What is Real Estate – A Simple Guide in Everyday Terms

The real estate industry is a dynamic and expansive sector. It involves many activities, professionals, and businesses that buy, sell, develop, manage, and finance properties and land. It affects economies worldwide and is influenced by many factors, including economic conditions, population growth, urbanization, and market trends.

This article is a detailed guide that uncovers the real estate market in the United States and Canada. It explains the roles of agents and brokers, discusses important systems like MLS (Multiple Listing Service) and IDX (Internet Data Exchange), and clarifies how the industry works.

What is real estate in general? 

Real estate generally includes land, buildings, and permanent structures on the land. This category comprises houses, apartments, offices, and shops. It involves owning physical assets and the associated usage rights.

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Real estate properties can be classified into various types based on their use and purpose:

  • Residential Real Estate: Properties primarily used for living purposes, including single-family homes, condominiums, townhouses, and multifamily residences.
  • Commercial Real Estate: Properties used for business activities, such as office buildings, retail spaces, hotels, and industrial buildings.
  • Industrial Real Estate: Properties utilized for manufacturing, production, storage, and distribution purposes, such as factories, warehouses, and distribution centers.
  • Land: Vacant or undeveloped land that can be used for various purposes, including agricultural, residential, commercial, or industrial development.

What defines the real estate market?

The “real estate market” is where properties, land, and buildings are bought, sold, rented, or leased. It’s a complex system involving transactions, interactions, and economic factors that affect the buying and selling of real estate assets. This market covers properties such as homes, commercial buildings, industrial spaces, and vacant land.

Within the real estate market, buyers, sellers, investors, and renters engage in transactions facilitated by agents, brokers, and other professionals.

Economic things like how much people want or need products, how much it costs to borrow money, the state of the economy both in the local area and worldwide, rules set by the government, what people like to buy, and changes in the population have a big effect on this market

The real estate market is diverse, with different residential, commercial, and industrial sectors serving specific purposes. Residential focuses on homes and commercial spaces for businesses, and industrial caters to manufacturing and storage.

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Changes in this market impact property values, rents, and investment chances. Real estate markets can be local, national, or global, each with its trends and challenges. It is very important to understand these factors since they will influence and guide their decisions and strategies in this ever-changing industry.

Understanding the roles of Agents and Brokers

Real estate agents assist individuals in purchasing, selling, and renting properties such as houses and plots of land. The requirements to become an agent vary by state since no national real estate license exists. Usually, one needs to finish state-approved training, pass an exam, activate their license, and join a licensed brokerage.

Working with a brokerage is crucial for agents; they operate under its guidance to follow real estate laws. With experience and further education, some agents become brokers. Brokers have more responsibilities, like working independently and overseeing agents.

There’s a difference between a Realtor, a real estate agent, and a broker. Anyone can be a broker or a real estate agent, but only National Association of Realtors (NAR) members can use the term “Realtor.” Realtors follow a strict Code of Ethics, highlighting their commitment to ethical conduct and professionalism in real estate.

What are the activities a real estate agent typically does?

Real estate agents focus on either helping people sell or buy property what they do changes based on whether they work for the seller or the buyer.

Seller’s Agents (Listing Agents) Responsibilities:

Meeting Potential Clients and Setting Listing Prices: Agents meet with property owners, evaluate their homes, and determine appropriate listing prices based on market analysis and property condition.

Preparing Listing Presentations and Capturing Property Images: They create presentations outlining their marketing strategies and take professional-quality photos or videos to showcase the property’s best features.

Marketing Properties: Agents advertise properties through various channels, like Multiple Listing Services (MLS), online platforms, social media, and print media. They may also use virtual tours or drone footage to attract potential buyers.

Offering Suggestions for Property Updates and Staging: Agents advise making improvements or staging the property to enhance its appeal to potential buyers.

Hosting Open Houses and Vetting Potential Buyers: They organize and host open houses to allow prospective buyers to view the property. Agents vet potential buyers to ensure their genuine interest and financial capability to purchase.

Negotiating Aspects of the Sale: Agents negotiate offers and terms on behalf of the seller, striving to secure the best possible deal.

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Responsibilities when working with Real Estate Buyers:

Assisting in Property Search: Agents help buyers find properties that match their preferences, needs, and budgets by searching databases like the MLS and scouting available properties.

Showing Homes and Arranging Viewings: They schedule and conduct property showings, providing valuable insights into the features and suitability of each property.

Guiding Through Purchase Process: Agents ensure buyers have mortgage pre-approval and assist in navigating the complex process of contracts, disclosures, and legal paperwork.

Negotiating and Coordinating Inspections: They negotiate offers on behalf of the buyer and coordinate tasks like property appraisals and inspections to ensure the property’s condition aligns with the buyer’s expectations.

Meetings and Tours

  • Real estate agents regularly attend office meetings to discuss market trends, exchange listings, and gain insights from colleagues.
  • Some agents participate in MLS tours, visiting new listings in person to gain firsthand knowledge, which helps them advise buyers and sellers more effectively.

