The Home Buyer and Real Estate Agent: The A-Team.
If you’re planning to buy a house, engaging a real estate agent (also known as a buyers agent) is a smart choice. With luck, it’ll put you in the home of your dreams quickly—and for a better price than if you undertook the process without representation. It’s essential to understand the best rules for home buyers working with real estate agents to follow.
Representation means you have a real estate professional who is working for you and puts your interests above all others, including their own. It is part of what is known as a "Buyer Agency" relationship. The definition of a buyer agency, or even what constitutes agency, is determined by individual States, so be sure to find and read your state definition or ask a real estate agent for an agency disclosure form, which should include the definition.
You want someone who will represent you and your interests while following your direction in the transaction (as long as those directions are legal and ethical). If your goal is to buy a house for a great price in a short time frame, that’ll only happen if you choose the right REALTOR® who you can effectively work with.
Here are a few of our best-practice guidelines to help you find the right REALTOR®, so you can get that house you want at the best price possible. Although we call them rules, these are really proven tips (which many REALTORS® would advise their clients assume they are rules), or in many cases State Laws. Now it's time to get to the rules for home buyers working with real estate agents!
Rules for Homebuyers Hiring Real Estate Agents
- Review and assess your options for representation. You can start by asking the local REALTORS® Association for a list of REALTORS® in your market. Alternatively, those associations usually have a searchable database of members available via their website, which can help you learn more about individual real estate agents.
You can cross-reference that list with recommendations from family and friends, even crowd-source via various social media platforms. It’s always helpful to learn from others first-hand experience, especially those who have recently bought or sold a home and were satisfied with the service that their real estate agent provided.
Most people who refer you to their agents are extremely happy with their real estate agent's ongoing services—often because those agents keep in touch with them by sending emails with great tips on home ownership, maintenance, and other information to help keep their house in tip-top shape. If you don’t have other resources, seeking referrals from mortgage bankers and title officers is a great alternative.
Once you have a list of names, review those REALTORS® websites to get a better sense of who they are and what they might be able to do for you. Read any posted recommendations on websites such as REALTOR.com. When you’ve narrowed down your list, interview the REALTORS® who remain to determine who you have the best rapport with.
- Goal: Find an agent with the ability to handle your transaction and with whom you feel comfortable working. You may want to narrow the list down to two or three and then plan to meet with them in their offices—it’s important to know you are comfortable working with them. Be sure to let them know up front that you’re in the interview stage and not prepared to decide who you will work with yet.
- You’re the home buyer, not the seller—sign a buyer-broker agreement! Also known as an exclusive buyer agency agreement. If they don’t mention a written agreement or present one, consider that a red flag, as most state laws require a written agreement to establish any agency relationship. Ask about the local agency laws when you talk to any agent. The purpose of any agency agreement, whether buyer or seller, is to be assured that you are working with that real estate agent and that they agree to represent your best interests and not those of the Seller.
- Regarding fees and agent compensation... You most likely won't pay any commission to the agent or direct fees out of pocket. Real estate agent compensation comes solely from their broker via the commission agreement the cooperative broker has negotiated with the property seller. Typically buyer agents are paid through that cooperative agreement in which the Sellers broker agrees to pay a portion of the commission charges that the Seller is paying directly to the buyer-agents broker (who in turn pays the agent). That means you won’t have to pay your agent a commission directly.
Important note: A real estate licensee, also known as the “agent,” may only receive compensation from their broker—not from any other source, including any gratuities or incentives of any kind—other forms of compensation are illegal in most States.
If you’re paying a fee, the agreement should specify how much it is, and how it is to be paid. Remember, only the broker can pay the agent so any fees should be payable to the brokerage—any other arrangement and caveat-emptor (buyer beware, literally)! It should also specify how long the agreement will remain in effect (this date is negotiable). You should have the right to terminate any such agreement sooner if dissatisfied with the agent’s efforts and are not under contract to purchase a property. This is usually accomplished via a letter to the agent's broker-of-record which should be included in the agreement.
- Be satisfied. Once you've reviewed the agreement, and had an opportunity to ask questions and discuss or negotiate the terms if necessary it's time to sign. Your goal is to come away feeling satisfied, and have a thorough understanding of exactly what the relationship with your REALTOR® will entail. You should always be provided with copies of all documents you sign—that is part of the rules for home buyers working with real estate agents.
Beware: Unless you have a signed agreement with a buyer's agent, you should not ask any agent to show you homes. If you do, you may end up buying a house, and end up in a dual-agency situation or cause a conflict if you then subsequently enlist the assistance of the agent you DO have an agreement. You may inadvertently create a disagreement which requires proving something known as "procuring cause" as it relates to your interest as a buyer in the house (that's a future blog post, but read more here if you want to learn about procuring cause and how to avoid it).
Rules: Once You Have A Real Estate Agent
Congratulations! You've selected your real estate agent of choice, now before you hit the road to begin house hunting you have a few more things to do. The first few tips below address those early items, then we get onto the meat and potatoes of the purchase.
- Make your expectations clear—from how you want to communicate with your agent, to who will be making the final decision on what property to purchase. It is helpful to make sure those expectations are communicated in writing so there is no confusion in the future about what they were.
You may have already done this while negotiating the buyer broker agreement, but there will be details the agreement hasn’t covered. If you will need your agent to pick you up from a location for showings, discuss those details with your agent and make arrangements in advance. Otherwise, the real estate agent may assume you’ll meet them at their office or property you are scheduled to see.
When establishing communication preferences, let your real estate agent know what your preferences for the ways you would like to receive communications—be it phone, text, email, or whatever—make it clear what you prefer. Establish a desired frequency of those communications as well or other preferences you have for communications.
- Discuss your goals and the time frame for achieving them with your agent, but be reasonable—you can’t expect to ask to see a property immediately. Some notice and scheduling is reasonable, courteous, and to be expected. Don’t be afraid to let the REALTOR® know if you’re dissatisfied with their communication, services, or any other aspect of your interactions. Remember, this is a business relationship and your agent is a professional—they can’t serve your needs, or meet (or exceed) your expectations without your honest feedback.
- Keep appointments and be on time. This is simply common courtesy no matter who you’re dealing with, but your agent may be a very busy person for whom your consideration is especially important and appreciated. It is also important to keep appointments that are scheduled. Be sure to call your agent if you are running late—don’t leave them hanging. Many agents will stop waiting after about 15 minutes if they don’t hear from you.
Being “stood up” for an appointment is all too common for real estate agents. That wasted time makes it more difficult for the real estate agent to pursue your interests and that of other clients—especially if it leads them to doubt your commitment to the process and to the agent being your representative. Remember their compensation is usually commission-based, so all expenses come out of their own pockets until they get paid at closing. Be respectful of their experience, professionalism, and expertise—they still choose whether they want to work with you.
- Planning to attend open houses? Ask your agent if it’s appropriate for you to attend open houses at all. Assuming you get the okay, always give your agent’s business card to the agent hosting the open house, or if you are required to sign-in to the open house, upon arrival, be sure to use your agent's name and contact information rather than your own. This serves a dual purpose—it allows you to avoid any agency conflicts in your representation, and the open house agent won't call you.
Another tip: Don’t pump the agent hosting the open house for information about the seller and the seller’s intentions. It’s your buyer’s agent’s role to seek that information so write your questions down and ask your agent to get any information they can on your behalf. Remember—the key here is to know the rules for home buyers working with real estate agents!
- Never call a listing agent directly if you’re already working with a buyer’s agent. It’s the buyer’s agent’s job to interact with listing agents—let your agent do their job. That way, you won’t be asking a listing agent to enter into a situation that involves a conflict of interest or to otherwise behave unethically. Creating a situation where your chosen real estate agent may not be able to represent you isn’t your goal.
- Real estate agents work on commission. If you happen to encounter a real estate unicorn—one who works for a salary, that’s probably not the one you want to represent you. Examples of the salaried agent situation are typically found with new construction sites. The builders employ those “agents” and are not always required to be licensed real estate sales people when they work for the Seller who is also the builder and owner. Tricky, tricky!
- Finally... you’ve found the one for you, and you are ready to buy. It’s time to have that mortgage approval ready to go! Most real estate agents will require you to have a mortgage pre-approval prior to taking you to see properties—not because they want you to buy right away but for everyone's safety. To get a pre-approval a lender runs credit, checks incomes, and state (or federal) issued identification documents, so the agent knows you are who you say you are, and your intentions are clear and documented. You wouldn’t want some “rando” in your house if you were a seller, would you?
Having a mortgage approval ready to go at offer time makes your offer stronger and your negotiating position even better. Don’t forget to bring your checkbook with you “just in case” it’s the day you find the house. There is typically no “contract” for a real estate purchase that is valid without some form of consideration—that’s where an earnest money deposit or escrow deposit comes into play in the form of your check.
Ultimately, using a real estate agent is to your advantage and your best interest. Real estate agents transact real estate every day so they’re well versed experts and professionals with extensive experience in all aspects of a real estate transaction. They are able to anticipate, prepare, or avoid most potential problems or pitfalls in the process.
We hope you found these best (and top) rules for home buyers working with real estate agents to be helpful. Which rule, tip or fact did you find the most interesting? Surprising? Enlightening? Let us know! Otherwise, if you have any questions about the process which we didn't answer in the post, please feel free to leave a comment and we'll do our best to get you the answer you need!
It's a good point that you really want someone that will be representing your interests really well. My brother is trying to find a new home in a city that is closer to work. He needs to make sure that he can find a rental first before buying a house site-unseen.
I found it helpful when you said that you must have your expectations laid out and cleared when speaking with a real estate agent. My husband and I are planning to buy a bigger house that has at least three bedrooms for our growing family before August ends. It is important for us to ensure that the closing process is going to be completed in the smoothest possible way for our peace of mind, so we will take note of your tips.