BARRISTER'S BRIEFING: REALTOR® Trademark Usage: Just Use It (Correctly)

Brian Levine | February 9, 2022

Brian Levine, Esq.

As members of HGAR, you are a REALTOR®. That REALTOR® mark signifies a member’s commitment to protecting clients, the public and other real estate professionals, as well as to conducting business with integrity and providing high standards of real estate service. It’s a privilege to be able to use that mark. Whether you realize it or not, that trademarked term is protected under federal law and can only be used in certain ways and under certain conditions. So, use it, but use it correctly, because if you don’t, you may find yourself in some trouble with NAR. So, if you’re going to use it, use it correctly.

First, members can only use the mark for the sole purpose of indicating membership with NAR. It cannot be used to connote a profession or title. You can use it connection with your name (Sarah Jones, REALTOR®) or in connection with a brokerage name (Sunshine Realty, REALTORS®), but it cannot be used as part of the name of a brokerage (Sunshine REALTORS®). Further, it cannot be used in connection with the name of a team.

There are three main trademark rules:

  1. The mark must be formatted correctly.
  2.  Descriptive words may not be used with the mark.
  3.  All uses must tie back to the membership in NAR.

Formatting

Formatting identifies the mark as being special. Always use uppercase lettering with the mark with the trademark symbol (REALTOR®). If that formatting is not possible, you should capitalize the first letter R and add the trademark symbol, or use all uppercase letters without the trademark symbol. The mark should never be in all lowercase, except in a domain name, e-mail address and a social media username due to the inability to capitalize letters. Additionally, the mark must be separated by punctuation (ex: comma, hyphen). There are other exceptions for the mark’s use, such as its use in publications—such as in Real Estate In-Depth for example—but these initial rules are the big ones you should remember.

Descriptive Words

Words describing the mark cannot be used. This includes geographic descriptors, adjectives and words such as “my,” “your” and “the.”
The following are improper uses of the mark:

  • Professional REALTORS®
  • Jane the REALTOR®
  • www.bestrealtor.com
  • steve@number1realtor.com
  • Top Chicago REALTOR®
  • Hometown REALTOR®

The “Member Test”

In using the term correctly, you can ensure that you are using it in the proper context by applying the “member test.” The use of the term must convey that it is referencing membership with NAR. To confirm that you’re using it correctly, simply substitute the word “REALTOR®” with “member” or “members of NAR” to determine if it conveys the correct meaning.

Correct Use

  • How many REALTORS® will be there? (Translation: How many members will be there?)

Incorrect Use

  • John Doe is a lawyer and licensed REALTOR®. (Translation: John Doe is a lawyer and licensed member.)
  • Sunshine Realty: Builders-REALTORS®-Insurers. (Translation Sunshine Realty: Builders-member-insurers).

E-mail Addresses, Domain Names and Usernames

If you’re going to use the mark in an e-mail address, domain name or a username, the aforementioned rules apply with the following two notable exceptions:

The mark can be lowercase; and

Separating punctuation may be omitted.

However, all other rules apply, including the use of “my,” “your,” “the” and other adjectives. Additionally, the mark may only appear next to the member’s personal name/brokerage name or next to the “@” or “.com” extension.

Correct Use

  • johndoerealtor@gmail.com
  • www.sunshinrealtyrealtors.com
  • @realtorsarah on Instagram
  • robertrealtor@cloudrealty.com
  • Janerealtor on Facebook
  • #johndoerealtor on Twitter

Incorrect Use

  • chicagorealtor.com (not next to name; next to descriptive term)
  • www.yourprofessionalrealtors.com (not next to name; next to descriptive term)
  • Janetherealtor on Facebook (mark next to the word “the”)
  • localrealtorsarah@sunshine.com (mark next to descriptive term)

Other Guidance

  • You cannot refer to someone who is not a REALTOR® as a non-REALTOR®.
  • You can display other designations after using the term REALTOR® (ex: John Doe, REALTOR®, GRI, SRES).
  • You may not use the REALTORS® in a real estate team name.
  • You cannot use “Best REALTOR®” or “Professional REALTOR®.”
  • If you have used the mark in your business name, you must take steps to remove it.
  • You cannot use the mark in connection with programs, activities or charities that a member may participate in, such as a sports team (You can only use the mark in connection with your real estate business).
  • You can use the mark on merchandise that is distributed, so long as all other guidelines are complied with.

Conclusion

Being a REALTOR® is an honor. The ability to use the term is special, so use it with pride, but use it correctly. You are all REALTORS® and you have earned it.

NOTE: If it is discovered that a member is misusing the mark, NAR, NYSAR, or HGAR will notify the offending party of the misuse of the mark and require the member to cease that use. If the member fails to comply, a complaint may be filed against the member for violation of their membership duties. NAR may also institute legal action for trademark infringement in state of federal court.

For additional information or question on the use of the mark, contact NAR at trademark@nar.realtor or at 312-329-8270. If you see misuses of the mark, forward that information to trademark@nar.realtor and they will review your information and take appropriate action.

Brian Levine
Brian S. Levine, Esq. is In-House Counsel/Director of Legal Services & Professional Standards Administrator for the Hudson Gateway Association of Realtors.