While many people use the terms “agent,” “broker,” and “realtor” interchangeably, there are some technical differences among them. Agents are the lowest tier of professional in this industry. They are licensed in their state and will have received industry training, but they have few additional qualifications beyond the basics, and their expertise may be limited. Brokers are often managers of agents who intervene when the agent cannot solve an issue. However, brokers in smaller agencies sometimes work directly with buyers. Realtors are members of the National Association of Realtors, which means that they are subject to the ethics rules and standards of practice of this organization. They stay current on real estate issues and may obtain advanced designations or certifications in certain areas. Accredited Buyer Representative and Accredited Buyer Representative Manager designations indicate a realtor who specializes in representing buyers.
This discussion and the rest of this website will use the term “agent” to describe professionals in all of these categories.
Responsibilities of Agents
During the process of searching for a home, your real estate agent will help you find neighborhoods and homes in those neighborhoods that meet your needs. They also can help you investigate the prices of homes that are comparable to those that interest you. When you have found a specific property of interest, your agent can walk through it with you and help you identify its advantages and disadvantages. If you are interested in buying a new house from a developer, you should still retain an agent rather than using the developer’s salespeople to perform the same tasks. You should bring the agent with you on your first visit to make sure that they can get a commission.
Once you have chosen a property, the agent will help you with making an offer, negotiating terms with the seller, and reaching the eventual agreement on the purchase. They should make sure that you understand the technicalities and nuances of the process so that you can make informed decisions. Your agent will handle the logistics ahead of the closing, as well as the closing itself. They can help you navigate escrow as well.
Many agents represent buyers in some transactions and sellers in other transactions. Complications may arise if the agent becomes a dual agent and acts for both the buyer and the seller in the same transaction. This usually requires the agent to get consent from both parties, but you should think twice before agreeing to this relationship. It may significantly limit the assistance that the agent can provide. (In a situation known as designated agency, which is less problematic, the seller’s agent and the buyer’s agent come from the same brokerage. This also requires the parties to provide consent in writing.)
Paying an Agent
Sellers are usually responsible for paying commissions to both the buyer’s agent and their own agent. While you do not bear these costs directly, you should be aware that you may bear them indirectly because they may affect the seller’s calculation of the price. In general, agents tend to charge fair commissions to protect their reputation. You should still put your agreement with the agent in writing, however, so that both sides understand the extent of the agent’s services, their fees, and what happens if you have a dispute with the agent.
Finding the Right Agent
You can ask friends or family members for recommendations to help you narrow your options, or you can also search online through the NAR website at realtor.com and check reviews at sites such as Zillow and Trulia. You should meet with a few prospective agents in person to make sure that they are knowledgeable about the areas and types of houses that interest you. Your agent should be someone whom you can trust and who communicates well with you. If you develop doubts about any of these matters as the process unfolds, you can fire your agent under the terms provided by your agreement with them. This may require paying a cancellation fee and giving the agent some notice.