Coming To Terms

By Edith Lank

May 1, 2017 5 min read

*Agent, Broker, Salesperson or Realtor?

Dear Edith: I have a question on the terminology that realtors use to describe themselves. I see "licensed RE salesperson" and "licensed associate real estate broker." Only a few weeks ago I seem to remember seeing a whole bunch of different titles. I am interested in understanding the terms I see each week. -- S.E.

Answer: First off, "agent" is a general, somewhat vague term. It's simply defined a person who is authorized to do something on someone else's behalf.

Each state has different regulations when it comes to licensing real estate agents. In my state, for example, a person earns a real estate license when that person has successfully completed a 75-hour course, passed a license exam and found a sponsoring broker. The salesperson can perform real estate services only under the close, personal supervision of the sponsor and may accept fees only from him or her. Only the sponsoring broker may charge the public for services.

Being a new salesperson is somewhat of an old-fashioned apprenticeship. Any contract that lists a house for sale is made between the property owner and either the supervising broker or the real estate firm itself, not with the salesperson.

The fact that someone is a licensed salesperson, though, doesn't necessarily mean they're a beginner. Many capable and experienced agents prefer to remain in that capacity.

Obtaining a broker's license requires additional study, real estate experience and passing a more difficult exam. A licensed real estate broker can set up an independent business and employ salespeople. Some brokers, however, prefer to work at a firm, in which case -- in my state -- they are considered licensed associate brokers.

Then there's the term you used: Realtor; it refers to a member of the private trade organization, the National Association of Realtors. The word is trademarked and is supposed to be capitalized. If the word becomes colloquial,, the organization will lose its exclusive right to it. That happened, for instance, with aspirin, which was once a capitalized term trademarked by Bayer.

In many communities, brokers choose to join the NAR and local groups often call themselves Realtors. Their salespeople join as Realtor Associates and share information through multiple listing systems.

You're seeing all these terms because agents -- no matter what they call themselves -- must be identified on business cards and ads by their official licensed titles.

*Protesting Assessment

Dear Ms. Lank: I am a homeowner and have been fighting with assessors about the market value of my home for taxes. I overbuilt for my neighborhood. I received a card in the mail with an offer to buy my house for cash. Does a cash offer show the true value of my home? -- A.

Answer: Those people won't offer the true market value you want for protesting your tax assessment. They would most likely buy your home at a steep discount, have considerable expenses and then resell it for market value. They'd expect some profit; otherwise, why buy it?

You're right, though, in thinking that the most expensive house in the area has a problem selling for top dollar. I'd suggest consulting a licensed or certified real estate appraiser to help with your assessment protests.

*Marriage and Mortgage

Dear Ms. Lank: I live in a home with my boyfriend, and he pays a mortgage on the home. The mortgage is not paid to a bank, but to the previous owners. He has agreed to put me on the mortgage. How do we go about doing this? We will be married in June and I would like to take care of this now. Also, I would like to be able to claim this payment on my taxes. Do we need the previous owners' consent? -- Anonymous, to

Answer: They might be involved if the mortgage documents discuss what would happen with any change in title. To make you a co-owner, your fiance will sign a new deed naming the two of you as owners. The way your names are listed on the deed determines what would happen if one of you were to die. Discuss this beforehand with the lawyer who will draw up the deed and submit it to your county's public records office.

If the private mortgage has been filed in the public records office, whoever is legally responsible for the debt is entitled to use the mortgage interest as an income tax deduction. Sounds as if it's too late for your 2015 tax returns.

After you marry you'll probably be filing joint returns. There may be no point in signing on to the mortgage documents at this point. That's something else to discuss with a lawyer.

Edith Lank's weekly column, "House Calls," can be found at

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