I’ve heard many terms when referring to people who sell real estate. What’s the difference between an agent, salesperson and broker?

Yes, the terminology can be confusing. While it may not seem important to know the difference between these terms, there are some common traits and useful distinctions to be aware of when you look to buy or sell a home. Let’s start with the most commonly misused term, “agent”. While most people would use that term to describe the individual real estate professional assisting them, that’s not technically correct; legally, “Agent” is actually the term given to the brokerage (the company) that represents you as the buyer or seller. An agency relationship is formalized when you sign a contract either in the form of a buyer representation agreement or a typical listing agreement. These are between buyer/seller and the brokerage, not the individual representative.

A real estate salesperson or broker will be the person who presents and explains the representation agreement to you on behalf of the brokerage. In most cases, they will also usually be the same person who represents you during the buying or selling process, on behalf of the brokerage.

Salespeople and brokers are both real estate professionals who are subject to regulation under the Real Estate and Business Brokers Act, 2002. They must be employed by a real estate brokerage and must be registered with RECO in order to trade in real estate in Ontario. Education is what distinguishes a broker from a salesperson. A salesperson achieves the broker designation by passing additional courses and exams, which allow the individual to manage a brokerage. A brokerage must be managed by someone who has the broker designation.

It’s unlikely that you will be dealing directly with the manager, called the Broker of Record, but they will be in the background managing the business, reviewing details of transactions and, if needed, serving as a resource for your real estate representative. Just like any business owner or manager, it’s in their interest to make sure their clients are satisfied, and that the brokerage and its brokers and salespersons are complying with the rules and regulations. In the unlikely event that you have any questions or concerns your representative can’t address, you could speak with the Broker of Record.

Regardless of their designation, it’s important to know there are significant benefits to working with a registered real estate professional, including valuable consumer protections. There are three pillars to the protection:

    • Knowledge – Once real estate professionals complete the courses required to enter the field, they must complete ongoing mandatory continuing education to keep their knowledge up-to-date and their skills sharp.
    • Professional standards – Your real estate professional is also required to uphold professional standards that emphasize treating anyone involved in a transaction with fairness, honesty and integrity, and following rules and regulations that are there to protect consumers. In the rare instance that something goes wrong and you want to complain about your representative or the brokerage, RECO will investigate the complaint and take steps to hold the real estate professional accountable for their actions.
    • Insurance – Deposit insurance provides you with peace of mind knowing that your hard-earned deposit payment will be held in trust and insured against loss, insolvency or misappropriation by a brokerage.
Joseph Richer is Registrar of the Real Estate Council of Ontario (RECO). He is in charge of the administration and enforcement of all rules that govern real estate professionals in Ontario. You can find more tips at reco.on.ca, follow on Twitter @RECOhelps or on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/RECOhelps.

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