Real Estate Agent vs. Real Estate Broker - What’s the Difference?

Real Estate Agent vs. Real Estate Broker - What’s the Difference?

If you are new to the industry or are considering starting a career in real estate, you may have wondered what the difference is between a real estate agent and a real estate broker.

The terms “agent” and “broker” are often used interchangeably and involve overlapping responsibilities, so it's easy to confuse the two roles.

However, the two titles are distinct. So, what's the difference? Continue reading to find out.

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

Real estate agents and real estate brokers are essentially different stages of the same profession. Both job titles enable you to facilitate real estate transactions, but agents (sometimes called salespeople) require supervision to practice. Brokers don't.

It's worth noting that in some states, including Washington, the first level of licensing is called "broker" instead of agent or salesperson. As a result, the next level of licensing is "managing broker." It's the exception rather than the rule, but it certainly adds to the confusion.

Difference Between a Real Estate Agent and a Broker Infographic

Real Estate Agents

Real estate agents are responsible for connecting buyers and sellers to facilitate the sale of "real property" (commonly known as real estate).

To become an agent, an industry professional must take and pass all mandatory state-specific courses and fulfill the state's licensing requirements.

Once they're licensed, a real estate agent has to work for a brokerage under the supervision of a licensed broker. They cannot work independently.

Responsibilities of a Real Estate Agent

All real estate agents have a few common responsibilities.

1. Match a Buyer to Available Properties on the Market

Real estate agents – whether representing buyer or seller – aim to match buyers and properties based on the buyer's needs, neighborhoods of interest, and the property's attributes. For seller's agents, this is largely through marketing.

2. Submit Offers and Negotiate

After a buyer finds a property they are interested in purchasing, real estate agents submit an offer and facilitate the negotiation until terms are agreed upon by both parties.

3. Finalize Purchases

Real estate agents are responsible for guiding clients through the finalization of purchases. They complete tasks such as finalizing paperwork, facilitating repairs and inspections, and navigating the closing of the sale.

Types of Real Estate Agents

There are two main ways to divide real estate agents: residential vs. commercial, then by role.

Agents typically have to commit to either residential or commercial real estate. It's rare for an agent to do both, and typically only in rural markets.

Within both residential and commercial real estate, there are buyer's agents and seller's agents. Some agents take on both types of clients, while others choose to specialize in buyers or sellers. Either way is fine, but it's ethically dubious (and sometimes illegal) to represent both the buyer and the seller in the same transaction.

Type of Agent

Job Description

Residential Agent

Residential real estate agents specialize in individual residences like houses, condos, or townhomes. Most agents go into residential real estate because it's a bigger market. 


Commercial Agents

Commercial real estate agents specialize in commercial properties. This career path often requires advanced education – at least a bachelor's degree. Commercial agents often specialize in particular types of commercial property.


Seller's Agent

(Listing Agent)

A seller's agent (also known as a listing agent) is responsible for representing the person who is selling the property in a real estate transaction. These agents have extensive knowledge of local housing markets and are excellent at negotiating and moving quickly throughout the selling process.


A seller's agent has the following responsibilities:

  • List the home or property on a variety of listing services
  • Coordinate and schedule showings of the property
  • Price the home or property being sold
  • Advertise and market the property to potential buyers
  • Negotiate prices and conditions for the seller
  • Help the seller with closing paperwork


Buyer's Agent

(Selling Agent)

A buyer's agent (also known as a selling agent) works with the individual who is purchasing real estate or real property – the buyer. Buyer's agents are industry professionals who understand the complex transaction process and who have in-depth knowledge of local housing markets so that they can present the buyer with properties that match what they might be looking for.


A buyer's agent has the following responsibilities:

  • Locate unique properties that meet the needs of the buyer
  • Help buyers with financing
  • Showing buyers the merits of different properties
  • Works to negotiate fair pricing of properties
  • Help the buyer with closing paperwork


Real Estate Brokers

Brokers are more advanced real estate professionals. To become a broker, professionals need to complete a certain number of years as a real estate agent and then earn the next level of real estate license. That involves repeating the licensing process, including the completion of broker's pre-license courses.

