The National Association of Realtors, often abbreviated as NAR, is a professional organization with more than 1.5 million members who work in residential and commercial real estate. It is America’s largest trade association, composed mostly of real estate agents and brokers. But its membership includes a range of others involved in buying and selling homes, like appraisers, attorneys and property managers.

Members don’t just belong to the National Association of Realtors, either. To become a NAR member, they first must belong to one of more than 1,400 local real estate associations. By joining NAR, members agree to abide by its code of ethics — standards of practice designed to ensure that they act in their clients’ best interests.

History of NAR

The National Association of Realtors was originally founded in 1908 as the National Association of Real Estate Exchanges, in Chicago. In 1916, the organization rebranded as the National Association of Real Estate Boards, operating under that name until 1972, when it adopted the current name.

One important milestone in the organization’s history occurred in 1949 and 1950, when it registered the term Realtor with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. That’s why you typically see the word capitalized, or even sometimes in all uppercase letters; it’s a registered trademark. Nowadays the term is often used synonymously with “agent,” but they’re not exactly the same thing. Not all real estate agents are Realtors — to earn that designation, you must be a NAR member.

How NAR works

Anyone who joins the National Association of Realtors must pay membership dues: $150 per year plus a $35 per year assessment for an advertising fee. That’s in addition to any dues to state and local associations.

Like most professional associations, NAR lobbies on behalf of its industry to address issues that impact real estate. In 2022, it has asked the Federal Housing Administration to reduce mortgage premiums, promoted efforts to approve remote online notarization, supported candidates for elected office and more. Outside of those advocacy efforts, NAR also acts as a source of continuing education for its members by offering courses about everything from writing contracts to financing investment properties.

Homebuyers and sellers may come across research data from the organization, too. NAR publishes monthly reports that highlight median home prices, housing inventory levels and more information about the market. Realtors — or anyone interested in buying a home or selling a home — can consult its housing trends data to help set realistic expectations about the amount of money it takes to buy a home and the amount of time it will take to close on the transaction.

Is it worth it to work with a Realtor?

All licensed real estate agents can offer professional advice and guidance on buying or selling a home. Working with one who goes the extra mile to join the National Association of Realtors and get that capital “R” next to their name is usually a smart decision, and it doesn’t cost any more to work with a Realtor than an agent who isn’t a Realtor.

In addition to passing the usual licensing exam to professionally represent parties in real estate transactions, as all agents must, NAR members often have additional acronyms next to their names. These distinguish their efforts to learn more and become certified experts in particular areas. For example, those who are specifically qualified to help older clients might earn an SRES (Senior Real Estate Specialist) designation, and those who are trained to help clients with high-end homes may boast an LHC (Luxury Homes Certification).

However, the Realtor designation shouldn’t be the deciding factor in determining who to have on your side of the negotiation table. Whether you’re buying or selling, be sure to interview multiple candidates to find the pro you click with best. These 10 essential questions will help you assess how they might approach your needs.