Buying or selling a home for the first time is an experience fraught with plenty of confusing terms. And before you take the plunge, it's a good idea to understand whom you're dealing with in terms of real estate professionals. Do you know, for example, the difference between a licensed real estate agent and a Realtor? Between an associate and a broker? If you're buying a home, whether for the first time or not, do you understand what a buyer's agent could do for you? There are thousands of men and women working in real estate across the Tampa Bay area with a multitude of experience, education and professional designations. Understanding the professional terminology and designations of their business during what will surely be the most important purchase (or sale) — and most costly (or profitable, one hopes) — of your life could go a long way to increasing your comfort level throughout the process. Here's a look at some of the major designations of the folks who want to close that deal. Mimi Andelman, Times staff writer
Licensed real estate agent
This is as basic as it gets. Anyone buying or selling real estate on your behalf in Florida needs a state license. An agent must also work under a broker. They don't need to belong to any professional organizations, subscribe to any journals or know what channel number HGTV is on.
An associate is a licensed real estate agent who works under the direction of a real estate broker. An associate can also be a Realtor.
A Realtor is a licensed real estate agent who is a member of the local professional organization affiliated with the Florida Association of Realtors and National Association of Realtors. In Pinellas, it's the Pinellas Realtor Organization; in Hillsborough, it's the Greater Tampa Association of Realtors. County membership confers membership at state and national levels. It also means the member subscribes to a code of ethics and standard rules and practices. "If you're looking for someone serious about ensuring a successful real estate experience, you should look for someone who is a Realtor vs. someone who only has a real estate license," says Scott Daniels, a licensed real estate agent and Realtor at Coldwell Banker Residential in Clearwater.
This is the next level up from the agent and associate. Being a broker requires a special state license. The job is more encompassing of real estate law and requires a higher level of education. This is the "graduate school" of real estate as described by real estate agent Scott Daniels, and he would know: His wife and business partner, Marcy Daniels, is a licensed broker.
Commonly there is a broker in most real estate offices with management responsibility for reviewing deals, agreements and negotiation.
A seller's agent is the listing agent for a property. They get a "for sale" listing into the Multiple Listing Service — the MLS — and aggressively market it. It's a different, broader niche than working with buyers only, says David Bennett, director of professional development for the Pinellas Realtor Organization. "Seller's agents do more comprehensive research to price the property correctly. They're dealing with a lot of extra things that didn't exist in the transaction five years ago. And they're having to work with a buyer who may have to wait months for a closing because, in a short sale, no one is in control but the bank."
There are real estate agents — 78 accredited representatives in Pinellas County alone — who specialize in working solely with buyers. "They don't list and sell properties but instead engage in some form of representation," Bennett says. "They have an 'Accredited Buyers Representative' designation or ABR. Buyer's agents like to hold that designation because they have to go through education and prove so many transactions in that capacity. It's not required; it's voluntary." Bennett says that engaging a buyer's agent might be wise for a potential buyer looking for a home that offers accommodations for seniors or disabled people. A buyer's agent is also a good choice for someone who is interested in high-end luxury homes but doesn't have time to look at a hundred properties. They want someone to narrow it down for them and focus the search.
Freelance writer Bob Andelman contributed to this report. Mimi Andelman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8272.