We spend so much of our lives asking others for advice, from everything on finding the cheapest gas prices to solving love dilemmas. It makes sense, then, that we'd also want some advice on buying a home. However, the kind of advice you need in this situation is a little more complex than "You need a bigger bedroom closet" or "Aim for a home with an ocean view" "the extent of advice you'll likely get should you turn to family or friends.

That's why it's so important to enlist the help of a real estate agent (sometimes inaccurately referred to as a realtor-more on that in a later paragraph). A qualified real estate agent can answer all the questions you may have and possibly even answer some you haven't even thought of.

What does a Real Estate Agent do?

A real estate agent works for you to find a home that suits your needs. He or she will listen to your home wishes and requirements, find homes that fit your criteria, then take you to them. With your real estate agent, you'll view homes, attend open houses and meet seller's agents in charge of selling the homes.

When you've narrowed down your search to a few homes, your agent can help you out with some of the more specific questions. One important question involves the resale value of the home. Many buyers purchase homes based solely on how comfortable they would be living there. While this is understandable, it's also important to think about how comfortable others would be living there should you decide to move. There are a variety of reasons someone might want to sell their home after having lived in it for a time: investment value, desire for a new neighborhood, kids moving away and the house becoming too big for the amount of people actually living there. Ideally, you will purchase a home that, when and if the time to re-sell comes, actually has a chance at being re-sold for a good price compared to what you initially paid for it. A good real estate agent can give you hints and tips to help you determine the re-sale potential of your prospective home.

Contrary to popular belief, though, the real estate agent's job doesn't end there. Once you've found a home you would like to own, the real estate agent will help you with the many remaining steps of the home buying process. Examples include:

Making an offer on the home: Present the sellers with an offer that is both realistic for you, but attractive to them.

The Home Inspection: Before you can move in, there are several things the seller must do to ensure his or her house is safe and meets certain standards. The seller's agent will likely help this process go smoothly, but your buyer's agent can keep you abreast of what's going on.

Closing the deal. Your buyer's agent will be there to make sure all the proper paperwork gets done.

Aren't Real Estate Agents and Realtors the same thing?

Not always. A real estate agent is any licensed individual involved in the process of buying and/or selling homes. A 'realtor' is actually a very specific term referring to real estate professionals who are members of the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR), an organization that prides itself on being 'The Voice of Real Estate.' Despite the word 'National' in the title, the NAR actually contains members from over 60 countries worldwide, making it the largest professional association in the world.

NAR members pay an annual membership fee and receive plenty of benefits in return, like ongoing training and education, annual meetings, government representation through lobby groups, access to REALTOR® -only online databases, and consumer awareness campaigns. However, NAR members are also required to abide to a firm Code of Ethics.

Not all real estate agents are realtors. Similarly, not all realtors are real estate agents. The organization also includes:

appraisers,  property managers,  escrow officers,  loan officers,  title representative,s salespeople (for example, homeowners insurance salesperson),  brokers,  counselors and individuals involved in other areas of the real estate business.

For home buying purposes, obviously, your main concern is with those realtors who are real estate agents.

The terms 'real estate agent' and 'realtor' are used interchangeably in everyday conversation (and, admittedly, in many articles on the Internet). However, there is a difference in their literal meaning. There are plenty of good real estate agents out there who aren't members of the National Associaton of REALTORS®. However, some home buyers prefer to work with agents who are part of a nationally accredited organization.

The reason some home buyers prefer realtors to other real estate agents is that strict Code of Ethics we mentioned a couple of paragraphs back. One requirement of this Code is honesty between both other realtors, and clients and customers. This means that you can rest assured that there is no 'dirty work' going on between your realtor and the other agents involved in the home buying process; everything is legit.

Even more importantly, you can rest assured that your realtor is being honest with you. You won't have to worry about a realtor exaggerating about the market value of a property, for example. realtors are also not allowed to mislead you in any way; they cannot tell you they offer a service or advantage over other agents if it is not the case. They also strictly guarantee confidentiality, and maintain wide-open gates of communication throughout the entire buying/selling process.

The choice is yours. Just be sure you aren't getting a 'realtor' when you really want a realtor. An agent who truly is a realtor will present him or herself as one, and will have certification and paperwork to back it up.

Types of Real Estate Agents

Now that you've got the realtor/Real Estate Agent distinction sorted out, there are still a few other terms you have to know. Here's a quick mini-glossary to help you keep track of the agents you'll come across during your home buying adventure:

Buyer's Agent: The agent who contracts to represent the person wishing to buy a home. In other words, the agent who represents you.

Selling Agent: Another word for Buyer's Agent. Again, the Selling Agent works for you. Don't get this confused with the 'Seller's Agent', explained below.

Listing Agent: The agent who markets a property for sale. In other words, the agent who represents the seller.

Seller's Agent: Slang for listing agent. This isn't an official real estate term, but you'll hear many people use it.

Dual Agent: An agent who works for both parties. This typically happens when he or she originally starts off as the listing agent for a property, then is approached by a buyer making an offer without the help of a buyer's agent. The listing agent then ends up handling both sides of the deal. This scenario is actually pretty rare. Most agents specialize in buying or in selling. In some agencies, it's even considered a breach of the rules.