What Does a Realtor Do?

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

A Realtor is a real estate professional who helps people buy, sell, and rent residential and commercial properties. Find out what it takes to become one.

[Featured Image] A Realtor stands in a house with a man, woman, and baby.

A Realtor is a real estate professional who is a member of the National Association of Realtors (NAR) and agrees to follow the standards detailed in NAR's Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice. Learn more about what a Realtor does and what it takes to become one. 

Every Realtor is a real estate agent or broker, but not every agent or broker is a Realtor. This is an important distinction because some people use the terms for these real estate professionals interchangeably. As you explore job descriptions, education requirements, and skills, you'll notice many similarities between these job titles. In fact, they are nearly identical. 

If you're a self-motivated individual who enjoys working in a fast-paced environment where you interact with many people, you may consider a career in real estate. You're not alone. At the end of  2022, the NAR had 1,580,971 members compared to 1,559,537 members in December 2021. This shows more than 21,000 new members joined in one year. [1]. 

Being a Realtor allows you to build a business, set your hours, and earn a decent salary. When you start, one of your first choices will be whether to become a Realtor. Understanding what a Realtor does can help you decide if it's the right option.

What does a realtor do?

A Realtor helps people buy, sell, and rent properties. Some specialize in residential properties, which include single-family homes, townhouses, condominiums, and apartments. Others work with commercial properties, such as office buildings, warehouses, multifamily housing, and retail space. They may work with the buyer, the seller, the renter, or the lessor, and in some cases, they may represent both parties in the transaction. 

According to NAR, about 87 percent of Realtors work as independent contractors [2]. As such, they schedule their own hours. You may work full-time or part-time and may work more than 40 hours weekly. Since you schedule appointments when your clients are available, you can expect to work during nights and weekends as a Realtor. 

When you're not working directly with clients or doing market research, you may attend community events. These events are more than networking opportunities where you can connect with other professionals and potential clients. They also help you understand what's happening in the communities where you work so you're better prepared to meet the needs of the buyers and sellers relying on your expertise. 

Realtor tasks and responsibilities

The tasks and responsibilities of a Realtor vary from day to day. Much of this depends on who you are working with and where you are in the transaction process. For example, if you have recently listed a new property, you'll likely spend more time marketing the property—including measuring rooms, taking photographs, and placing advertisements—initially. After a buyer presents an offer, your attention shifts to preparing and reviewing documents.

On any given day, you may engage in the following tasks and responsibilities as a Realtor:

  • Marketing properties: You may take pictures of properties, write advertising copy, and create print materials to promote your listings.

  • Meeting with clients: You may tour properties with buyers and renters, present market analyses, and discuss real estate needs. 

  • Negotiating: You may present offers to sellers and landlords and arrange for inspections and maintenance at rental properties.

  • Researching properties: When working with buyers and renters, you will search the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) for potential properties. You also look for comparable listings to give sellers an idea of the price they can expect to ask.

  • Preparing and reviewing documents: You may write and review purchase agreements and leases. Some Realtors review closing documents and verify the buyers and sellers received necessary disclosures.

Realtors work in a fast-paced environment. In a busy real estate market, you may have several properties listed simultaneously and work with multiple buyers simultaneously.

Salary and job outlook

The median salary for a real estate agent was $49,980 in May 2022, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) [3]. NAR reported a median salary of $56,400 for Realtors in 2022 [4].

What you earn as a Realtor can vary greatly, depending on market conditions, commission agreements, experience, and where you work. The following average base salaries of Realtors reported on Glassdoor (as of November 2023) reveal how much location affects your salary:

  • Ohio: $96,964 [5]

  • California: $127,223 [6]

  • New York: $109,908 [7]

  • Colorado: $102,395 [8]

  • Florida: $114,627 [9]

  • Illinois: $111,822 [10]

  • Arkansas: $97,599 [11]

Keep in mind that most Realtors are usually commission-based workers, which means you typically don't receive a weekly or monthly salary—and what you do earn may not be consistent. Instead, you will likely receive a check after closing the deal, which reflects a percentage of the sale price. The total commission for real estate agents in the US is typically between 5 and 6 percent, with the average commission in 2023 being 5.46 percent, according to Statista [12].  

For example, a home that sells for $300,000 yields $18,000 at a 6 percent commission. In many cases, the listing broker and buying broker each get half of this amount. Exactly how much of the broker's share the agent receives depends on the agreement between the broker and agent.

The job outlook for real estate agents remains positive, and the BLS expects these jobs to grow 3 percent from 2022 through 2032 [13]. This should create about 51,600 job openings on average each year [13]. The tight US labor market and increased worker mobility increase demand for real estate professionals to assist buyers and sellers relocating for work. However, the agency notes that job opportunities for real estate agents may decrease in areas where more residents are renting homes instead of buying them.

