Burt M. Polson - Commercial Real Estate Broker

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Commercial vs residential real estate salespeople

Photo by  rawpixel.com  from  Pexels

Photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels

If you sold or purchased a house, there is a good chance a residential agent assisted you. If you are a business owner or an investor, then you most likely interacted with a commercial broker at some point.

Both residential and commercial salespeople have several things in common. Both need to be licensed with the state, both use real estate contract forms, and both receive a commission as payment for their work.

However, there are many differences not only in the types of real estate handled, but what each does, how they stay on top of the market and the resources available to them.

Selling and Leasing

Commercial brokers sell and lease commercial real estate. Investment real estate such as a retail storefront or industrial building has tenants who come and go. Property owners usually use the services of a commercial broker to secure a new tenant.

Residential agents usually only sell houses or help buyers purchase a home.


A commercial broker could be a generalist in a small market where they handle several different property types, but many specialize in a particular type. Some brokers specialize in retail, office or industrial for example as well as some brokers who only represent tenants.

Most residential agents are generalists, but some agents specialize in specific niches such as luxury homes, two to four units, condominiums or by area.


In the marketing of the property for sale and lease, commercial brokers and residential agents typically use several different resources.

Some services may overlap such as the local multiple listing service (MLS), but many of the channels are entirely different. Commercial brokers usually have various subscription services costing thousands of dollars a month, whereas the residential agent is lucky they have a one-stop resource with their MLS that is a fraction of the cost.

Licensing, associations, and designations

Real estate salespeople must be licensed to sell and lease real estate. Many real estate salespeople are members of the National Association of Realtors (NAR), their state association of Realtors as well as their local association. A salesperson does not need to be a member of the association to do business, but there are many benefits in joining. You must be a member to call yourself a Realtor.

Commercial brokers have several other associations they could join for example the CCIM (Certified Commercial Investment Member) Institute and the Society of Industrial and Office Realtors (SIOR).

Residential agents have many designations under the Realtor association umbrella to secure as well as other associations to join.

Broker or agent

I have been using the term “broker” in addressing a commercial salesperson and “agent” a residential salesperson, but technically these terms span both types.

A broker has passed a more extensive exam, has more experience or education and can act on their own in representing sellers, buyers, and tenants. An agent must be employed by a broker and cannot work on their behalf without a broker’s supervision.

Burt M. Polson, CCIM, is an active commercial real estate broker. Reach him at 707-254-8000, or burt@acresinfo.com. Sign up for his email newsletter at BurtPolson.com.

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