Listing agent | Buyer's agent | Dual agent | Real estate broker | REALTOR® | Specialized real estate agents | Other types of real estate agents | Non-agent real estate professionals | Real estate agent alternatives | How to find the right agent
A real estate agent is a general term describing someone licensed to represent one or more parties in a real estate transaction.
To become licensed, all real estate agents must complete educational coursework, pass an exam, pay recurring fees to keep the license active, and be sponsored by a licensed real estate brokerage. The exact requirements will vary by state.
While anyone holding a real estate sales license can technically represent you in any type of property transaction, some situations call for agents who specialize in particular areas or types of real estate.
This guide lays out all the different types of real estate agents to help you understand your options and find the right fit for your situation.
It might also be worth exploring Clever's free agent matching service. Our team of licensed experts learns about your needs, then matches you with multiple vetted agents so you can compare options and choose the best fit.
Sellers and eligible buyers who find their agents through Clever's platform also get pre-negotiated discounted rates and cash back savings. If you don't like Clever's recommendations, you can simply walk away. This service is 100% free with no obligation.
» MORE: Learn how Clever helps you find the perfect agent and save thousands
What are the types of real estate agents?
Listing agent | Buyer's agent | Dual agent | Real estate broker | REALTOR® | Specialized real estate agents
A listing agent (sometimes also called a "seller's agent") represents you in the sale of your property. Listing agents are responsible for marketing your home and attracting offers, negotiating the best possible terms, and ensuring the deal actually closes.
What does a listing agent do?
🔨 Recommends pre-listing repairs and improvements
When you decide to hire an agent, they'll usually have you sign a listing agreement. These contracts establish terms — including the services the agent will provide, the commission fee structure, and how long the agent has the exclusive right to sell your property.
Real estate agents typically earn a commission when a home is sold. Rates vary, but 6% of the final sale price is typical nationwide. Listing agents usually take 3% in exchange for their services marketing and selling the home, and the other 3% goes to the buyer’s agent for bringing their client to purchase the home.
If you're selling, you can save on listing fees by trying to negotiate lower rates with your listing agent or working with a discount real estate brokerage. However, offering a full 2.5–3% buyer's agent fee is almost always recommended as an incentive for buyer's agents and ensures your home sells quickly and for the best possible price.
A buyer's agent (confusingly, sometimes also called a "selling agent") represents you in the purchase of a property. They'll help you get all the pieces in place so you're ready to buy, identify prospective properties, set up and accompany you on tours, submit purchase offers, negotiate terms, and navigate the closing process.
What does a buyer's agent do?
💰 Ensures you're ready to buy
Most buyer's agents won't ask you to sign an exclusive contract until you actually submit an offer. So if you tour a few homes with an agent and decide you don't like them, you can likely just find a new agent. Or you can house hunt with multiple agents simultaneously.
Some buyer's agents may ask you to sign an exclusive buyer's agency agreement — particularly if your timeline is more open ended. If an agent is committing a considerable amount of time up front to helping you find a home, they might want some assurance you won't dash off at the last minute and buy with someone else.
As a buyer, you likely won't have to pay your agent's fee out of pocket. Your agent's fee — typically 2.5–3% — is usually taken from the sale proceeds at closing.
» NEXT STEPS: Find a great buyer's agent and save
Many real estate agents work with home buyers and sellers on a regular basis. And often, one agent will represent the same customer when they're selling one home and moving into another in the same area. This is NOT the same as a "dual agent" (see below), who represents both parties in the same transaction.
A dual agent represents both the seller and buyer in a single real estate transaction. This typically occurs when:
- A buyer without an agent approaches a listing agent directly at an open house or online.
- An agent gets a new listing that is a good fit for a buyer they're already representing.
Agreeing to dual agency representation may offer some potential benefits to sellers and buyers.
Sellers may be able to save money if the agent agrees to reduce or waive the buyer's agent fee. And buyers who bring that opportunity for the seller could give their offer a competitive edge. More generally, dual agents can sometimes help both parties streamline the entire process and move faster.
But dual agency can also be risky. It sets up a potential conflict of interest, as it's difficult for one agent to objectively represent two opposing parties in a negotiation. You also run the risk of the agent sharing confidential information — inadvertently or purposefully — that could negatively affect your outcome with the other side.
For this reason, most states require agents to disclose dual agency up front or even get written consent. Others outlaw it altogether. Dual agency is currently banned in AK, CO, FL, KS, OK, TX, VT, and WY.
Dual agency vs. designated agency
Designated agency is when two different agents from the same brokerage represent the buyer and seller in a given transaction. It lacks the potential cost-savings benefits associated with dual agency.
Designated agency may occur by chance: you're listing your home with an agent from Local Brokerage A and a buyer working with a different agent from Local Brokerage A happens to make the best offer. Or a seller or buyer may be uncomfortable with dual agency, so the broker will designate another agent to represent them.
