Virginia law requires that once a real estate licensee and a member of the public have agreed to work together, they must put their agreement in writing. In other words, before you have substantial conversations about real estate or are shown property by an agent, you must be sure you understand Agency and who represents whom. And the state of Virginia wants you to put that in writing, so that they know Agency has been fully explained to you.
What does this mean to you, the Northern Virginia home buyer?
Before a real estate agent in Virginia can show you property, give opinions on a property’s condition or suggested repairs, negotiate a contract, rent, security deposit or other lease or contract provisions, you and the agent must put the nature of your relationship in writing.
Now, we totally understand most people do not want to enter into a contractual relationship with an agent before they are sure it's going to work out. Just as you wouldn't agree to marry someone with whom you have not even had the first date. Well, most people wouldn't, anyway.
It's not as complicated or scary as it sounds. If you're starting your Northern VA home search and have just met an agent - but not sure you want to work with them - it's okay. You have a few options.
You can sign a disclosure of brokerage relationship for unrepresented parties, this just acknowledges in writing you know what it means to be unrepresented.
You can sign a disclosure agreeing to representation for just the houses you are shown, too, or if you have a good feeling about the agent, want to be represented when you go out the first time, but aren't sure about a long term relationship, you can even sign a very short term agreement.
Now, each agent has his or her own business model and there are going to be agents who will not take out unrepresented buyers. That's just how they roll and there is nothing wrong with that. You just move on to another agent if you're uncomfortable signing an agreement for representation.
You just have to sign something acknowledging you understand what agency means and are clear on who represents which party in the transaction.
If you choose to be represented, here are the things an agent can do on your behalf:
1. Negotiate on your behalf
2. Represent your interests
3. Give an opinion about the value of the property
4. Advise you regarding property condition
5. Owe you more than a limited duty of confidentiality
6. Provide any other services defined as licensed activity in the Virginia real estate regulations.
What if you choose to be unrepresented? Well, then the real estate agent showing you property is by default working as a representative of the Seller and cannot perform any acts which involve discretion or exercise any of their own judgement or expertise. Basically, they can open the door for you, fill out paperwork but cannot advise you in any way. The agent can perform ministerial acts, such as completing a sale offer or lease, but the agent is not allowed to advise you. Basically, you are on your own and the agent is just there to fill out the paperwork.
Oh, and also, one other important thing; if the Seller is not offering compensation to agents working as Subagents, then you, the buyer, will have to pay your agent because the Seller is not going to do that. So, if you choose to be unrepresented, be sure you understand what that means and what the implications are.
By the way, if you come across an agent who does not explain that it is Virginia state law to sign Agency Disclosure forms, you need to ask yourself why this is — and whether you want to work with an Agent who is not concerned about following Agency Law designed to protect you, the Consumer?
Contrary to what it may sound like at first, these disclosure laws came into being to protect Consumers - and to insure agents fully disclose for whom they are working and where their loyalties lie. The law is not intended to lock consumers into agency agreements, it was designed only to disclose who is working for who and what implications that has for the consumer.