Different Types of Real Estate Agents and Their Specializations

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Partnering up with an expert real estate agent who knows the local housing market is vital whether you’re selling a loft in a downtown neighborhood, a condo or townhouse in a retirement community, or a single-family home in the suburbs. But sometimes sellers need to go a step further and hire particular types of real estate agents who know specific property types, housing laws, and how to market to niche buyers such as a luxury market.

We’ve talked to a top agent and dug into the research to acquaint you with 13 different types of real estate agents.

What is a real estate agent?

A real estate agent is a licensed professional who represents buyers and sellers throughout the entire real estate transaction process. Agents gather market data, manage legal documents, negotiate and facilitate real estate deals so a sale can take place. In return for their services, real estate agents receive commissions from the proceeds of the sale at closing. The work agents do can add significant value to a home sale. According to data from the National Association of Realtors®, agent-involved sales in 2021 sold for a median price of $318,000, compared to $260,000 for home sold For Sale By Owner (FSBO).

What is a Realtor®?

A Realtor® is not exactly the same thing as a real estate agent, though they’re similar and many people use the terms interchangeably in everyday life. Realtors® are typically licensed real estate agents and professionals who are official members of the National Association of Realtors® that subscribe to the Code of Ethics & Standards of Practice, designed to ensure that real estate professionals serve the best interests of their clients.

“As a Realtor®, you adhere to NAR’s code of ethics and hold [yourself accountable] to standards and higher fiduciary duties to your client, [for example,] more ethical rules, regulations, and standards,” explains top agent, Miranda Biedenharn, who works with 76% more single-family homes than the average Dayton, Ohio agent.

According to the NAR, out of 3 million real estate agents in the U.S., 1,547,699 agents are registered Realtors®. The state of Florida has more Realtors® than any other state totaling 213,759; California runs a close second with 205,248.

What is a real estate broker?

When an experienced real estate agent wishes to take their licensure to the next level, they may apply for their broker’s license which requires additional training and passing an examination. Real estate brokers can manage sales agents or open their own [brokerages], says Biedenharn.

“Brokers are held to a higher standard as far as their knowledge base and what could be expected of them in different scenarios, ” Biedenharn says. Agents often turn to their brokers to answer complicated legal and industry questions.

Managing brokers receive a percentage of agent real estate commission. The seller typically pays the commission on the sale of their home (typically around 6% of the sale cost) to their listing agent (also called the seller’s agent). That then gets split with the buyer’s agent, usually in half. The listing agent will also pay the broker out of their remaining commission amount, sometimes up to half after paying the buyer’s agent.

Types of real estate agents

When real estate agents begin their careers they may start out as generalists and later decide to niche down to a particular niche of real estate. The following NAR designations and certifications train agents in specific areas of expertise.

Connect with a Top Agent

Whether buying or selling a hope, working with a top agent that specializing in your particular type of real estate can be hugely beneficial.

Real estate designations

1. Seller Representative Specialist (SRS)

The SRS designation provides a comprehensive foundation framework of training, skill development, and resources necessary to represent the interests of sellers in the marketplace. The designation can help real estate agents by:

  • Increasing selling performance and generating more listings
  • Applying the Code of Ethics & Standards to their business
  • Learning methods, techniques, and tools that help sellers

2. Accredited Buyer’s Representative / ABR®

The ABR® certification teaches real estate agents how to identify the needs of buyers and how to bring the real estate transaction to a successful close. The certification provides agents access to research, instruction, and valuable resources that help participants:

3. Certified Residential Specialist (CRS)

According to the NAR, the CRS Designation is the highest credential awarded to residential real estate professionals and can help agents triple their earnings, gross sales, and the number of transactions compared to Realtors® without the designation.

4. NAR’s Green Designation

This designation teaches agents how to gain a competitive edge when marketing green homes. Real estate agents learn how green properties are marketed differently than traditional homes. Green issues, research, and resources covered include how energy-efficient and sustainable features impact real estate.

5. Seniors Real Estate Specialist (SRES)

The SRES® designation was created for real estate agents desiring to sell homes in age-restricted communities. Professionals study buying, selling, relocation, and refinancing for residential and investment properties. Senior Real Estate Specialist candidates learn how to help seniors prepare for life-changing decisions and issues related to real estate such as pensions, retirement, and loan fraud.

