Why I’m not a Realtor®
You can call me a Realtor®, but I should not call myself that. I’m not a Realtor®. Only members of the National Association of Realtors® (NAR) can call themselves Realtors®. Those who are not members are simply real estate agents or real estate brokers.
By the way, in Washington State, all real estate agents are real estate brokers. Real estate brokerages are officially called “firms.” Brokers in charge of franchises and their offices are called Managing Broker or Designated Broker.
Realtors® are members of the National Association of Realtors® (NAR).
Whether a Washington real estate broker is also a Realtor® depends on the firm with which the individual broker associates. If the firm is a member of NAR, all brokers of the firm are Realtors®. If the firm is not a member of NAR, none of the individual brokers of that firm are Realtors®. If this sounds similar to how labor unions work, then you got the idea. The firm is the member, the brokers associated with that firm are “subscribing members.” (By the way, that’s exactly how the local Northwest Multiple Listing [NWMLS] service works. My firm, RSVP Real Estate is an NWMLS member; as one of the firm’s brokers, I’m a subscribing member.)
Is there an advantage to being a Realtor®?
About 50 to 60 percent of real estate agents are also Realtors®. Why are RSVP Real Estate and many other firms not NAR members? First, because they don’t have to, and second because they don’t believe that the value of NAR justifies the dues. A firm that isn’t a member may also attract brokers who do not want to pay the NAR fees. The annual dues range from $450 to $600 and are paid to NAR’s corporate office in Chicago and the regional NAR, such as the Seattle King County Realtors®. Contributions to NAR’s political action committee (PAC) are voluntary. NAR’s PAC is one of this country’s most powerful lobbying organizations.
My ethics are not tied to NAR
In my 16-year career in real estate, I’ve been with two firms who are NAR members and two that are not. It made little difference to me. When I ask brokers who belong to NAR what they see as the benefit they invariably mention first NAR’s Code of Ethics. While having such a code is laudable, it’s no more a guarantee of decent behavior than knowing the Ten Commandments.
The Realtor® trademark may be in jeopardy.
I know this from working for many years with intellectual property and trademark attorneys. A trademark is supposed to be used as an adjective. The adjective describes the product. Think Kleenex® Brand Tissues. Question: What kind of tissue? Answer: a Kleenex® tissue. Surely, we say hand me a Kleenex and that’s ok outside Kimberly-Clark’s trademark department.
Inside that department, they take great care that the Kleenex® trademark doesn’t go the way of former trademarks such as Escalator and Monopoly (the game) which morphed from trademark adjectives into generic nouns and lost their companies valuable trademark rights and revenues.
Used correctly as an adjective, Realtor® should be the answer to the question: what kind of agent? Answer: a Realtor® agent. I don’t know how NAR was able to get trademark rights for Realtor® as a noun. As such it’s no surprise that Realtor® is used by the general public as a substitute for real estate agent.
Perhaps one of these days NAR will lose the trademark rights and I can call myself a realtor – all lower case, and without the ®.
First published by Gerhard as his
March 2018 View from the Street Newsletter.