NAR) and are entitled to use the REALTOR® registered trademark and refer to themselves as "REALTORS® ." Membership in the National Association of REALTORS®  is not a mere matter of sending in a dues check every year. NAR members agree to conduct business in accordance with the realtor's Code of Ethics that sets ethical standards for truthful advertising and business behavior with clients and other real estate agents.

NAR membership and conference of the title of "REALTOR®" requires that real estate agents be licensed by the state in which they conduct business. To maintain their NAR membership, realtors must complete annual continuing education courses approved by their state licensing boards. These courses ensure that realtors remain up-to-date on real estate laws and regulations, consumer protection issues and ethical business practices.

The word "REALTOR®" next to a real estate agent's name is an indication to home buyers and home sellers of a commitment to excellence in knowledge, service and practice. NAR membership connotes commitment to self-regulation of the real estate industry and adherence to industry standards. In its Code of Ethics, the NAR demands adherence to 17 Articles and their underlying Standards of Practice which are strictly enforced among its membership. Complaints may be lodged with the NAR which metes out reprimands and fines to members, stopping just short of revoking licenses. Only state licensing boards, however, have the authority to revoke an individual's real estate license.

There seems to be a lot of controversy around this subject. What are your thoughts? How do you feel about this subject?

           Next time: Why the "REALTORS®" Code of Ethics Matters


Posted by


Charles Edwards Bentonville
Coldwell Banker Harris McHaney & Faucette 479-253-3796 - Bentonville, AR
AR REALTOR, Bentonville Real Estate Agent and Broker

No controversy here. I'm a proud member of the National Organization of REALTORS. I;m also a proud member of the Arkansas REALTORS Association and the Metro Area Board of REALTORS in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Guess what? I believe in these great organizations and I participate!

Jul 07, 2010 06:50 AM
Maria Peace

I would like to have a choice as to whether or not I belong to NAR.  I believe I am not allowed to be part of the MLS in my town unless I belong to NAR.    I see the necessity of having an advocate for our industry, but am tired of supporting lobbyists who are part of a corrupt system and being a liberal politically, do not appreciate the candidates and political slant of the NAR.

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