All of your real estate questions answered, simply

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


Like I have said time and time again, real estate has it's own language… just like the English language, when you say "hello" to someone you may say: hello, hi, hey, what's going on, or down south (hey y’all), to name a few, and as we know it, they all mean the same thing - HELLO. A lot of times in real estate you will hear different titles/names but they pretty much mean the same thing, and this is especially true when you hear the title "real estate agent"

Today I am answering a common question most people have and that is what exactly is the difference between a real estate agent, realtor, and real estate broker.


Let's first talk about real estate agents

For someone to become a real estate agent (in Georgia), and earn a real estate salesperson license, they must complete 75 hours of Pre-Licensing education, complete a background check, take the state licensing examination, and apply for the salesperson license. Having a real estate salesperson license, you can now legally receive compensation (usually commission) for the coordination of buying and selling in real estate transactions.

A lot of what an agent learns in the Pre-Licensing education revolve around the terms, laws and definitions of the "real estate language." In order to keep the real estate license active, all agents must complete the state level of continuing education credits every 3 years.

The various titles of a real estate agent can seem confusing but this person is traditionally one in the same, a real estate agent may be referred to as licensed salesperson, real estate agent, real estate salesperson, or licensed agent. All of the titles are one in the same, they are real estate agents that have a real estate license and can receive compensation for coordinating real estate transaction.

Proud day, I was originally licensed in 2005, and peaked the million dollar club my first year, selling over 95 properties, working with first time home buyers, investors and listing homes for Freddie Mac. In 2011 I took some time off, after the major market crash in 2010. This day was super exciting for me to reactivate my license and get back to fulfilling my passion in real estate!

You may also hear the title of REALTORS®, a REALTOR® is a trademark name referring to a real estate agent who is an active member of the National Association of Realtors (NAR). For an agent to become a Realtor, they pay an annual fee (usually between $350-$500) to the association they choose to be a part of. There are many National Associations of trade, the NAR has its members follow a certain code of ethics. Not all real estate agents are Realtors, simply if they choose not to be and not all members of the NAR are licensed real estate agents, they could be board members.

When you hear the term buyers agent, sellers agent, listing agent, these are also real estate agents. This is what I like to call a "transaction title names", meaning the title in the name let's all the parties know who that real estate agent is representing. For example, a buyers agent is representing someone in a buying transaction (they are looking to purchase real estate). A sellers agent, also known as a listing agent is representing someone in a selling transaction (they are looking to sell real estate that they own).

While a real estate agent must have a broker hold their real estate license, they are still considered a contractor and a small business owner. They are still responsible for their own insurance, taxes, marketing, and traditional cost that are associated with running a real estate business and are paid commission only.


So, what is a real estate broker, associate broker and brokerages?

A real estate principal/designated broker is legally able to run their own office (sometimes knows a firms), and most of the times, have real estate agents work under them. This person oversees all licensed real estate agents at the firm and ensures that agents are operating in compliance with state and national real estate law.

In order to have obtained a broker license (here in Georgia), the broker would have to be an active real estate agent for at least 3 years , and met the requirements of passing the broker exam on a state and or national level.

Real estate commissions from the sale of real estate transactions can only be paid to the principal real estate broker, not to the real estate agent.

Each real estate agent must work independently under a broker, and have the broker (that they choose) hold their license while they are practicing selling real estate. In a sense, the broker is “responsible” for them while they are in the field selling real estate for consumers.

In exchange for the broker overseeing the real estate agent, there is an agreement (contract) between the real estate agent and the real estate broker that is holding their license. This agreement outlines certain office terms and most importantly a "commission split" between the two of them.

For example, let's say the real estate agent sells a home for $100,000 and the commission on that sale is 3% ($3,000) paid to the broker. The broker in turn, keeps their portion of the split (for example: 20% or $600), and pays the remaining $2,400 to the real estate agent. If there are any other expenses for the agent such as E&O insurance, office fees, MLS fees, etc the broker will also deduct these fees before pay the agent the difference.