This additional experience and education permits them to take on advanced duties like supervising other agents, handling certain financial and legal aspects of a transaction, and owning a brokerage.

The requirements for becoming a broker are different in every state. For example, Colorado brokerage licensing requires completion of a 24-hour Brokerage Administration Course, two (2) years of active real estate experience, and meeting the requirements of Colorado Rule A-27. In Texas, on the other hand, the requirements are much more extensive – agents who wish to become brokers must have four (4) years of active experience and complete 270 hours of qualifying education, including the Brokerage Administration Course.

Responsibilities of a Real Estate Broker

Real estate brokers are still allowed to do everything real estate agents do, but they have a heightened level of responsibility.

1. Perform an Agent's Duties Independently

A broker's license provides you with the ability to become legally responsible for the entirety of a real estate transaction. That means you no longer need the supervision of a senior agent – you are able to handle the whole transaction on your own.

As a result, brokers who continue to work directly with clients often have a better commission split with their brokerage.

2. Supervise and Guide Agents

A broker's license allows real estate professionals to supervise and manage agent-level licensees. They provide guidance and mentoring in exchange for part of their supervisees' income. The flip side is that they become legally responsible for the actions of every agent under their purview.

3. Ensure the Legality of Transactions

The reason that brokers can work independently or supervise other agents is that they're allowed to handle certain financial and legal steps in the transaction process that agents cannot. Brokers can move money in and out of escrow accounts and mediate legal disputes that arise from the transaction.

Ultimately, brokers are responsible for ensuring that a transaction is completed lawfully, that the paperwork is correct and complete, and that all monies are recorded and reported properly.

4. Own a Brokerage and Hire Other Professionals

Brokers are legally able to start or purchase their own brokerage, hire other real estate agents and brokers, assume responsibility for all transactions, and benefit from them financially.

Types of Real Estate Brokers

Not all brokers choose to exercise all of these responsibilities, and the degree to which they assume responsibility determines what type of broker they are.

Type of Agent

Job Description

Associate Brokers

Associate brokers continue to work directly with clients under another broker. They use their license to handle transactions independently. Typically, they do not supervise other licensees. The title also indicates that they're not a managing or principal broker.


Designated Brokers

Designated brokers take legal responsibility for the actions and transactions of all brokers and agents underneath them. The title indicates legal liability only. Many designated brokers have active supervisory duties, especially down the chain. Upper-level designated brokers are ultimately responsible for their employees' actions, but they may not take an active role in mentoring or managing.


Managing Brokers

Managing brokers take hands-on responsibility for the daily operation of the brokerage. They are often designated brokers responsible for transactions, but not always. The title means that they take an active role in operational responsibilities like managing all staff and overseeing the administrative aspects of the firm.


Principal Brokers


The ultimate designated broker within each brokerage is its principal broker. All brokerage transactions are ultimately legally their responsibility – the buck stops with them. Each brokerage must have a principal broker at all times. Principal brokers who own part or all of the brokerage are known as broker-owners.


Property Manager

A broker's license also allows you to leave the world of sales brokerages behind altogether and become a property manager. Property managers develop, manage, and administrate rental properties on behalf of the owner, whether these properties are apartment buildings or shopping centers.



Is It Better to Be a Real Estate Agent or a Broker?

It all depends on what you are looking for.

Some real estate agents are happy to continue working with their team. They enjoy having the available resources their brokerage offers. Working for a brokerage provides an agent with brand presence, networking opportunities, and one-on-one training. But for the self-motivated agents who aspire to be their own boss, becoming a broker may be an important step in their career.

Ready to kickstart your real estate journey? Head over to our website to take a look at our catalog of courses to get you licensed!

Written and Published by: VanEd

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