What Is the Difference Between a Real Estate Agent and a Broker?


The real estate industry seems to grow more complicated all the time.

This is especially true, given all the new digital technologies that affect things like virtual home staging and showings. This high-tech environment also empowers some Internet users to sell their homes online.

The difference between a real estate agent and a broker is one aspect of real estate that has existed long enough not to seem complicated. For many of us, though, it still is. As long as someone is advising us on buying and selling homes, what more should we know?

There is a lot to know, actually. And that’s what we’ll discuss here.

What Is a Real Estate Agent?

Let’s begin by looking at the roles and responsibilities of a real estate agent. After all, this is the person home sellers and buyers are likely to have the most interactions with.

In a nutshell, real estate agents are professional salespeople with real estate licenses. They help people buy, sell, or rent various kinds of housing and other real estate.

Real Estate Agent Credentialing

Prospective real estate agents start by undergoing pre-licensing training. Following that, they take a written licensing exam that usually includes two parts:

  • One part covering federal real estate laws and general real estate principles
  • Another dealing with state-specific real estate laws

Passing the exam earns these individuals their real estate licenses and the title of “real estate agent.”

Typical Real Estate Agent Responsibilities

Real estate agents are busy people. Besides serving as both buyers’ and sellers’ agents, they must maintain an online presence. Agents also market themselves and their property listings. And they do a lot of buying and selling work behind the scenes.

Three broad categories encompass real estate agents’ work: working with sellers and buyers and general administrative work. As you might expect, these categories often overlap.

Working With Sellers and Buyers

The following is a broad representation of real estate agents’ work with property sellers. In reality, they do much more. Because real estate agents work on commission, they must earn every penny.

  • Comparative market research analysis to establish reasonable asking prices
  • Identify neighborhood-specific selling points and help sellers select the best places to invest in necessary home improvements
  • Take (or hire someone to take) professional-quality photos of the property,
  • Place the property on the local or regional Multiple Listing Service (MLS)
  • Advertise available properties using websites, brochures, newspaper ads, etc.
  • Schedule, conduct and oversee property showings and open houses
  • Work with and coordinate the work of appraisers, escrow companies, lenders, and home inspectors on behalf of clients
  • Arrange meetings with prospective buyers
  • Meet with buyers to learn what they desire in a new property
  • Negotiate property repair requests and offers with prospective buyers on behalf of sellers
  • Prepare essential documents, including offers, contracts, and closing statements
  • Guide buyers through the closing process

Administrative and Other Responsibilities

Buyers and sellers are often unaware of or take for granted the following are real estate agent responsibilities. These tasks consume a great deal of agents’ time.

  • Answer phone calls and email messages
  • Ensure property listings are up-to-date
  • Draft and deliver various documents
  • Order office supplies
  • Perform real estate market analysis and stay current with real estate markets, trends, and best practices
  • Search MLS and other listings to find newly available properties
  • Create and distribute promotional materials
  • Manage their online and social media presence
  • Network with potential clients and local businesses
  • Design and run advertising campaigns
  • Build and write content for blogs and websites or hire professional writers and designers to do this
  • And above all, uphold their fiduciary responsibility

With all this real estate experience, it isn’t surprising that real estate agents often aspire to become real estate brokers. So, what does a real estate broker do? We’ll look at their roles and responsibilities in the next section.

What Is a Real Estate Broker?

Real estate brokers usually are former real estate agents who have continued their education beyond the agent level (where they must spend at least three years).

The advanced coursework includes topics like conflict mediation, ethics, contracts, taxes, and insurance.

Prospective brokers also must pass another exam covering these areas of real estate to receive their brokers’ licenses. Licensed real estate brokers often manage a real estate brokerage firm and supervise agents.

Typical Real Estate Broker Responsibilities

The four types of real estate brokers are:

  • Principal (or designated) brokers
  • Broker-owners
  • Managing brokers
  • Associate brokers.

Let’s look at each, taking note that these positions can overlap.

Principal (Designated) Brokers

A principal broker oversees the licensed real estate agents who work for the firm. They ensure agents follow state and national real estate laws.

Like real estate agents, principal brokers are paid through commissions—their own and a share of their agents’ commissions. Many receive annual base salaries as well. Also, like agents, brokers must adhere to their fiduciary responsibility.


Some brokers also own the real estate agency where they work. While these broker-owners may have clients and conduct transactions, they also must keep the company running.

Managing Brokers

Managing brokers are responsible for verifying agents’ continued licensing. They also oversee hiring, onboarding, and training new agents. Managing brokers also are accountable for the performance and legal compliance of their team of agents.

Associate Brokers

Associate brokers prefer to work under other designated brokers or broker-owners. Technically, they hold the same degree of responsibility as traditional real estate agents. However, they have more education and usually are more experienced.

The Difference Between a Real Estate Agent and a Broker: Summarized

Fundamentally, real estate agents are either in their early careers or are happy there and do not wish to pursue further credentials. Being a successful real estate agent means dedicating a great deal of time to the job. Of course, most would tell you it’s why they chose the profession.

Real estate brokers have more advanced responsibilities, including agent supervision. Many also manage and possibly even own the brokerage firms where they work. Brokers also approve certain critical documents that agents create.

We hope this article has helped clear up some questions about the difference between a real estate agent and a broker. Everyone needs this kind of information sometimes, so keep checking our site if you would like to read more.

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