Meet Mark, Guardian of the Term “REALTOR®”

By Robert Freedman, Senior Editor, REALTOR® Magazine

All REALTORS® know how to use the term REALTOR®—until they don’t. The fact is, even members of NAR occasionally slip up and use “REALTOR®” as a generic term for real estate sales associate or broker. That’s understandable, because you can’t know ahead of time all the ways you might use the term in your business or in your marketing.

Luckily, there’s an easy rule of thumb that can help you get it right consistently. Before you use the term “REALTOR®,” replace it with the term “member” and see if the use makes sense. Thus, if you’re tempted to say in a marketing blurb, “Call me: I’m your Reno Realtor,” you just need to re-phrase your blurb as, “Call me: I’m your Reno member”  and see if that sounds right. If it doesn’t, and it shouldn’t, then you know you’re probably using the term generically. What you mean to say, most likely, is someting like, “Call me: I’m your Reno real estate professional.”

There are plenty of precedents of branding terms becoming, or getting close to becoming, generic: “Xerox,” “hi-fi,” “Jell-O,” “velcro,” “zipper,” yo-yo,” thermos,” “kerosene,” aspirin,” butterscotch,” among others.

The problem with genericized terms is they diminish the term’s power to separate the one from the many. Instead of being a brand of fastener that conveys certain qualities and values, “zipper” means any fastener that uses a slider to join two pieces of fabric together by moving it up interlocking teeth. Because the term is now generic, the original Zipper brand cannot distinguish itself from other types of fasteners that also use a slider and interlocking teeth.

In real estate, the term REALTOR® identifies a real estate professional who, as a member of the National Association of REALTORS®, abides by a strict Code of Ethics. That distinction conveys qualities and values that are worth preserving.

To help you make sure you’re using the term appropriately, NAR Legal Affairs has released a 3-minute video (the first video above), starring Mark, animated defender of the term REALTOR®, that does a good job explaining why preserving the distinction of the term is important but also how you can be confident you’re using the term correctly in different situations.  It’s pretty fun, too.

The second video above, also starring Mark, is directed at association executives, and goes into a little detail on how terms become generic.

Robert Freedman

Robert Freedman is director of multimedia communications for the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®. He can be reached at

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  1. Cute videos. Rules, Rules, Rules!