Real Estate Salesperson vs. Broker: What's the Difference?

Updated December 19, 2022

Real estate deals involve many professionals performing related yet distinct tasks. Sometimes it may be difficult to know who is responsible for which duties during a transaction. If you are considering a career in real estate, it can be helpful to distinguish between these roles in order to guide your career choices. In this article, we discuss the differences between a real estate salesperson versus a broker, the benefits of each job and how to become a real estate agent and real estate broker.

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What is the difference between a real estate salesperson versus a broker?

A real estate salesperson, also known as a real estate agent, is a professional licensed to sell real estate who represents a brokerage firm in real estate transactions, including residential, commercial and property sales. A real estate broker represents the parties in a real estate transaction. They are licensed to own a firm and may work independently to buy and sell real estate or open a brokerage that hires real estate agents. Real estate agents must work under a licensed broker and are operating on behalf of the firm.

While brokers and real estate agents must pass respective licensing exams, brokers receive more training than agents and can perform the more complex tasks involved in real estate sales. Brokers and agents typically earn their salaries through sales commissions on sold properties. Real estate contracts outline these percentages.

Read more: Real Estate Brokers vs. Agents: What’s the Difference?

Real estate agent types

Here are the types of real estate agents:

Listing agent

Listing agents represent sellers of residential property, commercial property or land. They are responsible for the following duties:

  • Making referrals for services, including staging, appraisals, inspections and mortgage lending

  • Drafting contracts and other paperwork and directing clients how to complete it

  • Ensuring paperwork is completed and submitted by deadlines

  • Creating and posting property listings

  • Scheduling professional photographs or videos and marketing client properties

  • Hosting showings

  • Serving as an intermediary between sellers and buyer's agents

  • Negotiating contract terms for the best price for sellers

Buyer's agent

A buyer's agent works with individuals, families or companies looking for property or land to buy or lease. Buyer's agents have the following responsibilities:

  • Listening to buyers' needs and wants for a home or property

  • Identifying available properties that meet buyer's criteria

  • Scheduling appointments to visit properties

  • Serving as an intermediary between buyers and listing agents

  • Preparing contracts and other paperwork and directing buyers how to complete it

  • Ensuring all paperwork is submitted by deadlines

  • Negotiating the best deal for buyers

Dual agent

Dual agents represent both buyers and sellers in real estate transactions. This can happen when one agent represents the two parties or when the listing agent and buyer's agent work for the same brokerage. Some states prevent real estate agents from working as dual agents. Additionally, sellers and buyers often prefer an agent with a singular focus and select agents who work exclusively for buyers or sellers.

Transaction agent

A transaction agent does not represent the buyer or seller but rather serves as a facilitator in a real estate transaction. This can occur when a buyer does not have a buyer's agent and the listing agent must create the purchase contract. Transaction agents act as neutral parties to oversee contract preparation, contract signing and closing.


A realtor is a real estate agent who is a member of the National Association of Realtors (NAR). As a designated realtor, you must agree to the NAR's code of ethics. You can also receive benefits, such as:

  • Access to training and career development resources

  • Networking opportunities

  • Discounts on materials and courses

Realtors perform all the same duties and have the same legal responsibilities of a real estate agent.

Related: 16 Real Estate Jobs With Top Salaries

Benefits of being a real estate agent

Real estate agents enjoy the following benefits:

  • Flexible schedules: Real estate agents can usually create their own schedules and may work nontraditional hours. Additionally, a real estate agent can complete many of their responsibilities virtually, including paperwork and communicating with parties related to a transaction.

  • Pay: The average national salary for real estate agents is $94,778 per year.

  • Independence: Real estate agents often determine their own buying or selling strategies, recruit their own clients and work directly with clients. Even working within a brokerage, real estate agents function more like small business owners than employees.

  • Less risk: Working as a real estate agent poses less legal and financial risk than being a broker. Brokers must take responsibility for the actions of their firm and its members, while real estate agents are only responsible for their own actions.

Read more: Pros and Cons of Being a Real Estate Agent

How to become a real estate agent

Follow these steps to become a real estate agent:

  1. Meet the prerequisites. Requirements vary between states, but real estate agents generally need to be at least 18 years old and hold a high school diploma or equivalent.

  2. Take a real estate course. You can find the required training courses online or in person through community colleges or other community locations. Look for programs certified by the Association of Real Estate License Law Officials. Traditional classroom instruction may be four to six months long, while online programs may allow you to work at your own pace.

  3. Apply for your license. Find the appropriate licensing agency in your state to apply for your real estate license. You may need to submit fingerprints, agree to a background check and provide other personal information.

  4. Pass a licensing exam. Real estate agents must pass a state licensing exam in the state they plan to work.

  5. Complete continuing education courses. Your state may require you to complete a certain number of hours of continuing education to maintain a valid real estate license.

Related: How To Succeed as a Real Estate Agent in 2021: 10 Tips

Real estate broker types

Here are the types of real estate brokers:

Designated real estate broker

Designated, or principal, real estate brokers are the highest-ranking brokers in a firm and maintain the business component of a real estate firm, including staffing, operations and supervision of all employees. They are also responsible for ensuring legal and ethical compliance among brokers and real estate agents.

Managing real estate broker

Managing brokers perform operational and transactional duties for a brokerage, such as:

  • Compiling property lists

  • Communicating with real estate agents and clients

  • Assisting real estate agents in referring and scheduling services, including appraisals, inspections and closings

  • Collecting and delivering payments to the designated broker

  • Marketing available properties

  • Training new brokers and agents

Associate real estate broker

Associate real estate brokers, also referred to as associate-brokers or broker-salespeople, operate more like a real estate agent, though they have their broker's license. They report to a managing broker and typically do not perform managerial duties.

Related: How To Become a Real Estate Broker (Average Salary and Steps)

Benefits of being a real estate broker

The benefits of being a real estate broker include:

  • Business ownership: Brokers can open and run their own businesses, providing them with professional freedom and autonomy.

  • Pay: Real estate brokers work on commission and may receive 3-6% of the sale price of every property sold by their brokerage. The national average salary for real estate brokers is $80,007 per year, plus $40,000 in commission. Even if you decide to work as a broker-associate, your commission percentage is usually higher than other agents because of your credentials.

  • Ability to work in property management: Earning your broker's license allows you to become a property manager or to open a property management company, serving as a liaison between property owners and tenants.

  • Expertise: Real estate brokers often complete more training and have more experience in every aspect of real estate.

Related: How Much Do Real Estate Brokers Make?

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How to become a real estate broker

Broker requirements differ between states, but here are the general steps to become a real estate broker:

  1. Become a licensed real estate agent. Before becoming a broker, you must be a licensed real estate agent in your state.

  2. Gain experience. Some states require you to hold a real estate license for at least two years before applying for a broker's license.

  3. Complete additional training courses. Find broker education programs online or at training centers in your area. You can locate courses through your state licensing board.

  4. Pass the state exam. You must pass your state's broker certification exam to become licensed.

  5. Complete continuing education. To maintain your license, some states require the completion of continuing education courses.

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