In my experience in real estate, I have found that Homebuyers are often led astray by well-meaning friends and relatives who tell them to go out and learn about the market before they get ready to buy a home -- Open Houses, New Construction, homes magazines. But, their friends and relatives don't tell them what are the implications of doing just that. They especially don't tell them what to do if they happen to find the perfect home when they are only out "just looking".
Unfortunately, most Home Buyers naively assume that they can talk to many different real estate agents without being obligated to any of them. However, when a Home Buyer speaks to a real estate agent at an Open House, calls an agent for information from a newspaper or internet ad, or asks an agent to show them a property, they are potentially making a big mistake if they don't intend to buy the home through that agent...who is most likely working for the Seller and not them.
The same is true if a Home Buyer ends up "just talking" with a developer's or a builder's sales people at the "model", or even to a "For Sale By Owner".
Basically, in New Jersey, if a Home Buyer visits a property with one agent and later decides that they need advice about the pros and cons of the property, market value/comps and/or help with preparing their offer, they can not just retain another agent to represent them (even one especially trained to work for Home Buyers like us). In New Jersey, under the current real estate law, Home Buyers do not always get to choose to have their own real estate agent for a particular property. Often times, their actions have already made the choice for them; and, they didn't even know it. The result is that they can forfeit their right to representation and often end up with an inexperienced, or part-time real estate agent who is actually working directly for the Seller, and not for them.
In an effort to educate Home Buyers, I have the following caution prominently displayed on the first page of my website:
Visit a condo, townhouse or one family home (like an OPEN HOUSE or a BUILDER's MODEL) without us, and we may not be able to help you buy that property.
In New Jersey, you usually have to buy a home using the agent who showed you that property (even though they likely work for the SELLER, and not for you, like we do as your exclusive buyer agent).
Still, many times prospective Home Buyers call me after they have been out looking at Open Houses on a Sunday afternoon and tell me:
"We just saw the house (or condo) we are considering buying. We want our own Buyer's Agent to advise and represent us. Can you help us buy it?"
Unfortunately, most times my answer has to be NO.
So how do they get me to answer YES?
A Home Buyer's best bet to avoid problems is to be upfront with each real estate agent, developer, builder, or "For Sale By Owner" they talk with.
And, most importantly they need to hire the best qualified buyer agent to represent them and help them find their new home before they even start "just looking around". Smart Home Buyers know they need to choose their agent BEFORE they choose their house, and not the other way around. If not, it most likely is too late for them to change agents...at least on that particular property they are interest in.
Below are some Tips I give Home Buyers to help them avoid problems with other real estate agents, developers or builders, and even "For Sale By Owner" properties:
Make sure you let them know you are working with your own Buyer's Agent.
If a real estate agent or a developer or a builder doesn't ask you if you're working with your own agent, promptly volunteer that information. They are supposed to ask you this question but sometimes they don't: they forget, are afraid to hear the answer, become distracted. Set them straight immediately.
Have a signed buyer's agency agreement/contract with your own Buyer Agent.
A Buyer's Agency agreement (also recommended by the New Jersey Real Estate Commission) clearly describes the relationship you can have with your Buyer Agent in New Jersey, how they are compensated and the duties of both you and your agent.
Make sure you go over and understand the New Jersey agency disclosure with your Buyer Agent.
The New Jersey Consumer Information Statement describes the various relationships under which an agent can operate with you in New Jersey. Understand what your options are and what they mean in terms of getting 100% representation from your own agent.
Do not ask another agent to show you property.
If you do, they become your agent for that property.
Do not directly call listing agents for information.
If you do, they may become your agent for that property.
Follow good Open House protocol if you visit them unescorted.
If you attend Open Houses without your own Buyer Agent, either hand your agent's business card to the agent hosting the Open House or sign the Open House guest book with your agent's name next to your own. Not only will this help protect you, the Open House agent won't try to corral you or pester you for your personal information.