Some brokers choose to run a real estate broker firm with just themselves, and they choose to do this to avoid the commission split. Other brokers choose to have a full firm with many real estate agents under them.

Any real estate agent can become eligible to apply for, and become a broker after being actively licensed for 3 years, having a certain hours in brokers continuing education classes, and passing the state brokers exam, but some agents just simply stay under a broker their entire career as they are not interested in progressing to that side of the business.

Depending on the size of the firm, the principal broker may also be the managing broker or have someone else designated as the managing broker in the firm. The managing broker oversees the day-to-day operation and transactions of the office and typically takes a hands-on approach to recruiting agents, training new agents, and managing administrative staff.

If your buying or selling a home, odds are you will only work with and speak with your agent, not their broker. While most all transactions process smoothly, if a problem should arise out of a transaction, that is when the agents’ broker will step in. The agent will sign all of the real estate contracts on behalf of themselves and their broker during the transaction.

Larger firms may have Associate broker(s), this is a real estate agent (also known as broker associate, broker-salesperson, or affiliate broker) and they have a broker's license but is working under a managing broker. This person typically is not responsible for supervising other agents. Why would you want to be an associate broker? Let's say the person has already branded themselves with that broker name, and they want the education, knowledge and license as a broker, but they don't want to work "by themselves", they still want the connection to that broker name and still operate under the managing broker.

A lot of the larger real estate firms, you may be familiar with are: Remax, Coldwell Banker, Keller Williams, Virtual Properties... to name a few. While every one has a principal broker, these brokerages are companies that are owned sometimes by one individual or a group of individuals as a partnership, and not all of the owners are licensed in real estate.

Brokers offer agent different benefits such as office space in various locations, if the agents choose to have an "office environment", yet many work from their home office or may only work from the brokers offices occasionally. Most brokers also offer the agents free continuing education for updates in the real estate market, monthly office meetings, and offer agent luncheons to mingle and meet with other agents.

Agents can freely move from broker to broker at any time, however there is a lot of paperwork and cost for the agent in terms of re-branding. Therefore, most agents do a lot of their own homework before picking a broker to go with, but again they are independent contractors of the broker and can freely leave at any time.

In my own personal experience, when I first was licensed in 2005, I went with one of the larger brokers in the Atlanta market because they offered exceptional one on one attention and gave phenomenal coaching and training and really set me up for an amazing first few years. Of course, I paid for this service in that the commission split was about 50%. As a new agent, it was worth every penny.

Every agent will choose their own broker based off what it is they need. Maybe they have a friend who is with one broker and suggest they join, maybe there is a broker with an office one mile from where they live and they like that convenience, but whatever the reason, the goal here is to find that agent that you work well with.


Who should I go with when buying or selling real estate?

The difference between one agent and the next or one broker or the other, I feel is your own personal relationship with that person that you know in real estate, and if they make you feel comfortable. If you feel that person will protect you and look after your best interest, that’s who you should go with.

Every agent may bring something a little different to the table and may have a different selling technique than the other, but I personally don’t feel it matters what broker that agent is with or vice versa.

Also, don’t discredit the new agents, new agents are hungry and fresh! They, just as with seasoned agents, will work very hard for you.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully this helped answer your questions on the difference between a real estate agent and broker and who may be best for you. If you’re looking to buy or sell a home in the North Georgia area, please reach out to me. My goal is to help you achieve all of your goals in life & in real estate. Be sure to check out my other blogs and resources to help you, or please share this content with someone if you think it could help them. Until the next one, stay blessed!

Melissa English is a Real Estate Agent and Investor in the North Georgia market with hundreds of closed transactions and nearly a decade of experience in real estate. She is also the founder of - a real estate investing company that specializes in purchasing property offering quick closings in as-is condition.