There was an interesting exchange on NBC's Today Show last week that makes one wonder about all of those consultants and contributors that the networks and cable news shows are forever trotting out.

Janice Lieberman, credited as a 'consumer reporter' was beginning a week-long series on real estate. From front to back the series was pretty lame, but right off the bat Al Roker asked her the difference between a real estate agent and a Realtor'. Lieberman waved her hands dismissively and said they were essentially the same thing. 'You say 'to-may-to,' I say 'toe-ma-toe''

The phones began ringing coast to coast.

The next day Roker, pled mea culpa to the error and asked Lieberman again. This time, she almost got it right.

The correct answer, or course, is that a Realtor is a member of the National Association of Realtors and there are many real estate agents who are not. If nothing else, Realtors are willing to spend a great deal of money each year to achieve and retain that designation. A Realtor's customers also have recourse through the association if they are treated in a manner contrary to that demanded by the Realtor's Code of Ethics.


While we are on the subject, there is another term that is constantly misused. Real estate broker is frequently used as though it were synonymous with real estate agent. This is even more incorrect than the agent/Realtor misspeak because it is a legal rather than a membership discrepancy.

In most states (I am unaware of any states where this does not apply, please let me know if you do) a real estate broker holds a more powerful license than a real estate agent. A broker's license is necessary to operate an office, accept a commission, and manage other agents and brokers. Therefore, an agent must work under the auspices of a broker. An agent usually must apprentice under a broker for a year or more, and perhaps take a second licensing exam to become a broker.

This agent/broker status does not make a lot of difference to the average consumer when picking an agent. A broker may have more experience than an agent, but there are thousands of very capable agents who have worked in the field for years without taking the extra steps to 'broker hood.' If you choose to work with a very small office, however, you should make sure that your 'agent' is either a broker or working under the supervision of one, to ensure no nagging little problems with your transaction.