When you hire a real estate agent, itâ€™s important to understand whose side sheâ€™s on as you select a home to buy (or list your current home for sale) and head towards closing, where the actual transfer of ownership happens. There are a lot of ways agents may represent clients. Yours might represent:
Only the other parties in the transaction
Everyone in the deal
By knowing where your agentâ€™s loyalties lie, youâ€™ll know what you can tell her and what you canâ€™t. (If, for example, youâ€™re dealing with an agent who doesnâ€™t represent you but is representing the sellers of a home you want to buy, you wonâ€™t want to tell her how high youâ€™re willing to go on the price.) In some states, your agent has to explain the type of representation (also called agency) sheâ€™s offering you and ask you to sign a contract identifying who the agent and her broker represent. If an agent doesnâ€™t bring up the subject or ask you to sign a contract, ask about it so you know whom sheâ€™s representing.
No matter what form of representation you agree to, watch out for your own interests and understand the six ways brokers and agents represent clients below.
Want the agent to represent you and only you when you buy a home so that all the information you share with her is confidential? Opt for an exclusive buyerâ€™s agent.
Who pays the buyerâ€™s agent?Â Surprisingly, even if you hire a buyerâ€™s agent, you can still ask the sellers to pay his fee. You can pay your buyerâ€™s agent yourself, or ask the seller (or the sellerâ€™s agent) to pay your agent a share of their sales commission.
An exclusive sellerâ€™s agent represents only the sellers, not the buyers. If your exclusive sellerâ€™s agent finds a buyer for your home, he may have another agent â€” maybe even a co-worker from the same brokerage â€” represent the buyer in your transaction. In some cases the buyer may have no agent at all. Your exclusive sellerâ€™s agent is loyal only to you, so itâ€™s OK to discuss strategy with him.
Who pays the sellerâ€™s agent?Â The seller pays a commission to the sellerâ€™s agent from the proceeds of the sale. The sellerâ€™s agent may, and often does, share the commission with the homebuyerâ€™s agent.
Letâ€™s say you find a home online. You call the real estate brokerage thatâ€™s offering the home and an agent who answers the phone offers to show you the home right now. You think, â€œGreat, sheâ€™s showing me the home, she must work for me.â€ But unless youâ€™ve hired her as your buyerâ€™s agent, sheâ€™s working for the sellers.
The same thing can happen if you go to see a home with an agent whose brokerage doesnâ€™t hold the listing. That agent is assisting you, but sheâ€™s not your agent; sheâ€™s cooperating with the sellers to get you to buy their home.
In some states, that agent may also be a subagent (think subcontractor) of the sellerâ€™s agent. Some states allow subagents, some donâ€™t.
Bottom line: Always ask any agent showing you a home whom she represents. Never tell a subagent anything you donâ€™t want the sellers to know.
Who pays the subagent?Â The sellerâ€™s agent shares her commission with the subagent.
In many states, agents can represent both the buyer and seller. These dual agents seek to bring both sides together. They canâ€™t do something thatâ€™s only good for you and not for the other side.
A dual agent situation often arises when one agent represents the buyers and the sellers of the same home. The agent must disclose the relationship and, in many states, you must agree in writing to such dual representation because of the potential for conflicts of interest. While dual agents have an obligation not to share any confidential information of a client without their permission, be sure to inform the agent that the information is confidential and know that any non-confidential information may be shared with the people on the other side of the transaction.
Who pays the dual agent?Â Usually the seller pays the commission.
What happens when the buyerâ€™s agent and the sellerâ€™s agent both work for the same broker?
To make sure both sides of the home sale are treated fairly in this situation, some brokers designate an agent in their company to represent only the buyers and another to represent only the sellers. A designated agent or appointed agent will be loyal to you and only you. The strategy helps avoid a dual agency situation.
Who pays the designated agents?Â The sellers pay the commission and the designated agents share it.
In some states, you can work with an agent who acts as a facilitator. By doing so, you set up a nonagency, transactional, or facilitator relationship with the â€œagentâ€ even though that person is technically not your agent under the law. Typically, nonagents owe you fewer obligations and duties than those who are actually agents. For instance, they would still be required to treat you fairly, but wouldnâ€™t necessarily owe you confidentiality.
Nonagent responsibilities vary from state to state. To find out what those services entail in your state, ask the broker and agent.
Who pays the nonagent?Â You, as the seller, might agree to pay a flat fee or a commission, which would be stipulated in the listing agreement.A REALTORÂ® can help you sell faster, get a better price, and guide you through what can be a complex process. So youâ€™ll want to find an agent who suits your needs. Knowing which type of relationship you have with your agent, and his broker, will help you negotiate the best possible deal, whether youâ€™re a buyer or a seller.
Dona DeZube has been writing about real estate for more than two decades. She lives in a suburban Baltimore Midcentury modest home on a 3-acre lot shared with possums, raccoons, foxes, a herd of deer, and her blue-tick hound.
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