Though designated agency is less of a direct conflict of interest than dual agency, it still presents a slight risk. The agents, who may know each other or work in the same office, could accidentally (or purposefully) share confidential information. Again, make sure you understand the risks before committing to a designated agency sale.
Real estate broker
A real estate broker is an agent who has advanced to a higher professional license. To obtain a broker license, an agent must have had a sales license for 2–3 years and complete additional coursework and an exam. Exact requirements vary by state.
Licensed real estate brokers can work independently or open up their own brokerage firm and employ other agents. With that in mind, lots of real estate professionals can call themselves "brokers" but may perform different duties day to day.
Generally, associate brokers and managing brokers are members of a brokerage and represent buyers and sellers, whereas designated brokers are the owners and focus on running the business.
Real estate brokers aren't inherently better than real estate sales agents. Plenty of successful, qualified agents simply don't want or need a broker's license. Title or designations can sometimes be a useful starting point when you're looking for an agent, but ultimately it's about whether they have the right experience and attitude for your needs.
» MORE: Learn how to find the right real estate agent for you
Realtor is often used interchangeably with real estate agent — like Kleenex and tissue — but a REALTOR (capitalized) technically refers to an accredited member of the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR). Approximately half of all active licensed agents in the U.S. are REALTORS.,
REALTORS pay annual dues, abide by a stringent Code of Ethics, and often join local associations. They also may have access to exclusive marketing and business development resources.
In practice, REALTORS aren't that different from non-REALTOR real estate agents. Both hold the same sales license and can represent you in any real estate transaction. Ultimately, what matters most is the agent's experience, track record, and personality — not their title.
Real estate agents with specialized skills or focus areas
Some sellers or buyers have circumstances or needs that may benefit from an agent who specializes in a certain area or service.
For example, if you're in pre-foreclosure or looking to invest in rental properties, you'd want an agent with extensive experience in those respective areas.
The best way to find specialized agents to work with a free agent matching service, like Clever Real Estate. These companies partner with thousands of agents nationwide with all sorts of experience. They’ll learn about your needs then recommend agents who are a good fit.
Another option is to use an online agent finder tool, like Zillow or Realtor.com, that allows you to filter by specialization or certification. These tools don’t offer a ton of quality control, but can be a good starting point for narrowing the field.
Realtor.com allows you to filter by NAR certifications, which are arguably a more legit starting point, as they indicate the agent has completed additional coursework to achieve that certification (Zillow specializations aren't verified).
The table below outlines some of the most common NAR certifications. Try Realtor.com's agent finder tool for more.
Designation or Certification
Agent specializes in land purchases, such as agricultural or undeveloped land.
Agent can manage a rental property.
Agent is now a broker and can work independently, advance at brokerage, or open up their own.
Agent can double as appraiser, maximizing their earnings and streamlining the selling process.
Agent specializes in supporting military personnel and veterans, some of whom have special needs or privileges.
Agent specializes in green (eco-friendly or sustainable) properties.
Agent specializes in supporting seniors, some of whom have special needs or privileges.
Agent specializes in short sales and purchasing foreclosed homes.
Source: National Association of Realtors, Designations and Certifications
Other types of real estate agents
Discount broker | Limited-service agent | Transaction coordinator | Flat fee MLS
Discount real estate agent or broker
Discount real estate brokers are companies or agents that offer lower commission rates for home sellers. Some (but not all) also offer potential savings for buyers.
Discount real estate brokers could help you save big on commission fees. But the trade-off is typically less dedicated service and support throughout your sale. Discount brokers are usually better suited to experienced sellers with desirable homes in hot markets who don't feel strongly about personalized customer service and support.
» FIND: Discount Real Estate Brokers: Who's the BEST in 2021?
Limited-service real estate agent
If you only want help with certain aspects of your sale, a limited-service agent will typically let you purchase just the services you need — help with pricing and an MLS listing, for example — and avoid paying for the ones you don't.
Limited-service agents can be an attractive option because of the significant savings. But many sellers end up getting burned if they underestimate how much experience and time is required to successfully sell a home. And many limited-service agents aren't significantly cheaper than full-service discount brokerages, but offer far less value.
» LEARN: Are Limited-Service Real Estate Agents Worth It?
Transaction coordinators (TCs) handle behind-the-scenes administrative tasks throughout a transaction, like ensuring paperwork gets completed and filed, publishing and updating online listing information, coordinating inspections and appraisals, and more.
Real estate agents and brokerage offices often hire TCs to free up more of their time and energy so they can take on more clients and close more deals. Some real estate agents are certified as TCs — and some TCs have real estate sales licenses — but they're not the same, typically focusing on different aspects of the process.
Some agents and brokerages offer TC-only services for sellers or buyers who aren't working with agents. This might make sense if you're selling to someone you already know — like a family member or friend — and want someone to help with the paperwork, but don't need the full marketing and negotiation support real estate agents provide (and charge more for).
Flat fee MLS company
A flat fee MLS company does pretty much exactly what the name implies: publish your home on your local multiple listing service (MLS) — which only licensed agents can access — for a flat, upfront fee.
