I encounter many buyers on a regular basis who have a fear of commitment worse than any ex-boyfriend I ever had. This phobia is understandable after experiencing the "service" some real estate agents provide (i.e.: never returning phone calls, never being available, lack of knowledge and training, lack of focus on the "service" aspect, general lack of desire to work hard). What the general public may NOT understand is that 99% of real estate agents essentially operate their own individual businesses under the LOOSE guidance of a broker (company) whose broker's license their salesperson's license hangs with. Just like there are bad dry cleaners that break all your shirt buttons, bad grocery stores with rotten produce (I'm looking at you, Dean & Deluca), bad mechanics who misdiagnose your car and charge you an ungodly amount to fix it, even bad doctors, dentists (thinking of one in particular), and lawyers (are there any good lawyers? lol), there are bad real estate agents. I get it. And you, as a buyer, do NOT want to get stuck being forced to work with one of these yahoos for 180 days. So, your train of thought is: avoid commitment at all costs.
However, this is not in your best interest, as all agents represent and have a fiduciary duty to the sellers of any houses they show you UNLESS YOU HAVE A SIGNED BUYER AGENCY AGREEMENT WITH THAT AGENT. This means that, without a Buyer Agency Agreement, no agent has any responsibility to you whatsoever. No duty to protect you as a consumer or your best interests. No obligation to keep the things you tell them confidential. No need to advise you on making the decisions which would be most beneficial to you. You have no protection in the murky waters of the home buying process. Conundrum!
What to do? Ask around and find friends, family, and acquaintences who have had a good experience with their agent and interview a couple to find one that you can work well with. They may want you to commit to a long Buyer Agency Agreement, and maybe you don't quite feel comfortable with that yet, since you're just getting to know each other. It's kinda like asking someone to move in on the first date. Maybe it's a little much at first, but still, you do like the person. Try to understand: the agent is trying to protect themselves. What you may NOT know is that agents get screwed ALL THE TIME. Many buyers are crafty or devious and want to play the field, like so many players you've dated. Buyers don't want to commit to working with us, but want our full commitment to them. We show them houses, answer questions, act as a liaison in their financing approval, drive them all over, spend our own gas money, help them write contracts, multpile phone conversations, research comparables, neighborhoods, etc., etc. This is our business and our livlihood, and most of us love what we do. However, we only ever get paid at all when a deal goes to settlement, and often, after doing months of work, we find our buyer decided last minute to work with another agent. Or our buyer changes their mind and makes different plans. Or our buyer wants us to give them money out of our own compensation, out of our own pockets. So, we quite often never get paid for our work and time. As a result, we try to protect ourselves with Buyer Agency Agreements.
What does a Buyer Agency Agreement really say? It says that BOTH parties have resposibilities - not just the agent. The buyer's responsibilities are:
- To work exclusively with the broker during the term of the agreement.
- To furnish financial and personal information to the broker to reasonably establish their ability to purchase a property (sorry, we don't get paid for being tour guides - you actually have to be qualified to purchase a home to get in our car and take advantage of our expertise, gas and time).
- To call us first when you see a for sale sign or a property you're interested in, rather than contacting the listing agent or seller, and WE will provide you information and make arrangements to show you the home.
- To not visit new home builders' models or sales offices or go to open houses without first discussing with us so we can make arrangements with the other agents (otherwise, they may technically be entitled to our commission).
- To pay us for our time and service (usually a percentage of sales price, sometimes a flat rate). Most of the time this fee is covered by the seller, however if you decide you want to puchase a property that is For Sale By Owner and they are not using a listing agent, then the compensation for your agent's time is paid by you.
PLEASE NOTE: IF YOU SIGN A BUYER AGENCY AGREEMENT WITH MULTIPLE AGENTS, NOT ONLY IS THIS A VIOLATION OF THE AGENCY AGREEMENT, BUT YOU MAY BE ON THE HOOK TO PAY A COMMISSION TO ALL OF THEM - NOT JUST THE AGENT WHO EVENTUALLY SOLD YOU THE HOUSE. So, while the seller may pay for the compensation of the agent who helps you buy that particular house, you have agreed to pay any agent you enter a buyer agency agreement with (if you purchase while that agreement is active), and so may be obligated to pay them all. This is a legal agreement which can be upheld in a court of law.
Pretty serious stuff. So, you want representation, and your agent wants to CYA, but you don't want to commit to working with someone you don't know that well for 6 months, right? How about a happy medium? Sign a buyer agency agreement for 2 weeks or 30 days, so that you have an opportunity to work with the agent a few times and make sure you actually want to use them for the purchase of your home. If, after 2 weeks or so, you decide this is not the agent for you, move on: no harm, no foul. If you decide your agent kicks booty (the majority of us do!), then sign a new, longer agreement. This way, your agent is confident they will get paid for any work they do for you, and you are confident that if they suck, you aren't tied to them for the better part of the next year.