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Published May 10, 2024
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Realtors, Real Estate Agents and Brokers: What’s the Difference?

A Realtor is a real estate agent, but not all real estate agents are Realtors. Brokers manage real estate agents. Who you should work with depends on your needs and their experience and reputation.

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Are you looking to buy or sell a home? Chances are friends or family members will recommend or talk to you about a specific real estate agent, a real estate broker or a Realtor.

However, despite what many Canadians believe, these are not all the same thing. While the names sound familiar and are often used interchangeably in a day-to-day context, they are, in fact, three different job titles within the real estate market.

So, what is the difference between Realtors, real estate agents and brokers? And which should you use to help you buy (or sell) your home?

Real estate agents

A real estate agent is a salesperson who helps clients sell or buy homes. Real estate agents work for a licensed real estate brokerage and have liability insurance.

Requirements vary by province, but in general, real estate agents have to be over the age of 18, legally allowed to study and work in Canada and have a high school diploma (or equivalent)[1]. They must then complete courses and submit a criminal background check before writing the exam for their license to practice. Some provinces have additional requirements for continuing education.

Real estate brokers

A real estate broker manages real estate agents under the brokerage, or real estate company. 

Requirements to become a real estate broker vary by province, but brokers must work as an agent for at least some period of time before continuing their education to become a broker. Some provinces also require agents to have completed a certain number of transactions before applying to become a broker. Education requirements include completing the real estate broker program required by each province, which may include one or more courses.

Real estate brokers pay commissions to their agents and sign listing agreements with sellers. They are responsible for ensuring that all transactions are accurate and error-free.

Think of a real estate broker as the business manager; you probably won’t deal with them regularly, but they are behind the scenes making sure everything is running smoothly and properly. That said, a broker doesn’t necessarily have to be a part of an agency. A broker can choose to work for themselves.

» KNOW THE DIFFERENCE: What is a mortgage broker?

Realtors

A Realtor (yes, that capital ‘R’ matters) is an agent or broker who is a member of the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA)[2]. They have continued their qualifications and education to achieve the CREA’s trademarked title of REALTOR®. They pay an annual CREA membership fee and complete regular ethics training. Realtors have to adhere to a strict moral code, which means that buyers and sellers can expect these professionals to be fair and honest in all transactions.

You can tell if someone is a Realtor based on whether or not they have the trademarked Realtor symbol (REALTOR®) on their business cards and other marketing materials.

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How real estate professionals get paid

Real estate professionals get paid commission based on the sale of a home. Since they don’t have a salary or hourly wages like other professions, those successful in this industry have to hustle, work hard and be good at their job to thrive.

The commission varies because its structure is governed by provincial laws, and it’s often negotiated between the customer and the agent. Some agents charge a percentage of the overall price, while others charge a blended commission: different percentages on certain portions of the sale price. For example, 7% on the first $100,000 and then 2.5% on the remainder of the price.

The commission amount is typically evenly split between the listing agent and the buying agent.

Keep in mind, in Canada, it’s generally the home seller who pays the real estate commission fees, not the buyer.

» MORE: Make sure you’re aware of these common closing costs

Which real estate professional is best for you?

Real estate agents, brokers and Realtors are all qualified to help you buy or sell your home. The difference comes down to additional qualifications and education, but these may not necessarily matter to you.

Education and qualifications look good on paper, but as someone looking to hire an individual to help you buy or sell a home, it’s unlikely that certificates are your primary concern. Instead, look at things like their experience, reputation, reviews, number of homes sold, and your impression of them as a person — you’ll work better with someone you like. It’s also a good idea to consider their expertise in specific neighbourhoods or types of properties, such as downtown condos or suburban fixer-uppers. These are the factors that will really matter.

» MORE: How to choose a mortgage lender

How to find a real estate professional

Finding a potential real estate agent, broker or Realtor probably won’t be hard — real estate professionals tend to advertise quite a bit. After all, you probably see advertisements for them on bus stops, social media and of course on the ‘for sale’ signs on your neighbour’s lawn.

The real question is how to find a good real estate agent, broker or Realtor.

  • Read some reviews to get an impression of the type of service agents provide. You can find reviews online and by word of mouth. Ask your friends and family members if they have anyone to recommend (or avoid!) and whether they would use them again.
  • Take the time to ask questions. Ask about their years of experience, credentials, methods and philosophy about real estate. Do they focus on a particular type of real estate or client, such as investment properties or first-time home buyers? Ask how they work with clients, what services they provide, and what fees they charge. 
  • Investigate their background. Make sure that their license is up to date by searching their name in your province’s real estate professional registry. Have a chat to ensure you like their personality and get along. You can even ask to speak with previous clients as references. 

Buying (or selling) a home is a big deal. Make sure you choose someone you feel comfortable with and who you can trust to work with your best interests at heart.

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