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Provisional Broker, Broker, Broker-in-Charge, Real Estate Agent, REALTOR®: What’s the Difference?

Posted by: Kaplan Real Estate Education
Updated: November 2020

If you’re thinking of earning your real estate license in North Carolina, you’ve probably done some research online. And in that research, there’s probably a number of terms you’ve come across that may have made the process incredibly confusing for you. In this article, we will aim to clear up the confusion by clearly defining the most commonly misused or misunderstood terms.

As an important blanket statement, keep this in mind: In North Carolina, every licensee is a broker. The difference lies in the status level of their broker license. So what’s the difference between those status levels?

Provisional Broker

This is the entry-level title for a North Carolina real estate career. Once you complete the required education, pass the state exam, and earn your license, you become a provisional broker. What does this mean? Well, essentially you are a broker whose license is on provisional status. You can perform all of the same activities of a broker, but you must be supervised by a broker-in-charge. You cannot operate independently. In order to remove the provisional status of your license, you must complete 90 hours of postlicensing education, as prescribed by the state, within a 18-month period to keep your license active and drop the provisional status.

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The most common real estate license type in North Carolina is a real estate broker license. This is often referred to as a full broker or a broker not on provisional status. In other states, real estate salesperson is the name given to individuals who perform in a similar capacity to a North Carolina broker. You transition from provisional broker to broker by completing the education requirement mentioned previously. As a broker, you are able to engage in brokerage if you work for a licensed real estate brokerage firm or another sole proprietor broker/broker-in-charge. You may also operate as a sole proprietor, but only if you’re not engaging in activities that require a broker-in-charge.


This is the highest level of real estate licensure you can reach in North Carolina. In many other states, this role is simply called broker. Every real estate firm in the state must have at least one designated broker-in-charge per office. The broker-in-charge at a firm must meet the following qualifications: be a non-provisional broker and have two years full-time (or equivalent part-time) brokerage experience in any state within the previous five years, or be found by the commission to possess equivalent qualifications. The broker-in-charge must also complete an additional 12-hour course with the NC Real Estate Commission.

Real Estate Agent 

This is a blanket term typically used to define someone who helps clients buy and sell real estate. In North Carolina, this term is generally considered synonymous with the term broker, and in many other parts of the country, it is synonymous with salesperson. Technically, an agent has a client to represent and a fiduciary responsibility to that client. Therefore, once a real estate license is earned, the individual will always be a broker (either provisional or full), as long as they maintain their license. They will be an agent when they represent a client.


Even in a state like North Carolina, with unconventional license names, the term REALTOR® is probably the most misused naming convention. Here is a simple way to think of this: all REALTORS® are real estate agents. But not all real estate agents are REALTORS®. A real estate professional can only carry the title of REALTOR® if they are a member of the National Association of REALTORS®.