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Sometimes the terms "agent" and "realtor" are used interchangeably by people. These two terms mean very different things, though!

Let's take a look at just what makes an agent a REALTOR® and how you can know which one is the right fit for you.

A real estate agent is a professional that helps people buy and sell houses and land. In order to legally do business as an agent a person must take a real estate licensing course and/or pass their state exam.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics says, "Real estate agents must have a license from the State in which they work. To get a license, a person must have graduated from high school. The person must be at least 18 years old and pass a written test. In some States, a person who wants to be a real estate agent must go to a special school for a few months."

In reality, all REALTORS® and agents are licensed. What makes a Realtor different then? Today there are many real estate agents across the globe and more than 1 million are members of the NAR.

According to the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR), "The term "REALTOR®" is a registered collective membership mark that identifies a real estate professional who is a member of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® and abides by its strict Code of Ethics."

This code of ethics is what entices many customers to seek out a licensed REALTOR®. From pledging to protect and promote the interests of their clients to pledging to avoid exaggeration, misrepresentation, or concealment of pertinent facts relating to the property or transaction, they must follow certain standards in order to keep their membership.

Just because an agent isn't part of the National Association of Realtors®, though, does not mean they won't be a valuable and trustworthy asset in your home buying or selling process. Many agents across the country work as part-time agents or are new to the field and can't afford dues to larger affiliations. These agents can be just as hardworking and ethical as the next.

In large cities where there are lots of agents to choose from, though, you can be lost without a recommendation. Who do you trust with your time and money? In cases such as these it might be wise to work with agents who have extended credentials, such as being a member of the NAR. These agents are bound to a specific set of standards and pay to be a part of this elite organization. An independent survey reports that 84% of home buyers would use the same REALTOR again.

So, the next time you are starting your search for a real estate professional who can help you complete your next transaction, be sure to explore all of your choices. And remember -- all REALTORS are agents, but not all agents are REALTORS!

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