NAR real estate certifications

The NAR also offers certifications. The difference between designations and certifications is this: certifications require annual dues and an application fee; designations don’t require annual dues and some designations don’t require an application fee.

  1. At Home With Diversity® (AHWD): The AHWD certification concentrates on issues concerning multicultural populations, including diversity sensitivity, U.S. fair housing laws, and developing professional guidelines in a growing multicultural real estate market.
  2. Luxury Homes Certification (LHC): The Luxury Homes Certification teaches agents how to sharpen their skills and prepare for the evolving luxury home market. The certification covers the luxury niche, pricing strategies, negotiation tactics, and how to distinguish oneself from other professionals.
  3. Military Relocation Professional (MRP): The MRP certification prepares agents to work with military professionals. Coursework focuses on VA financing, procedures, and decision- making processes associated with military relocation and housing options.
  4. Resort & Second-Home Property Specialist (RSPS): The RSPS certification was designed for real estate agents representing clients interested in purchasing and selling second homes and resort properties. Clients might include retirees, vacationers, managers, and investors.

Important real estate subtypes to know

There are two sides to every real estate deal: the seller-side and the buyer-side. Within those sides you’ll find the following agent and agency subtypes.

1. Listing agents / seller’s agents

A listing agent, also known as a seller’s agent, represents clients who wish to sell their homes. Their sole purpose is to protect their clients’ best interests and negotiate the best price for the seller in the shortest amount of time.

How good listing agents help sellers:

  • Price homes based on a comparative market analysis of homes sold in the area with similar features
  • Advertise listings on the Multiple Listings Service (MLS) database and other real estate advertising venues
  • Design effective marketing plans
  • Provide staging tips to appeal to buyers and recommend upgrades that increase home value
  • Arrange showings and open houses
  • Connect sellers with contractors and professional contacts
  • Negotiate with buyers’ agents to protect seller’s interests such as recommending escalation clauses and appraisal guarantees
  • Offer viable solutions when problems arise

2. Buyer’s agent

Buyer’s agents, on the other hand, represent buyers and protect their interests by helping clients find homes that hit their wish lists and skillfully negotiate offers to win bidding wars in a competitive market.

“The purpose of a buyer’s agent is to cooperate with listing agents and find a property for the client whether it be on market or off-market, and help them to negotiate the best terms and contingencies, and ultimately in this market,” explains Biedenharn.  “[Buyer’s agents] help them win the home and navigate that process in this highly competitive market,”

Many buyer’s agents have the Accredited Buyers’ Representative Designation issued by the National Association of Realtors®.

3. Designated agent

A designated agent or agency is when one agent or brokerage represents the interests of the seller, and another represents the interests of the buyer.

“In a typical real estate deal, one agent represents the seller and the other agent, a buyer,” says Biedenharn. But Biedenharn points out that there can be exceptions.

“Although it’s not the norm, sometimes an unrepresented buyer can come through an open house or a sign call and you may end up being in a dual agency scenario acting as a facilitator between both that seller and that buyer client,” explains Biedenharn.

4. Dual agent

A dual agent or dual agency is when the same real estate agent or agency represents both the  buyer and seller. Transaction brokers might represent both parties but not in a fiduciary capacity. Dual agents and agencies can be considered a conflict of interest and are illegal in eight states. But even these states sometimes allow doubling up.

“Most agents in my area run both sides unless they’re on some kind of team structure and it’s prohibited on that team,” says Biedenharn.

“Otherwise, I find it a good thing to work with someone who has experience working on the buy-side and the sales-side because they can navigate that bridge and know what a seller is looking for, [know] buyers’ requirements, and help clients understand what the other side is going through,” Biedenharn says. “Everyone can get the win-win of what they want, which is ultimately buying or selling the home, and [everyone feels] like they came out on top.”

Other potential benefits of dual agents and agencies:

  • Communication between buyer and seller is strengthened since there’s only one primary contact.
  • A buyer’s agent has access to more details about a property than an agent working solely from the seller’s side.
  • Dual agents sometimes accept reduced commissions which saves sellers money.

How to find a top agent

When searching for a real estate agent, make sure they’re a top agent with a proven track record of success. The last thing you want to do is list your home with an agent and have it stew on the market. When interviewing agents, check their sales records and performance.

With HomeLight’s agent matching platform you can find top agents with stellar track records selling homes in your area. The process is simple: just input your zip code, answer a few questions about your property, and HomeLight will match you to three top agents in your area.

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