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What’s the difference between a REALTOR and a real estate agent?

Pennsylvania RealtorAlthough many people use the terms REALTOR® and real estate agent interchangeably, they are not the same thing. Not every licensed real estate salesperson in Pennsylvania is a REALTOR®. Both a REALTOR and a licensed real estate salesperson (or agent) are licensed to sell real estate. But in order to call yourself a REALTOR, the licensee must be a member of the National Association of REALTORS®.

Besides paying dues to the association, Realtors must agreed to abide by the REALTOR® Code of Ethics. Why does this matter? Shouldn’t all salespeople be ethical? The short answer is yes. But it’s a bit more complicated than that. The Code boils down to following the Golden Rule, which we all should follow in our lives. Imagine if everyone (salespeople or not) all lived by  the “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you” creed. Life would be so much simpler and better for all. But that’s not real life, and so thus we have the REALTOR Code of Ethics that is spelled out in 17 articles and enforced by state and local real estate boards. These ethics in many cases are stricter than the state rules and regulations. Something may be legal, for example, but not ethical. That’s where the difference between a salesperson and a REALTOR makes a difference to the consumer.

Most importantly, in article one the REALTOR is held to a standard of honesty: Realtors must put the interest of buyers and sellers ahead of their own, and treat all parties fairly. Following that first article, the remaining 16 set the standards of practice for how an agent must conduct business with consumers, clients, and with their own colleagues. The Realtor can never put their own interests first, above the interests of their clients. Following is the list of 17 articles that the Realtor promises to abide by:

  1. Pledge to put the interests of buyers and sellers ahead of their own and to treat all parties honestly.
  2. Shall refrain from exaggerating, misrepresenting, or concealing material facts; and is obligated to investigate and disclose when situations reasonably warrant.
  3. Shall cooperate with other brokers / agents when it is in the best interests of the client to do so.
  4. Have a duty to disclose if they represent family members who own or are about to buy real estate, or if they themselves are a principal in a real estate transaction, that they are licensed to sell real estate.
  5. Shall not provide professional services in a transaction where the agent has a present or contemplated interest without disclosing that interest.
  6. Shall not collect any commissions without the seller’s knowledge nor accept fees from a third-party without the seller’s express consent.
  7. Shall refuse fees from more than one party without all parties’ informed consent.
  8. Shall not co-mingle client funds with the agent’s own.
  9. Shall attempt to ensure that all written documents are easy to understand and will give everybody a copy of what they sign.
  10. Shall not discriminate in any fashion for any reason on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin.
  11. Expects agents to be competent, to conform to standards of practice and to refuse to provide services for which they are unqualified.
  12. Must engage in truth in advertising.
  13. Shall not practice law unless the agent is a lawyer.
  14. Shall cooperate if charges are brought against them and present all evidence requested.
  15. Agree to not bad mouth competition and agree not to file unfounded ethics complaints.
  16. Shall not solicit another REALTOR’S client nor interfere in a contractual relationship.
  17. Shall submit to arbitration to settle matters and not seek legal remedies in the judicial system.

The National Association of REALTORS® was founded in 1908 and its members number more than 1.2 million. Ramus Realty Group is a member of the National Association of Realtors and Pennsylvania Association of Realtors. Our broker belongs to the Reading Berks Association of Realtors and the Schuylkill Board of Realtors locally.


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