What Is a REALTOR®?

Difference between a real estate licensee and a REALTOR®

Let's shed some light on the difference between a "real estate licensee" and a "REALTOR®." While a common misconception is that the terms "real estate licensee" and "REALTOR®" are synonymous, there are some key differences between the two.

Real estate licensee

A real estate licensee is anyone who has passed the real estate exam and has received a state-issued real estate license. After being properly licensed with the Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS), real estate licensees are legally allowed to work with buyers and sellers in the transaction of commercial and/or residential real estate or real property.


The term "REALTOR®" is a registered trademark of the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) and identifies a real estate professional who is a member of NAR and subscribes to its REALTOR® Code of Ethics in how the individual practices real estate.

REALTORS® are real estate licensees who take things to the next level — to expand their career, earn more money and experience more fulfillment — by becoming true professionals in their field. Licensees who earn the mark of REALTOR® stand out from the crowd by offering their clients the highest code of ethics and standard of conduct as well as increased resources to provide the gold standard in service. 

Note: all REALTORS® are real estate licensees, however, not all real estate licensees are REALTORS®.

REALTOR® eligibility requirements

  1. You must have a valid and active real estate license.
  2. You must be actively engaged in the real estate business.
  3. You must not have a record of official sanctions involving unprofessional conduct.
  4. You must not have filed for any recent or pending bankruptcy.

Steps to becoming a REALTOR® 

  1. Obtain a real estate license
    The first step to becoming a REALTOR® is to obtain your real estate license and then connect with a brokerage in your area.
  2. Join a local REALTORS® association
    Next, you must join one of the National Association of REALTORS®' (NAR) local real estate associations. Find your local association here

    Please note, if you are a member of a brokerage as mentioned above, the principal (branch office manager, sole proprietor, firm partner, corporate officer or majority shareholder) must first join an association before any non-principal (you or other employees) can join. If the principal does not join a local association, none of the other working employees in that firm are eligible to become members.

  3. Pay a one-time application fee
    After you and/or your brokerage’s membership has been approved by your local association, you must pay a one-time application fee. Application fees vary for each association.

  4. Pay annual membership dues
    Once you become a REALTOR®, you will need to pay annual dues to remain an active member of your local association. These dues are prorated for your first year of membership. Click here for more information about membership dues.

Benefits of becoming a REALTOR®

It is not necessary to become a REALTOR® to have success in the real estate business, but the REALTOR® mark brings with it specific advantages that make it so much easier to achieve even more.


Being a REALTOR® is like being part of an exclusive club. It carries a weight and seriousness that other licensees cannot offer. You also have the opportunity to connect and develop long-term relationships with other REALTORS® from all over the country, expanding your sphere of influence and resources to grow your business.

Real estate designations and certifications

As a REALTOR®, you will have the ability to take additional classes that will allow you to receive highly sought-after real estate designations and certifications. These credentials can help you become an expert in your niche and allow you to grow your business and increase your earnings and income potential.

Learn more about designations and certifications. 

WRA membership

The Wisconsin REALTORS® Association (WRA) is part of a REALTOR® organization made up of local associations, state associations and NAR.

Learn more about membership with the WRA. 

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