There are several types of real estate agents—each with unique responsibilities and specializations. These include listing agents who sell homes, buyer’s agents who help people purchase real estate, and dual agents who act as the listing agent and buyer’s agent. Additionally, a listing agent may become a transaction agent when writing an offer for an unrepresented buyer. Agents may also join the National Association of Realtors to earn the Realtor designation.
The five major types of real estate agents are:
A listing agent is an agent who represents a homeowner in the sale of their home. Listing agents, therefore, have a duty to represent their seller’s best interests and get them the best possible contract terms. In cases where the buyer does not have their own agent, a listing agent can become a dual agent or, in some states, a transactional agent. See below for more information on these roles.
In contrast to a listing agent, a buyer’s agent represents homebuyers in their search for and purchase of a home. For that reason, buyer’s agents are invested in their client’s interest throughout the entire buying process; they must put the buyer’s priorities ahead of the seller’s. As part of this responsibility, a buyer’s agent helps purchasers negotiate the best possible price for real estate and assists them through due diligence and closing.
A dual agent is one who represents both the buyer and the seller in a real estate transaction. Dual agency can also arise when the listing agent and the buyer’s agent work for the same real estate broker; this is because it is the broker who defines the agent relationship to the client. However, dual agency is not legal in all states and can cause conflicts of interest. For that reason, many home buyers and sellers use an exclusive agent who will represent only their interests.
When a buyer is not represented by their own exclusive agent, the listing agent may have to write an offer for them. In states where dual agency is not legal, a listing agent can elect to become a transaction agent. Under these circumstances, the agent doesn’t represent the buyer or the seller and, instead, acts as an impartial facilitator throughout the transaction.
Real estate agents and brokers can earn the Realtor designation by joining the National Association of Realtors (NAR). Generally, this requires agreeing to and abiding by the NAR’s Code of Ethics and paying annual dues. As part of their NAR membership, Realtors gain access to discounts, educational materials, and other career development resources. However, they do not have any legal privileges or rights beyond those of a licensed agent.