Continuing Education and Certifications:

  • Agents need to keep taking classes to keep their licenses and stay informed about changes in their field.
  • Pursuing certifications and designations (e.g., Certified Residential Specialist, Accredited Buyer’s Representative) demonstrates specialized skills and commitment to professional growth within the real estate industry.

How Do Real Estate Agents Make Money?

Real estate agents typically earn money through commissions based on the successful completion of property transactions. Here’s a breakdown of how they make money:

Commission-Based Earnings:

Sales Commissions: When a real estate agent helps a client (either a seller or a buyer) complete a property transaction, they earn a commission. This commission is a percentage of the property’s final sale price. 

Usually, the money made from selling a property (commission) is divided between the agent who helps the seller and the agent who helps the buyer. Each agent gets a part of the total money made.”

Leasing/Rental Commissions: Agents also earn commissions when they assist in leasing or renting properties. Usually, the commission is based on a percentage of the total lease or rental amount.

Brokerage Split: Real estate agents work under licensed brokers, and a portion of the commission earned goes to their brokerage firm. The percentage split between the agent and the brokerage varies based on the agent’s agreement.

In general, Real estate agents do not receive a fixed salary or hourly wage. Their income depends on successfully closing transactions, which means they might receive payment once a deal is finalized.

MLS and IDX in Real Estate

The Multiple Listing Service (MLS) is a central hub for real estate listings, allowing agents and brokers to access detailed property information and facilitate transactions.

In the United States, estimates suggest there are around 600+ MLS databases. These databases cover various regions, counties, cities, and neighborhoods nationwide. Some MLSs are localized, serving a specific city or area, while others might encompass more significant regions, such as multiple counties or even entire states.

The MLS operates under the Canadian Real Estate Association’s (CREA) Realtor.ca platform in Canada. Realtor.ca is the primary national MLS system covering listings from local real estate boards and associations nationwide. 

Additionally, MLS in Canada have different provincial real estate boards, each operating its MLS to serve specific regions or cities.

Real estate professionals must join and access the MLS relevant to their geographic area of operation to list properties, share information, and collaborate with other agents and brokers. 

In the real estate industry, IDX (Internet Data Exchange) enables agents and brokers to display other properties from their Multiple Listing Services (MLS) on their website. 

By integrating IDX with their websites, professionals can showcase a broader range of MLS listings, attract more buyers, close more deals, and, in the end, earn more from the commissions. 

With MLS listings and IDX plugins, agents and brokers also establish themselves as trusted professionals in the real estate market. This technological edge simplifies their tasks and amplifies their reach, ultimately contributing to increased sales.

How does the real estate market work in the U.S. and Canada

The real estate industry functions differently in the United States (U.S.) and Canada. 

In the U.S., the process involves localized Multiple Listing Services (MLS) and negotiations between buyer and seller agents. In contrast, the Data Distribution Facility (DDF) allows for national property marketing across participating brokers in Canada. 

Both countries follow distinct but similar frameworks for real estate transactions, catering to specific market dynamics within their regions.

Here’s a focused breakdown of how real estate operates in the U.S. and Canada.

How Real Estate Works in the U.S.:

Home Listing Process:

  • The person who owns the home and the agent helping to sell it decide on the conditions for selling the house together.
  • The listing agent publishes the house on the local Multiple Listing Service (MLS) and other marketing platforms.

Buyer Engagement:

  • The buyer’s agent, representing potential buyers, identifies homes listed on the MLS.
  • The buyer’s agent contacts the listing agent for inquiries and showings.

Negotiations and Sale:

  • The buyers and listing agents negotiate the sale terms on their client’s behalf.
  • Agreement reached between buyers and sellers on the final price and sale terms.

Closing Process:

  • Real estate agents ensure the legality of the sale, coordinate inspections and guide through the closing process.
  • Once the sale is completed, the commission is paid to the involved agents.
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How the Real Estate industry works in Canada:

In Canada, the real estate industry operates using various systems, with the key aspect being the Data Distribution Facility (DDF). 

This platform functions similarly to the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) in the United States. 

Through the DDF, properties are marketed for sale nationwide, allowing participating brokers to access and list properties nationwide. 

This system enables broader property marketing, providing accessibility to listings for brokers and agents throughout Canada.

 Overall, the Canadian real estate landscape relies on the DDF to facilitate national property marketing among brokers, fostering a comprehensive approach to real estate transactions across the country.


The world of real estate is vast, and this industry isn’t just about transactions. It shapes economies globally and is greatly influenced by economic conditions, population growth, urbanization, and market trends.

Agents and brokers are critical in the real estate industry as they bridge buyers and sellers. Their varied responsibilities, whether setting prices, marketing properties, or guiding through negotiations, underscore their importance.

The integration of MLS listings and IDX plugins on websites revolutionized the profession. It’s more than technology; it’s a game-changer. This digital convergence simplifies tasks, offering a seamless collection of properties in one place, offering buyers a wide range of choices, facilitating more informed decisions, and ultimately benefiting the entire real estate ecosystem.


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