What do real estate agents really do?

two people sitting during day

What to expect from your real estate agent

Key takeaways:

  • Almost every home sale in the United States involves a real estate agent
  • While agents can either represent the buyer or seller in a transaction, some act as dual agents when the law allows
  • State licensing is required to legally work as a real estate agent 
  • Agents also have to be employed by brokers in order to take on clients.
  • Agents handle dozens of different tasks that range from marketing to accepting offers on behalf of their clients
  • Real estate agents are often paid on commission
  • A real estate agent isn’t the same thing as a REALTOR®.

What exactly does a real estate agent do? Buying and selling real estate is complicated, so it’s no wonder that some of the details of the job are lost on the average person. You may even wonder whether you really need to meet with a real estate agent before you can begin looking at homes

Real estate agents help people who are buying or selling homes in every town and city across the US. They are integral to the home sale process because they possess the knowledge and expertise needed to move their clients along through closing. In this article, we’ll cover the real role of real estate professionals.

Does everyone use a real estate agent?

Most buyers and sellers use real estate agents. But not everyone. According to the 2021 Home Buyers and Sellers Generational Trends Report released by the National Association of REALTORS®, 88% of all buyers purchased their homes using real estate agents. Among buyers age 30 and under, 91% went through the process with a real estate agent.

How many real estate agents are there?

The National Association of REALTORS® estimates that there are over 3 million active real estate licensees in the United States.

What is a real estate agent?

Real estate agents are licensed professionals responsible for organizing communications and transactions between real estate buyers and sellers. Most real estate transactions involve one agent who represents the buyer and one representing the seller (also known as a listing agent). When working as a buyer’s agent, an agent will show a buyer homes, submit offers, and negotiate on behalf of the client all the way up through closing. When working as a seller’s agent, an agent will show a property, submit offers to the seller, and negotiate on behalf of the client through closing. 

Everyday tasks for either a buyer’s or seller’s agent include:

  • Responding to texts, emails, and phone calls from both sellers and buyers regarding market trends, specific properties, and more
  • Organizing and hosting open houses
  • Helping sellers set listing prices
  • Staging a property
  • Taking photographs of properties
  • Coordinating showings
  • Holding appointments with buyers and sellers
  • Creating and distributing promotional materials for properties
  • Creating marketing plans for listings
  • Generating market analysis reports for clients
  • Researching local property activity to develop comparative market analysis (CMA) reports

All real estate agents must be licensed by the states they work in. In addition, agents are required to complete continuing education courses to renew their licenses every few years. This ensures that they are informed on the latest updates regarding property laws, housing laws, real estate laws, and business law.

Helping buyers find homes

Real estate agents provide buyers access to homes that are on the local multiple listing service (MLS). This system makes it much easier for buyers to find homes within their price range in specific locations. Similarly, sellers get the benefit of having their homes made much more accessible for buyers to find.

person using MacBook Pro
Real estate agents have access to market data and analysis that buyers and sellers need to make informed decisions

Providing mortgage help

While a real estate agent can’t help someone qualify for a mortgage, they can help the process go smoothly by recommending lenders and informing them on best practices for obtaining good rates. In addition, agents can help sellers by ensuring that only pre-approved buyers are being considered.

Facilitating negotiations

Real estate agents help sellers get the best offers, while buyer’s agents advocate for their clients so they have a better chance at having their offer accepted. Buyer’s agents can also help buyers verify that a home meets all the necessary requirements to be a good option. If a home doesn’t ultimately offer what a buyer wants, they can help them shift their focus onto different properties.

A real estate agent acts as the point person throughout the process. When buyers uncover unexpected inspection or appraisal issues after having their offers accepted, agents can help them negotiate their next move.

Helping with paperwork

The process of buying or selling a home can feel like a marathon of paperwork. Fortunately, agents are there to help their clients make sense of all of the documentation that needs to be verified, signed, and submitted. Being accurate and on time with paperwork is essential for getting through the closing process without setbacks and delays.

