In order to get a real estate license, a person must take a certain number of classes and then take a test according to their state licensing laws. Each state has different laws and different education requirements that real estate agents must abide by and fulfill. Some people stop at the real estate agent level and go no further. These people are allowed to practice real estate according to their state's laws but are not granted access to a pool of propertiesfor sale, called the Multiple Listing Service (MLS). In the case of agents who are working exclusively for a developer and only selling properties that the developer has available, the MLS may not be necessary.
The next level up is known as a Realtor®. They start as real estate agents, licensed by the individual state or states in which they practice. However, not all real estate agents are Realtors®. Real estate agents who are Realtors® subscribe to a national code of ethics that helps to assure the integrity and professionalism of all Realtors®. In addition, they are members of the National Association of Realtors®, a trade organization comprised of real estate professionals from all over the United States.
Members of the National Association of Realtors® have access to their regional MLS, which is now available nationally through Realtor.com. This is a service where Realtors® pool their available properties for sale, offer to share their commission with other Realtors®, and better serve their clients by having more people available to sell the properties they have listed.
A listing agent has a contract with a seller to sell his property. This agent is working for the seller. A buyer's agent may or may not have an actual contract to find a buyer a piece of property. It may be a verbal understanding or it may be implied, but a buyer's agent is working for the buyer. These different relationships are known as agency, and they vary from state to state. In some states, all agents who belong to the MLS work for the seller. They are either the listing agent or a subagent of the listing agent. In these areas, a buyer has no representation unless they pay for it specifically. This practice was the standard in most locations for years, but it has become less and less common. Now, it is more likely that there are representatives for both parties.
A few states have eliminated agency altogether. These agents become facilitators. This means that agents are representing the transaction and not one party or the other.
Some states have another category, called dual agency, where an agent represents both parties. If your listing agent finds the buyer, you may be in this situation. It is important that this type of agency, or the possibility of it, be disclosed up front so that no one gives out confidential information about another without consent.