Being a Realtor signifies membership in the National Association of Realtors (NAR), a professional association that adheres to a strict code of ethics. Becoming a Realtor is mandatory for real estate agents who work in a brokerage that is affiliated with NAR but it is not mandatory for a real estate brokerage to join NAR. While there is no test qualifying an agent for membership as a Realtor, he or she will undergo extensive training, testing and certification before receiving a license to sell real estate. The average time it takes to become a real estate agent is three months.
Today, NAR is a powerful association that had its meager beginnings in 1908, with a membership of just 120 people who were interested in forming an oversight group for the real estate industry. In the decades after its inception, the National Association of Realtors actively lobbied Congress in an effort to protect property owners from unscrupulous real estate practices. Over 1 million real estate agents are now members of NAR and, as such, they are Realtors.
The benefits of becoming a Realtor include representation by the Realtors Political Action Committee (RPAC), a powerful professional lobby that focuses on presenting information leading to congressional resolutions that benefit both Realtors and their clients. In addition, NAR offers vast educational opportunities in every state; classes their members must attend bi-annually in order to remain a Realtor in good standing.
The National Association of Realtors is responsible for adopting a high standard of ethical sales practices for its members and as a result, clients are entitled to expect a fair and honest transaction when buying or selling property. NAR legislation also affects real estate agents who do not choose to become Realtors, as their individual states adopt standards to which every real estate salesperson must comply. NAR has lobbied for, and gained, numerous anti-discrimination regulations, known as the Fair Housing Initiatives.
Before becoming a Realtor, a person must take a certified course in selling real estate and he must also pass two tests, one that covers real estate law at the federal level and the other that focuses on specific real estate policies set forth by the state in which he lives. Anyone may sign up for and take the basic course but he or she must identify with a specific real estate brokerage before taking the test. After passing the test, the new sales agent must join NAR if the real estate agency he works for is a member.
An ongoing misunderstanding among the general public is that all real estate agents are Realtors. The name has become a generic term, used to describe anyone who holds a real estate license. Approximately 85 percent of all real estate agents are Realtors.