The use of the term real estate agent casts a broad umbrella under which people tend to lump all real estate professionals into the same category. The truth is that there is a big difference between the role of a listing agent and a tenant/buyer agent. While both might be referred to as simply a “real estate agent,” it’s important to understand when and how you would use each when it comes to buying or selling real estate.
Listing Agent – A listing agent might also be referred to as a seller’s agent. This is the person who represents the seller or landlord in a deal. His or her job is to list and market the property to attract potential buyers, then negotiate an acceptable deal on behalf of the seller.
Tenant/Buyer Agent – On the other side of the deal you have the tenant/buyer agent. This is the person who represents the tenant or buyer looking to lease or purchase property. His or her job is to find and bring a tenant/buyer to properties which meet their criteria, then represent them in a deal to ensure terms and pricing is fair to the buyer.
How is a listing agent compensated?
Most commonly, a listing agent signs an exclusive right-to-sell/lease listing with the seller/landlord, meaning only the listing agent’s brokerage is entitled to an agreed upon commission upon the sale or lease of the property. The brokerage then typically shares the commission with the agent. Exclusive listings are bilateral agreements between a broker and a seller/landlord. It’s important to know that a listing actually belong to the broker or brokerage, not the listing agent unless he is also owner of the brokerage. However, it is important to make the distinction between a tenant/buyer agent and a subagent of the seller/landlord. If the tenant/buyer does not have a formal written agreement with the tenant/buyer agent then the agent who is showing the property and providing information to the tenant/buyer is considered a subagent of the listing agent and is not representing the interests of the tenant/buyer.
How is a tenant/buyer agent compensated?
Generally, the listing agent cooperates with the tenant/buyer agent and shares a portion of the earned commission in exchange for bringing a tenant/buyer to the table, if that tenant/buyer then submits an offer that the seller accepts. This is referred to as a “co-op” commission. It’s important to note that a tenant/buyer agent is at no cost to the tenant/buyer.
Do I really need to work with an agent?
Legally, no. You are not required to work with an agent and can opt to list your property as a For Sale By Owner (FSBO). But there are benefits to working with a listing agent. Foremost, it becomes their responsibility to market and sell your property in a timely fashion and for an agreeable price. They will schedule showings and handle all of this for you. Many sellers benefit from working with a listing agent because their property may sell faster and at a higher price point than if they decided to go it alone. Also, many people value having a professional to take these time-consuming tasks off their hands.
If you are on the other side of the deal as a tenant/buyer, again you do not legally need to work with a tenant/buyer agent in order to buy or lease a property. However, similarly to the points regarding working with a listing agent, a buyer may also experience benefits when working with a tenant/buyer agent. Foremost, you will have their knowledge and expertise to guide you through the buying/leasing process, and someone who will represent your best interests. A tenant/buyer agent can also make your property search less time consuming by showing you only properties that they know fit your criteria. Think of them as your tenant/buyer “concierge.”
Can the listing agent also be the selling agent?
Simply stated, no. A listing agent should not be the selling agent within the same deal. Why? Because there is a major conflict of interest in doing so. Think of it like having the same lawyer represent both the defense and the prosecution in a case. Neither side will receive fully unbiased, honest representation, and the counsel walks away with twice the compensation. In fact, states such as California have gone as far as making such “dual agency” practices illegal.
Too often, a tenant/buyer begins looking at property without hiring a selling agent (aka tenant/buyer agent) to exclusively represent them. Usually they do not realize that a selling agent is not at the cost of the tenant/buyer, since the tenant/buyer agent will normally co-broke a commission with the listing agent. A tenant/buyer agent is compensated by splitting the commission with the listing agent. So, the client gets representation at no cost. The commission arrangement between the owner and listing agent will be paid whether or not the tenant/buyer has representation.
Without representation, tenants or buyers often find themselves needing the expertise, advocacy and unbiased advice of a listing agent. This can result in a number of troubling issues and frustrations for the tenant/buyer. These include losing the upper hand in negotiations, being subject to unfair pricing and unsatisfactory terms and too late realizing that things could have gone far better if they had a professional dedicated solely to representing their best interests.
When it comes to understanding the differences between a listing agent and a selling agent (aka tenant/buyer agent), the most important take away is that whatever side of the deal you’re on, you want to be sure you have your own representation to advocate for your best interests and negotiate a favorable deal.