How to become a realtor

To become a Realtor, you must first become a licensed real estate agent. The actual requirements to qualify for a license vary from state to state because each state decides what type of education and exam to use. However, you can generally expect to complete the following steps.

1. Take the state-required real estate course.

Be prepared to take some training in topics like real estate law, marketing principles, and ethics, but you generally do not need a degree to become a real estate agent. According to NAR, more than half of Realtors have at least an associate degree [4]. Just 8 percent have only a high school diploma [4].

Depending on where you plan to work, the number of training hours can vary. For example, Florida requires you to take a 63-hour pre-licensing course and pass the state licensing exam before you can work as an agent, although a four-year degree in real estate may exempt you from the course requirement [14]. In Arkansas, you must complete a 60-hour course and pass a background check and state licensing exam [15]. Utah requires a 120-hour pre-licensing course and a passing score on the state exam [16]. 

In some states, you can substitute college-level real estate classes for the training. Examples of credentials and degrees you can pursue in real estate include an Associate in Arts in Real Estate, a Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) in Real Estate, a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration—Real Estate, and a Master of Science in Real Estate.

2. Pass the state licensing exam.

After completing the pre-licensing training requirements, you must pass your state's real estate license exam. These exams tend to have multiple choice questions that ask topics covered in the pre-licensing program, including federal and state real estate law, advertising and marketing properties, keeping records, and maintaining an ethical practice. You'll need to visit an approved testing site to take the exam, and some states also allow an online exam option.

To prepare for the exam, you can review the materials you received in your pre-licensing course and take practice exams online. Some states provide sample questions on their websites to help you familiarize yourself with the types of questions you will see on the test. You also can check out exam guides offered by third-party vendors and review the published laws governing real estate in your state.

3. Join the National Association of Realtors.

After meeting the requirements for a state real estate license, you can join the National Association of Realtors through your local Realtor Association. NAR does require the principals, which could be the owners, corporate officers, or branch managers acting on their behalf, at your real estate firm to join the organization before you can apply for membership. If these designated individuals are not currently members, you can share with them your reasons for joining and ask them to help you.

You'll need to pay the membership fee (which varies year to year) and agree to follow the NAR Code of Ethics. By agreeing to follow this code, you promise to be fair and honest with clients and sellers. This includes submitting offers objectively, exercising due diligence, and telling the truth about prices.

Required skills for a Realtor

The work of a Realtor encompasses sales, marketing, education, and business. As such, Realtors rely on several skills that overlap these professions, such as these:

  • Attention to detail: Realtors often prepare and review documents, including contracts and deeds. You must read them closely to ensure they follow the law and are in the client’s best interest.

  • Communication: You interact with people regularly, including your clients and other professionals like closing agents, lenders, and inspectors.

  • Listening: As a Realtor, you should fully understand your client's wants and needs so you can help them find the properties and get the prices they want.

  • Negotiation: Realtors may spend time relaying requests between the buyers and sellers, such as contract contingencies and offers.

  • Organization: Realtors often work with multiple clients at the same time. You need a system to keep track of the properties, closings, and communication.

  • Problem-solving: You may need to solve problems for your clients, such as finding a property with the right features, dealing with damage found during an inspection, and ensuring the closing happens at the right time. 

Realtor career path

Many Realtors start their careers as sales agents in a real estate brokerage, even if they have no experience in the field. You can start there, or you may prefer to start in an entry-level position like office assistant or personal assistant. This allows you an opportunity to learn industry terms, read forms, understand how to interact with clients and practice the steps in the transaction process. 

After working as a Realtor, you may decide to pursue your broker's license and start your own brokerage firm. Your state has specific experience and education requirements you must meet before you can take the real estate broker's exam. This typically includes working as a real estate agent for at least two years. You can also use your experience as a Realtor in careers like real estate office sales manager, real estate appraiser, or property manager.

Some Realtors decide to change their focus from one area of real estate to another, such as residential to commercial. Others may decide to earn a degree and pursue a career as a real estate lawyer, developer, or mortgage broker.

Getting started with Coursera

No matter where you are in your real estate career, now is a great time to enhance your skill set and learn something new. Explore the essential principles of real estate and understand the role of a real estate agent when working with buyers and sellers, from lead generation to closing the transaction with the Keller Williams Real Estate Agent Professional Certificate.

Article sources


National Association of Realtors. "Membership Historic Report, https://www.nar.realtor/membership/historic-report." Accessed March 24, 2023.

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