If you're selling for sale by owner (FSBO), hiring a flat fee MLS company can help you get more exposure without having to shell out for a full-service agent. But the value ends there: you’ll have to handle every other aspect of your sale — or pay more for additional services. Many flat fee MLS companies also place limitations on listings, such as how long they remain active or how many photos you can upload.
» LEARN: Everything you need to know about flat fee MLS listings
Non-agent real estate professionals
Your real estate agent won't be the only service provider you work with throughout your sale or purchase. Here are a few other real estate professionals you may encounter during your real estate journey.
Real estate attorneys
- Negotiate contracts, coordinate title services, may provide escrow services, and represent you at closing
- Some states require both parties to work with attorneys: AL, CT, DE, DC, FL, GA, KS, KY, ME, MD, MA, MS, NH, NJ, NY, ND, PA, RI, SC, VT, VA, WV; other states require a title company
- Run title checks and provide title insurance, which lenders usually require
- May facilitate the closing process if not working with an attorney
- Also sometimes act as escrow agents
- Help you compare various loan products and interest rates to find the best lender for your needs
- Also may help you prepare for the mortgage approval process and guide you through the application
- Typically gets paid by the lender, but make sure you're clear on who's paying what before signing with a mortgage broker
- Work for the mortgage lender
- Help you choose loan products, get pre-approved, apply for loans, and lock in rates
- Dedicated point person from pre-approval through closing — though you may work with other members of their team along the way, like a loan coordinator or the lender's attorney
- Identify structural problems that could be dangerous or hurt property value: elements that aren't up to local code, pests, and other issues that should be disclosed
- Some buyers forego an inspection in favor of a home warranty, but it's not recommended in case of severe issues that won't be covered
- Estimate the real value of a property based on an in-person assessment and recent sales of other similar homes in the vicinity
- Usually required by lenders as part of the loan approval process to ensure the home is actually worth the amount they're lending
- Usually paid for by buyers, but sometimes sellers will order their own appraisal before they list the home to inform their pricing strategy
Real estate agent alternatives
Buying without an agent
Technically, you don't need an agent to represent you when purchasing a home. But it's almost always a good idea to work with one.
The home-buying process is complicated and stressful, involving a lot of big decisions and high-stakes negotiation. An agent has the requisite experience and skill sets to help you navigate your purchase successfully and get the best possible outcome.
Because buyers don’t usually have to pay their agents' fee out of pocket, there's no significant downside. The only time it might make sense to buy without an agent is if the seller is someone you know well, like a friend or family member.
For sale by owner
The most obvious way to save on realtor commission fees is to sell your home yourself, what’s commonly known as listing for sale by owner (FSBO). While selling FSBO might make sense in a few specific circumstances — for example, if you’re selling to a family member or friend — it’s not a good idea for most homeowners.
Only about 8% of sellers actually see successful sales. And those FSBO homes that do sell typically take far longer and sell for less than comparable homes listed by agents. We recommend working with a discount real estate brand to get the services you need and still save money.
Selling to an iBuyer
iBuyers are companies that make near-instant cash offers on certain types of homes, often sight-unseen. The key benefits are certainty and flexibility: if eligible, you can lock in a solid cash offer within about 24 hours, then you can close on your own timeline — usually anywhere from 10 to 90 days.
The drawback is that iBuyers charge hefty service fees that often exceed those of real estate agents, ranging 5–15%. And though they pay more or less fair market value, you miss out on the possibility of bidding wars that comes with listing on the open market, which could drive your sale price even higher.
» READ: Read This Before Choosing an iBuyer Company
Selling to an investor or We Buy Houses for Cash company
Local cash investors or "We Buy Houses" companies typically buy any home in any location — and they do it lightning fast. But that speed and convenience comes at a cost: because they’re going to turn around and resell your home for a profit, they typically pay 30–50% below fair market value.
This may be an option worth considering if you need to sell immediately (pre-foreclosure, divorce, relocating for work, etc.) or the condition of your home is too poor to qualify for conventional financing and, therefore, probably not an option for most buyers. Otherwise, listing on the open market with an agent — even as-is — is almost always a preferable option.
» FIND: 12 Best Companies That Buy Houses for Cash (2021)
How to find the right type of real estate agent for you
Finding the right type of real estate agent — one with relevant experience — is vital. You don't want an agent who has only ever sold a $250,000 house to list your $2.5 million mansion, or a short-sale specialist to help you buy a commercial property.
Check out our comprehensive guide on How to Find the Perfect Real Estate Agent to learn the best and most efficient ways to go about finding the right agent for your needs. And always interview multiple options before making a final decision to ensure you get the best possible fit.
U.S. Department of Labor. "Occupational Outlook Handbook, Real Estate Brokers and Sales Agents."
Quick Real Estate Statistics. "National Association of REALTORS®."
National Association of Realtors. "Home Buyers and Sellers Generational Trends." Page(s) 113.