Assisting with closing

Agents also help to ensure that closing day goes smoothly. In addition to providing referrals for attorneys, escrow firms, inspectors, title companies, and all of the other professionals needed for closing, they can coordinate communication with all of the parties involved. Agents also remind their clients of important deadlines along the way to ensure that they are never in breach of contract.

white and brown wooden house near green trees during daytime
A lot needs to happen in a specific order to successfully close on a house and real estate agents help keep that process moving

Is every real estate agent a REALTOR®?

No, real estate agents aren’t necessarily REALTORS®. However, many are. A REALTOR® is an agent who is also a member of the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR). While NAR membership is not required to work as a real estate agent, roughly half of all agents are REALTORS®. Membership provides access to networking, visibility, research materials, and professional materials that some agents feel provide them with professional advantages.

Can a real estate agent be a buyer and seller agent?

Yes, most agents work as both buyer’s and seller’s agents. However, they will not typically act as both the buyer’s and seller’s agent in a single transaction. In most states, doing so means an agent is legally recognized as what’s called a “dual agent”. It’s rare but  legal—as long as both the buyer and seller consent to the arrangement.

How are real estate agents paid?

Real estate agents are typically paid on commission. The amount that they earn from every sale is based on a property’s selling price. Standard commissions range between 6-10% of a home’s selling price, total. Both the buyer’s and seller’s agents receive 2.5-5% of the home’s selling price, each, with the seller typically paying both commissions. When an agent acts as a dual agent, they are paid commission on both ends.

The difference between a real estate agent and broker

While all brokers are real estate agents, not all real estate agents are brokers. Brokers pursue additional education and credentialing after receiving a real estate license to be able to expand their business functions. Real estate agents are legally required to work for a broker. However, brokers can choose to work for a real estate firm, work independently, or own their own brokerage.

In addition to being legally allowed to manage a brokerage, a broker can perform all of the same functions as a real estate agent. In addition to making their own commissions when selling a home, a broker will collect a portion of every commission earned by an agent they employ.

The roundup: why real estate agents matter

The bottom line is that real estate agents keep the market moving. Agents help both buyers and sellers get what they want, faster and easier. In addition to helping their clients reach their goals, they also provide much-needed expertise to help their clients avoid some of the common pitfalls of entering into a bad agreement.


What are the duties of a real estate agent?

Real estate agents represent both buyers and sellers. Their duties may include helping to determine listing prices, getting a property listed, marketing a property, managing MLS listings, showing properties, presenting or accepting offers, negotiating on behalf of clients, and helping with closing paperwork. It’s common for agents to meet with potential buyers to answer some basic questions prior to signing on to find a home with them.

Does being a real estate agent pay well?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 2020 median pay for real estate agents was $51,220 per year. The top 90% of earners in this industry make $112,410.

What skills are needed to be a real estate agent?

Real estate agents truly need to be self-starters, because they must generate their own client lists. They must also be personable, organized, quick on their feet, and passionate about homes.

What education do real estate agents need?

There are generally no education prerequisites to become a real estate agent. While most states do not require high school diplomas or GEDs to apply for a real estate license, many agents possess college degrees. The universal requirement to become a licensed real estate agent is to complete the state-required number of educational hours before sitting for the state licensing exam. A passing grade that is determined by each state’s licensing board is required to receive a real estate license. In some states, a specific number of educational hours must be completed during the first year of holding a license in order for the license to remain active.

About the author: As the son of a construction contractor and a former property manager, Scott Dylan Westerlund knows how to keep the lights on and the water running. In addition to Flyhomes, he has written for Angi, HomeLight and HomeAdvisor. His hobbies include fixing things around the house, baking things up in the kitchen, and spending quality time with his wife and daughter just about everywhere.

Start your Flyhomes real estate experience.

Buy a new home

Sell my home

Buy and sell