People often use the terms REALTOR® and real estate agent interchangeably. But, the fact is, a real estate agent is not necessarily a REALTOR®. The word REALTOR® is a trademarked term, yet often journalists prefer to type it: Realtor, as opposed to REALTOR®, refusing to use all caps.
Other writers choose to ignore the distinction between REALTOR® and real estate agent or licensee, and see the word Realtor becoming to real estate agent what Kleenex® is to tissue. While some may claim REALTORS® are oversensitive, and are simply trying to protect their trademark, that is not the entire story. There is a fundamental distinct difference of definition between the word REALTOR® and a real estate licensee.
Journalists who participate in this sloppy word swapping are doing a disservice to their readers, and in many ways waving a red flag declaring their own ignorance of the real estate profession.
So, what is a REALTOR®? About a century ago many in the real estate industry were viewed as con men and crooks. Reputable real estate professionals banned together and created an association to monitor their industry, and put into effect a standard code of ethics.
The National Association of REALTORS® was born. Real estate licensees who join the association, agree to adhere to a higher code of ethics, and are subject to the association’s sanctions and educational requirements. These members can then add the title of REALTOR® to their credentials.
It is not only the media or general public who get confused over the definition of REALTOR®, sometimes it is the new real estate licensee. When a member of the general public decides to become a real estate agent, they are familiar with the vocation, yet not necessarily fully informed as to the inner working of their new chosen career, such as the continual educational requirements, provisions for participating in area multiple listing services or distinctions between regional, state or national REALTOR® associations.
During real estate school instructors often point out to their students that the fulfillment of courses, and passing state and national tests will make them real estate licensees, not REALTORS®. Some simply don’t get it, at least, not at first.
There is also a confusion over the pronunciation of REALTOR®. It is pronounced real-tor, not real-a-tor.
Some real estate professionals make the conscious choice to not join the National Association of REALTORS®. This is often true for those specializing in commercial real estate.
Belonging to the association brings many benefits to the real estate professional, and to their clients. The association requires its members to take frequent ethics classes, along with other educational opportunities, and the agent is monitored by his or her peers.