Many times I see home buyers going directly to listing agents to make offers on homes rather than using buyer’s agents to help them with the purchase. In trying to analyze why this happens, I believe that most buyers don’t really understand buyer representation and the difference it can make in a real estate transaction.
Buyer’s representation (a.k.a. buyer agency, buyer brokerage) requires that you as the buyer enter into a written Buyer’s Brokerage Agreement, signed by you and the buyer’s agent, stating the terms and responsibilities of the parties in a client relationship. Such an agreement raises the bar in terms of the level of responsibility that the agent working with the buyer has in the transaction to serve the buyer’s interests above everyone else.
A buyer’s agent is not synonomous with “selling agent”. A selling agent is the agent that brings a buyer, but may not necessarily represent the buyer. For example, a listing agent can also be the selling agent in the same transaction, while still only representing one party, the seller.
Some agents prefer to work with buyers without a buyer agency agreement. In those situations, agents have what is called a “customer” relationship rather than a “client” relationship. An agent who works with you as their customer will often say that they represent neither party (buyer or seller) or they may refer to themselves as a “transaction broker”.
When you are a customer, an agent is more like a salesperson than an “advocate” for you. In a customer relationship, the agent’s duty to the customer is limited to:
Reasonable care and diligence
If you are working with an agent without a signed agreement, then legally the agent does not represent you. In fact, the agent may actually be acting in the seller’s interest based on his or her behavior during the period of time that you interact together. It’s important to understand this when you first start working with an agent before you unknowingly give away your position in the transaction and lose your negotiating power.
In a client relationship, where the buyer or seller has a written agreement with the agent, the agent’s duty to the client is:
Reasonable care and diligence
When you are a client of the agent, then you are empowered with the knowledge, experience, wisdom, confidentiality, and fiduciary responsibility of that agent, and as such you can expect a much higher level of service from that agent. The Real Estate Buyer’s Agent Council (REBAC) web site has a table called “Are you a Buyer-Customer or Buyer Client?” that compares the differences between a client and customer agency status and what you should expect from your agent depending upon your chosen agency status.
The next time you ask a real estate agent to help you find a home, make sure you discuss early on what the agency relationship will be between you and the agent. If the agent is reluctant to sign a buyer’s brokerage agreement with you, you may want to “shop around” further for another agent who will have your best interests at heart.
Finding an experienced buyer’s agent could be one of the most important decisions you make even before you start your home search. To learn more about buyer representation, visit the Real Estate Buyer’s Agent Council web site or contact Dale Holmes at 706.499.0367.
Dale Holmes, Broker for Headwaters Realty has earned the Accredited Buyer’s Representative (ABR®) REALTOR® designation. The ABR® Designation is awarded through the Real Estate Buyer’s Agent Council, or REBAC, which was founded in 1988 to promote superior buyer-representation skills and services. REBAC is an affiliate of the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR).