If you're like some buyers, you may be shopping for a home to buy without using a real estate agent of your own. You don't trust agents, and you want to shop on your own time at your own pace without some agent pressuring you to buy something you don't want. They're just salespeople, right?
Wrong. A salesperson owes you service, but not loyalty, while a real estate agent owes loyalty to whomever they're contracted to serve. In most cases that's the seller.
If you call the listing agent on a property, go to see the property, and decide to buy it, don't expect the agent to represent your best interests.
Here's how it really works. The listing agent represents the seller in a transaction, and always has the seller's best interest in mind. Anything you say to the listing agent is not protected and can be used against you in a negotiation.
For example, you might inadvertently tell the agent that you're relocating and have to find a home to buy in the next week. So when you make an offer, the seller's agent may tell the seller that you're motivated to buy quickly, making the seller less likely to lower the price.
If you didn't know that, you may also not know that you can hire your own agent. who will have your best interest at heart and at no additional cost to you. Like the seller's agent, the buyer's agent is paid out of the transaction proceeds.
Your agent can serve you as a buyer's agent, but in order to do that, you need to sign a representation contract to that effect. Otherwise, she may represent other buyers and sellers, which doesn't guarantee that you'll get preferential treatment. This could be crucial in a busy seller's market when home supplies are short.
In some states, a real estate broker can represent the seller, then appoint one of her agents as a buyer's representative with no expectation of fiduciary service. Not all agents are comfortable doing that, so they may avoid the issue by only representing buyers and not taking listings, but that's not practical for most professionals.
Another alternative form of representation is facilitation, where the broker agrees to help move the transaction along for both parties without owing fiduciary responsibilities to either the seller or the buyer.
When you hire an agent, he or she will provide a disclosure that explains the types of representation available in your state, and which types of representation the agent offers.
What you should get from any agent is help finding the right house, first and foremost. Next you want help determining the right price and terms to offer based on current market conditions. You want guidance and support throughout negotiations, the inspection and appraisal, the lending process, and escrow and closing.