What Does a Real Estate Agent Do?

A real estate agent helps facilitate buying and selling homes. You'll likely work closely with your agent throughout the buying or selling process.
Kate Wood
By Kate Wood 
Updated
Edited by Alice Holbrook

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Editor’s note: In March 2024, the National Association of Realtors agreed to pay $418 million and change its rules to settle a lawsuit over agents' commissions. Here's how the NAR settlement could affect home buyers and sellers.

A real estate agent is a professional who helps people buy and sell properties. But there's more to it than that. Here's a primer on what real estate agents are (and aren't) and the different roles agents can take on in a real estate transaction.

What is a real estate agent?

Real estate agents are licensed professionals who facilitate real estate transactions between buyers and sellers. In a transaction, the agent representing the buyer is — no surprise here — the buyer's agent, while the seller's agent is often referred to as the listing agent. There are commercial as well as residential real estate agents; to buy or sell a home, you'll go with the latter.

Real estate agents on both sides of the transaction earn money through a commission, which is generally paid by the seller. Each agent's commission is a percentage of the total sale price, with the combined commission generally totaling 5% or 6%.

Real estate agents must be state licensed. In order to receive a license, agents generally undergo training and pass an exam. Continuing education is often required to maintain an active license. To verify that an agent is currently licensed, check your state real estate commission's website. You can also search the Association of Real Estate License Law Officials database website.

Agents may have additional certifications or accreditations that can be helpful when buying or selling certain properties. For example, if you're buying a condo, you might look for an agent who's a Certified Condominium Specialist. Someone who knows your area's developments and has experience with condo transactions may be an asset.

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