Does a real estate agent really need to be a REALTOR?

Real Estate Broker Owner with Catarra Real Estate, Inc CA BRE #01191946

We're about to lose a lot of our colleagues next month.  The annual renewal of local association dues is coming up for many agents.  Many associations will lose members who can't afford the cost of renewing - typically several hundred dollars in many places (over $700 for my association).  The membership includes many so-called "member benefits" including forms, business discounts, and political advocacy.  If they stay in business, is it necessary for them to be REALTORS?

In the State of California there are a large number of agents who opt not to be REALTORS.  I'll bet there are agents in other states too.  They get their brokers license, set up an office, get E&O insurance, and...they do just fine.  Their clients like them, they work ethically, and they do a good job of buying and selling homes.

Does that agent really need to be a REALTOR to do a good job?  This is just a theoretical question, not a justification for the expenses of organized real estate.  The cost of doing business is fairly high across the board.  When you consider the cost of being a REALTOR, getting MLS access, paying a desk fee, and then account for commission splits, it's really expensive to be an agent and also a REALTOR.  A smart business decision could be to simply not become or stay a REALTOR.  So, what's the difference?  Many of us talk about what makes being a REALTOR great and some of those aspects include:

ETHICS:  Often the defining difference is that a REALTOR would follow the Code of Ethics while a plain agent isn't required to.  However, I know of many agents who are REALTORS who violate the COE constantly in the name of doing business. Conversely, I know a few non-REALTORS who are very ethical and follow the COE anyway.  Is membership required to be an ethical agent?

LOCAL BOARDS:  Our local board has meetings where agents can network and present properties.  If they're not REALTORS, they can't have that engagement.  Is it necessary?  I dont' know.

SOFTWARE:  As far as I know, you can't get ZipForms without being a member.  In today's world of paperless offices, that's a major difference.  Is it important?  If you're only doing 1-4 transactions a year, it's cheaper to buy paper forms.

This is a philosophical debate.  I'm not, repeat NOT, advocating one way or another.  I'm a REALTOR and plan to remain one.  I'm just asking people to think about what happens when our colleagues drop off the membership rolls, are they really any different.  Can agents do just fine without being members?



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Comments 97 New Comment

Christine Donovan
Broker/Attorney 800-610-7253 DRE01267479 - Costa M
Donovan Blatt Realty

Bryan - I think you can get ZipForms without NAR/CAR membership.  It just costs more.

December 31, 2011 09:58 PM
Mike Grumbles
Franklin TN Real Estate
Exit Realty of the South



Good post. The issue is coming up more and more. Personally i choose to be a REALTOR and it means a lot of thing like you said but the forms (contracts) are typically provided to REALTORS form the state or local boards exclusively for REALTOR members.


The political advocacy is part of our dues but it will continue if one member drops off the membership they still will receive the benefit of our joint effort. Just like this year when the rates increased because the membership is down the rates go up for those of us that remain.

The issue i see without being a MLS member , which in our area requires REALTOR membership means your listings will have to be marketed on your own without cooperation from other brokerages.   Lock boxes to provide security for sellers is (in our area) associated through the board. What do you do for a new client that wants to know more about homes for sale without MLS access?  Obviously the setup of boards varies from state to state but looks like in my area not being a member would impact opportunity to make a career in real estate. 

January 01, 2012 01:41 PM
Lloyd Binen
Silicon Valley R since 1976;408-565-8177
Certified Realty Services

Bryan,  NAR has not done a good job distinguishing Realtors from non-Realtors. CAR does an excellent job providing valuable products and services.  This industry would be a mess without a strong Code of Ethics.

January 01, 2012 05:36 PM
Marnie Matarese
Showing you the best of Sarasota!
J Wood Realty

REAL ESTATE IS LOCAL!  How many times has that been drummed into your head?  I think that NAR is totally not needed, am happy to be a member of my local MLS and the Florida Association of Realtors.  NAR is like the old union set up that needs to be disbanded.  What a mess with this last snafu and outright lying about statistics.  I am proud to be a realtor, will continue to be one but wish I could opt out of NAR!

January 02, 2012 07:48 PM
J. Philip Faranda
J. Philip Faranda (J. Philip R.E. LLC) Westchester County NY

Association member ship is required to be in out MLS so the decision is made for me. That said, our local association is, in my view, excellent. 

January 02, 2012 10:22 PM

Bryan Robertson

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Read about news, reviews, and commentary about current events and trends in the real estate industry. I also write about local markets including Silicon Valley and my hometowns - Los Altos and Saratoga.