Real estate terms like "broker" and "real estate agent" can be confusing. Most people just call any person who does real estate work a "real estate agent." However, there is a significant difference between these two terms. Understanding this difference can help when collaborating with such persons during transactions.

The main difference is this: real estate brokers have been formally licensed to provide real estate services. An agent basically acts as an assistant to the broker. The agent may often carry less responsibility than the broker. An analogy is that the relationship between broker/agent is similar to that of doctor/nurse or lawyer/paralegal.

What Do Brokers and Agents Do?

Brokers and agents perform many different types of tasks. As mentioned, brokers have a certain background, education, and licensing that agents do not always have. As such, brokers may:

  • Legally open and operate a real estate brokerage
  • Maintain a certain degree of knowledge and competence (verified through exams)
  • Handle most or all of the main issues in a transaction
  • Be responsible overseeing issues like insurance and real estate contracts

On the other hand, agents act on behalf of the broker, and may be entitled to some sales commissions. Agents may handle tasks such as:

  • Sorting and reviewing documents
  • Acting as a "go-to" person between the broker and the client
  • Handling administrative and light planning duties
  • Executing certain steps and plans according to the broker’s decisions
  • Listings are always done under the name of a licensed broker.

Can Brokers and Agents be Liable for Violating Real Estate Laws?

Since agents have less responsibility than brokers, this often means that they would be liable for lesser aspects of a violation. A formal agency relationship usually exists between the broker and the agent. Thus, a broker can sometimes be held liable for actions committed by an agent, especially where the agent is acting according to the broker’s specific instructions.

On the other hand, agents are often the subject of lawsuits simply because many people do not have direct access to the broker. Agents may also be held liable in cases where they have acted outside of the broker’s guidelines (for instance, if they engage in foreclosure scams or other violations)

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with Real Estate Issues?

Liability for violations in a real estate transaction can sometimes be difficult to sort out. You may need to hire a real estate lawyer if you will be engaging in a real estate transaction. Whether dealing with an agent or a broker, your attorney can help ensure that your rights are being properly represented. Also, in the event of a legal dispute, your attorney can help you file a lawsuit if needed.